Saturday, December 25, 2010

How To Blend

The success of a Blended Learning Environment depends on creating a balance that is best for the students and community the school is to serve. In recent months, I have been exposed to three blended schools, each with a completely different balance of face to face and distance education.

In Olds, Alberta, Canada, grade 10 through 12 students can apply to be a part of their Academic Team program. The students spend half of each day in the newly constructed Olds High School and the other half of the day working on projects, assignments and classwork where they see fit on the Olds Community College Campus, adjacent to the high school. What makes this high school even more special are the creative learning spaces designed within the school, including a commons area with pods of computers and a teleconferencing room as well as a science lab with a horseshoe design so all students have a front row.

The Odyssey Charter School, in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S.A, offers a K through 12 blended experience. In this school where 85% of the student population is considered at-risk, students attend the physical structure 4 hours a week. At the elementary end of the building, teachers make weekly home visits to ensure curriculum is being covered. At the high school end, students interact online with their teachers and are required to attend the recovery room at school if they begin to get behind in their studies.

While visiting family just outside of Dallas, Texas, U.S.A., I came to learn that my young second cousins go to their school only two days a week. The rest of the week, required study is planned by the teacher and completed at home with their parents. Through this process, the students have parents active in their education, with the support of their teacher.

Each of these programs has high satisfaction and success rates. Now, we need to keep in mind that Blended Learning Environments need quality programs to be successful. When deciding on the right balance for a Blended Learning Environment, what factors do you think should be considered?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

How are our schools changing to meet the change in the type of student walking into our buildings?

S. Craig Watkins, University of Texas at Austin professor and author of “The Young and the Digital: What the Migration to Social Network Sites, Games, and Anytime, Anywhere Media Means for Our Future” asked the pivotal question during Tuesday’s Keynote at the NSBA’s Technology & Learning Conference, How are our schools changing to meet the change in the type of student walking into our buildings?

The amount of time our school aged children are exposed to media is increasing at a rapid rate, from 7:29 hours a day in 1999 to 10:45 in 2009. As the New York Times article from January 20, 2010 states, “If your kids are awake, they’re probably online”. For example, there is never a time in the day where people are not on Facebook. Someone is always posting to this prominent social networking site (SNS). Currently 73% of all teens belong to a SNS (55% of 12-13 year olds and 82% of 14 to 17 year olds). At the college age, this statistic jumps to 98%, with almost 60% visiting a SNS 3 or more times a day.

Social networking sites are not just about consuming content but are a place for youth to create and produce content. It gives students a voice. As the three year, U.S wide study funded by the MacArthur Foundation, Living and Learning with New Media (2009), states these digital spaces provide our youth with a space of their own, leading to increased competence, one of the four dimensions leading towards authentic student engagement, the goal of Collegiate Renewal within the Saskatoon Public Schools.

Watkins feels that the Digital Divide is no longer the issue we once believed it was. In 2004, 18% of 8 to 18 year olds owned a iPod or MP3 player. In 2009, 76% have one. Cell phone ownership by the same group has risen from 39% in 2004 to 66% in 2009. While laptop ownership has only risen from 12 to 29% during the same time frame, Watkins would still like us to consider that it is no longer a matter of access but more about the quality of the participation. The data leads Watkins and others to consider the Smartphone to be the standard device in the near future. As such, this is also changing the way we use the internet. As Wired Magazine reported in September of 2010, “The Web is Dead. Long Love The Internet” .

We need to be creating conditions where technology is being used to support problem solving, just as our students are solving problems within the games they play online. We need to be creating conditions where collective intelligence is supported. The smartest people know what they don’t know and find ways to fill in the gap with others. We need to be teaching our students transmedia navigation, where they know how to filter all information available to them through technology.

We can no longer abide by the “power down” policies that continue to persist in schools. Our kids are changing. The world around them is changing. Technology is changing their experiences. How are our schools changing to meet the change in the type of student walking into the room?

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Rant/Sermon from Ian Jukes caps off Conference - ISTE 2010 Day 3

This is my final post of the ISTE series as my colleagues and I are headed for a flight before the keynote. That's too bad, as the closing keynote is the one the members voted for and the opening keynote wasn't beloved based on the Tweets. This last session has drawn my attention because Ian Jukes is one of the presenters and I have enjoyed him before. The other presenter is Frank Kelly, who is new to me.  The session focuses on the impact of classroom teaching on technology (and not the other way around). While we were waiting to start, we got to look at a series of funny pictures that sets us up for the irony they discussed, that the problem is the schools and not the technology.

They started by illustrating how much technology has changed virtually everything else, and basically only allowed us to tinker with the traditional models schooling. Ian got a good laugh when we pointed out we are still releasing children over the summer so we can have them harvest the crops like they did in Prussia. He said that education is the only area that people ignore current research outright, and feel sanctimonious while doing it. Frank and Ian then went through a large number of American studies and major publication and pointed out that we changed very little for American students.  They say we are fiddling while Rome is burning. They ended this section by pulling together the research that says teachers are teaching in a way that is different from how students learn. Students are fundamentally and neurologically different and continue to change, while schools remain the same.

Stylistically the presentation reminded me of a combination of a rant and sermon. There was slanted language, statistics, rhetorical devices and a Martin Luther King tone. Lots of the time, there were the good sound bites media outlets love to flirt with, like
If we as teachers continue to do the same things the same way when we know it doesn't work, it begs the question: Who has the learning problem?
This was a persuasive and rousing session designed to motivate the listener to create change. Good slides, lots of stats and slanted language were all used to help make the case. I enjoyed the session for that alone, but didn't need any persuasion. The most powerful point was that creative and critical thinking jobs will make up half the workforce soon.  If a computer can do it more quickly or an oversees person can do it easily, it is leaving or you'll earn minimum wage. Our schools were designed for an era when 75% of our jobs were in agriculture and manufacturing, but those people will be less than 25% of our workforce within the decade.

My favorite quotation: "We have a headware issue, not a hardware issue."

 Ian's three big picks for 21st century fluency (found on his Committed Sardine website):
  1. Living on the Future Edge
  2. Understanding the Digital Generation
  3. Literacy is not Enough
It was a good session to end the day on and I repressed an "Amen, brother" as I left to return to my work of classroom reform. But I can't help feeling that nothing short of a miracle will get us where we need to go and the technology just helps to package the rants so that the medium is the message.

25 Google Tools I already knew - ISTE 2010 Day 3

I am waiting for my next session, 25 Google Tools, to start. I have just changed laptop batteries (thanks for the spare, Jay) and am trying not to give my cold to those around me. This morning Barry called me Typhