the third rail

moving things forward

Testing Season ~ It’s in the Air and on the Walls

February 28, 2011 by · 1 Comment · teaching, technology, testing

word of the day

This got me thinking about something that happened last year.

At a DTL meeting last year there was discussion about how to get more teachers integrating technology and why it wasn’t happening. I brought up the very unpopular notion that since “technology” is not tested, it is not taught in the classroom. I even went as far as saying until it’s on the test don’t get your hopes up too much. Cue ackward silence.

Sure there are some teachers here and there that see the value in ed tech and do wonderful things. But if we want to see technology used in meaningful ways in the classroom, used as part of a lesson rather than filler or something extra to do, actually taught instead of “Well the kids know more than me – they can figure it out” … then we need to get it on the test.

You see – if it is important it is on the test. That’s the attitude I am seeing more and more from administrators and teachers alike. Whether you agree or not, that is the predominant  opinion and the test guides so many choices made in the classroom.

If you are not sure of my opinion on testing refer to Joe Bower.

But since we are playing the testing game there might be some promise with the Common Core Standards.

Here is a sampling of the fourth grade Common Core Standards –

With guidance and support from adults, use a

variety of digital tools to produce and publish

writing, including in collaboration with peers.


With some guidance and support from adults,

use technology, including the Internet, to

(1)produce and publish writing as well as (2)to interact

and collaborate with others;(3) demonstrate

sufficient command of keyboarding skills to type

a minimum of one page in a single sitting.


Conduct short research projects that build

knowledge through investigation of different

aspects of a topic


Recall relevant information from experiences or

gather relevant information from print and digital

sources; take notes and categorize information,

and provide a list of sources

What do you think?

Is there reason to be hopeful?

Is the move to Common Core Standards good (at least looking at it this way)?

Will this motivate teachers that so far haven’t been moved to integrate tech?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

What is Appropriate?

February 9, 2011 by · 4 Comments · professional development

Times are changing and expectations need to as well.

Recently our district has established “norms” for PD and they are sent out as a reminder with emails –

Your enrollment implies agreement with PDA Norms, which are:

Be on time

Be on task

Be positive

Actively participate

Use technological devices appropriately

Really, who could complain about any of these?

And that is not my purpose here; I think they are all good ideas.

I do take exception with that last one though –

Use technological devices appropriately

What is meant (and even verbalized) is don’t use your phone, laptop, or iPad unless it’s an emergency……and we will let you know if there is an emergency.

I teach adults. With computers in front of them. I know what it’s like.

But still ~

I think it is appropriate for someone to check their email if they know what I am talking about.

I think it is appropriate for someone to update their FaceBook status if I am not engaging them.

I think it is appropriate for someone to “Google” an idea and go with it – they are supposed to be learning.

I think it is appropriate for someone take care of whatever they feel is more important, they are not going to focus on what I am talking about anyway.  Remember that guy Maslow?

My point is – times are changing.  We need to let go of some ideas and recognize the landscape is changing. More than just “going green” and not printing as many pages.

The way we learn and the tools available to us are changing everything. We need to give learners (young and older) the freedom to decide what is appropriate and what they need.

bheart

What do you think?

Image: ‘Homage: Braveheart

Homage: Braveheart

Spinning Plates

January 27, 2011 by · 3 Comments · teaching

Spinning Plates

Spinning Plates

Are all educators overly optimistic schedulers? Is it part of teaching? Is it part of the make up of the person that becomes a good teacher?

We seem to schedule everything based on best case scenario.

How often are you planning a lesson and think “We’ll never get all this done…” but keep on planning away?

What about the times you don’t schedule any transition time? Any of these sound familiar?

  • Recess ends 10:20 but class starts at 10:20, how does that work?
  • Attendance just happens somehow with no down time?
  • Dismissal at 2:15 and you are going to teach to that last second (productively)?
  • Transition with teaching partner, classes swap seamlessly?

It’s not just teachers and planning, it’s institutional.

Instructional minutes, rarely related to actual classroom activities.  Or the “X” amount of minutes every two weeks? Yeah, that works.

It spills over into our personal lives as well. How many times have you had a meeting scheduled to end at 3:30 and another to start at 3:30 in a different place? Or school gets out at 2:30 but you will make that meeting at 2:45?

All this is fine and well most of the time. Well, some complaints from family about how you are always busy ~ whatever. But what happens when something goes awry? Usually the results are of epic proportion.

Kind of makes me think a butterfly could cause a hurricane if scheduled properly by a teacher.

We try to fit everything in, knowing the whole time we would need a ten hour day to make it work.

But still we try.

And usually pull it off.

Want teachers to change? Change teachers…around.

January 13, 2011 by · 5 Comments · teaching

While it is great to teach the same grade level for a while and get to know the curriculum and build resources, it also leads to a rut. Think of the teachers you know who have the same plans year after year. They can tell you what they will be doing on the 27th day of school–before the students even get in their desks.  Especially in these days of scripted curriculum and pacing calendars, having a teachers teaching the same grade year after year does not promote innovation or excitement.

Teaching in the same room leads to more of the same as well. Know teachers who leave up the butcher paper or decorations for next year? What about the ones that want to? Staying in the same room is comfortable but you tend to accumulate “stuff”. Good stuff, stuff you got that is great for that one lesson, and stuff you wish you could find but you forgot where you put it last year after the unit.

Think about how things would change if everyone knew that things were going to change. Seriously, think of the people you work with, how many have been doing the same thing for years? How would relationships at your site change knowing that grade levels and rooms will move regularly?

This year I got the chance to change schools and grade levels. It was not my intention to move but it has a been a great experience. Now, I got lucky and my new team welcomed me with open arms and is wonderfully supportive. But beyond that I was able to clean out a bunch of things I was hanging on to for no good reason. Each lesson is fresh and new, not always with fantastic results but it motivates me to figure out how to improve for next time. This leads to fresh ideas on daily – what sort of project would be good with this, how else can I present the material, other ways the kids show me they know it. This sort of thing didn’t happen as often in my 5th teaching the same grade. I like to think I reflected on my lessons and tried to come up with new ideas but I know it was not nearly as often as now.
shift
Of course it’s not all beer and skittles, there are a lot of challenges and I spend quite a bit of time thinking of pedagogy. Things are different at my new school and grade level, and it’s interesting to look at the different levels of change. Institutional change, personality/personnel changes, and “clientele” (though I really don’t like that term for students) changes.

A few caveats ~
It wouldn’t be good to move every year, maybe every two or three years.
Changing rooms, sites, or assignments ~ all good but shouldn’t be taken in combination. One change is plenty thank-you-very-much.
Change shouldn’t be punitive, it needs to be part of the culture.
And if enough people read this someone will say – “What about The Union?” Well, yeah, The Union might get excited.

But if the administration was:
i daring and
ii pushed for this idea to become part of a school culture and
iii it was not used as a punitive measure
What is there really to complain about?

Ideas? Thoughts? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this…

Image Credit:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/71753457@N00/420493902

Tags:

Basic Training(wheels)

December 22, 2010 by · 2 Comments · teaching

Yeah, it’s been a while since I last posted. And who knows how long it will be before another but….

This is what’s been on my mind lately ~ boot

I’m not sure teachers have to do cool stuff with technology. What I mean is if you are teacher with second graders and you are comfortable teaching them to use PowerPoint – that’s okay, I’ll take it! The kids have to start somewhere and if teaching them to use some basic software is what the teacher can do – Go for it! Just please, please, please, teach them to only use one  transition.

Now, is that what I want teachers to do? Not really. Would I like them to podcast and create digital portfolios and Skype with other classrooms? Of course! But even then, when do the kids get the basic skills? I wonder if in the push to get “21 century” skills into the classroom we are missing opportunities. If teachers got props for just getting the kids onto the machines would attitudes toward using technology change? Would they be more likely or willing to take it to the next level?

training wheels

training wheels

What if tech timid teachers worked in the lower grades and their commitment was just to get the kids to learn password security and basics (like word processing)? I am not saying the “oh your finished early print it up” is the way to go, not at all. I still think teaching how to use technology should be explicitly taught not just busy work. Of course that’s another whole topic! But what if the lower elementary grades were a tech basic training? Just like learning the math facts or phonics. I know the kids could do it and would probably welcome it.

My thinking is that many teachers are intimidated and don’t teach ANYTHING where the students use computers other than running a program. When the students move up the grades later teachers have a HUGE curve to get the kids caught up and do the cool projects.

There is also all the UN-learning that needs to be done; log off EVERY time, only use YOUR password, don’t SHARE your password, etc.

Just some thoughts that have been bumping around in my head. With a little time I off it feels good to get them posted.

Images:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/59898414@N00/4507867122

http://www.flickr.com/photos/7900943@N06/2741883732

Teachers Lounge ~ The Most Dangerous Place in School?

January 27, 2010 by · 4 Comments · teaching

I had the privilege of co presenting a session last weekend at annual OC CUE TechFest with my good friend Chris Bell.
Aside from the great presentations, learning, and networking, the keynote really struck a cord with me.

Mike Lawrence got me fired up about trying the Student Media Festival this year, and Mary Anne McGuire was inspiring with her story of Rock Our World (looking into Walk our World as well, the kids can multi-task right?) was also motivating to get out and try something new, do something different and exciting.

But what is still rattling around in my head is one thing Mary Anne McGuire said….

“The teachers lounge is where ideas die.”


lounge

I know this was not the intention of the key note. And it sounds a lot worse in isolation, she was telling the story of how excited she was when she first started her project. How she hesitated to share it with her colleagues in the staff lounge because so often that is where great ideas die.

Against better judgment, she did share it with her fellow teachers and got the expected response. Our story has a happy ending because she did not let them discourage her, she continued on her own and has had great success for her and her students.

But I completely identified with her at this point of her story. Too often the lounge is a place where you don’t share your ideas because, as long as they are just your ideas, they are alive but when you share them out so often they die a painful, albeit quick, death.

So what are the choices?

Don’t go to the lounge? That leaves you working in isolation and probably the rest of the staff thinking how anti social you are.

Go it alone and just don’t tell anybody about your ideas? This is what I have been trying to do for a while and it is not the most rewarding way to go, a teacher needs to share success and failures.

Share with only a few teachers that you can trust? Unfortunately, this leads to an “us against them” attitude all too often.

How do you keep your dreams and ideas alive and healthy?

Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dougcoulter/3873606804/sizes/m/

The Secret is in the Sauce

January 2, 2010 by · 2 Comments · iwb, teaching

I have seen the light…sort of. As far as IWB’s are concerned I have learned much since the last post.

The software created by Promethean is amazing and can truly help create interactive lessons. Lessons can be created to self check and practice accurately. Also, lessons can created that are are very engaging and target specific skills. Creating these lessons does take a bit of time however, even when you get pretty good with the tools. That isn’t meant as a negative thing ~ good lessons always take some time; I’m just saying.

The secret is creating these types of lessons. IWB’s are (at their core) really cool whiteboards, not so much interactive though. It is still very teacher lead and only a handful of students are able to be active learners at any one time or in any new or revolutionary way. However (this is the good stuff) if there was a way to PUSH the lessons created using Promethean software out to the students THEN you would have some interactivity! This means tablets of some sort, and Promethean viewer software which is not around yet, but they do have a basic version.

Of course this limits the need for IWB’s but would be great for engagement and learning. What if a teacher created a lesson for the IWB and then EVERY student were able to practice and self check for understanding? Now THAT is interactive and revolutionary learning. I am looking into the latest version of software which allows students to self pace and respond entirely through the handhelds, more on that next time!

Is Tolerance a Bad Thing?

November 1, 2009 by · 3 Comments · teaching

We recently got Interactive White Boards (IWB’s) in my district and they are pretty nifty. They came complete with student response systems (SRS or clickers), distributed sound system,  and a document camera.  All in all pretty great.

After using the board for a couple of months this is what I have noticed so far:

~ I’m still doing most of the talking. Just like having the LCD projector hooked up to my computer and going through presentations with them or looking at web pages.

~ The kids like to drag words to sort them and do activities of that nature but it takes FOREVER!! I think they will get better/faster in time but it is killing my plans now.

~ The kids love to write on the board. Of course my students have always had markers in their desk to come up and write on the board before so this is nothing new.

~ They love using the “clickers” and it is a good informal polling of the students, how many “get it”  I really should save the results so I can find out which individuals answered what but I’m not there yet. The downside is only being able to use multiple choice questions at this point. Good for drills but not really higher level thinking. When my students are a little older or better at using the response pads that may change..we’ll see.

~ Students are already tuning out. It was shocking for me the first time a student asked “Do we have too (use the clickers)?” But I have been seeing it more often. As well as tuning out when we use the IWB. It is important to note that no matter what technology you have it will not replace classroom management and good, engaging teaching.

And that is my point. IWB’s are great in many ways and can be used in engaging ways. But then so can LCD projectors and hand held whiteboards. Or even construction paper.

My friend posted that she needed convincing that IWB’s were the panacea that they are being hyped as. I don’t think I can help that one as I still need to be convinced. What I am worried about is it is becoming increasingly difficult to engage students. Lighting up the whiteboard isn’t necessarily doing it. Nor clickers.

Tolerance -”a resistance to the effects of … after repeated exposure” Are the kids developing a tolerance to technology the way we are currently using it? Would it make more sense to back off spending money on technology purchases and spend it on developing teachers with solid skill sets THEN give them the tech tools? Or see what tools they want to use?

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Respect your elders

August 25, 2009 by · 3 Comments · teaching

No matter which side of the health care debate you are on, the town hall meetings have been interesting to say the least. What I have noticed more than anything is the apparent inability of our “leaders” to deal with us common folk. Seriously, in some of the meetings our representatives have been astonished that people will not bow down to them. Or listen to them and pay them respect~ just because they are congressmen, and it has come as a surprise to many.

Arlen Specter faces fury

I think this is so interesting because I can see connections to our educational system. There are many teachers/admins/district personnel /superintendents out there in the same position as our congressmen. While they have undoubtedly heard about the how flat the world is and how web 2.0 has empowered people they are thinking it doesn’t apply to their circumstance. Each cozy in their own little bubble.

Hope are we going to react when we have students coming in like the people at the town hall meetings? Knowing that they do not have to come to our classroom when they could go to a virtual classroom. When parents have all the information they could want and start using it to vet schools and admins? What about when parent groups start going to the district or superintendent asking (or demanding) for more options for learning?

I think what is happening at these town hall meetings is coming to a multi purpose room near you! People are not settling for “leave it to us, we know what’s best for you” leadership anymore and education needs to realize this. This is not an attack on anyone (particularly my own district) just some observations.

Training…1, 2, 3

August 7, 2009 by · 2 Comments · teaching

As summer is winding down educators are going back to school and that means “back to school workshops” for most of us. Recently I sat through a two day session to to learn how to use some new technology in our district.

Yeah, sat through is what I meant to say.

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We literally sat…for hours…not touching the new technology we are supposed to start using in a few weeks.

Not talking about how we could use it in our classrooms.

Not putting together ideas to see what the interface was like.

Not making mistakes.

Not getting stuck.

Not helping each other.

Sitting. Watching (some times). Listening (once in a while).

At this point let me say a few things….

The presenters were very well intentioned and most of the crowd didn’t expect anything different from the presentation. Also, the presenters (I am pretty sure) were never trained to present, they are teachers and we asked to do the training. Last and definitely not least, I know I am guilty of “death by powerpoint” and I am not always the dynamic presenter that I want to be.

But I am working on it.

A few things my mentor taught me…

1. There is a huge difference between Androgogy and pedagogy. The whole clapping your hands thing works to adults attention if you have a room of Kindergarten teachers, otherwise don’t try it. Remember – Those are adults (grown-ups) and they need to be treated that way.

2. Everyone learns at their own pace and in their own way. If somebody in your presentation isn’t hanging on your every word it’s probably ok. Let them play, process, work things out. If they are bored give them premission to “unbored” themselves but remind them to check in once in a while. Value and respect their time, they might already “get it”.

3. Almost everyone needs time to actually work/play/mess around with whatever it is you are trying to teach them. You can’t just stand there and show them, let your people participate! I think this goes back to something from the Game of School. Many teachers were successful in a school where they sat in neat rows and “learned” by having someone in the front of the room give them information. While this works somewhat, is it the BEST way to do things?

4. Finally, and this goes back to #1, don’t read your slides to me. We are grown-ups remember, tell me what’s NOT on the slide. Related note: If you say,”OK, this is important” it tells your audience that all the other stuff wasn’t important so they are wondering why you were wasting their time. Just give us the important stuff.

I really don’t mean this to be negative, but do want to bring attention to boring presentations. I honestly think most presenters are doing the best can and as well as they know how to. And I am not a professional presenter by any means. I was lucky to meet someone who taught me a few of these ideas and I want to pass them on.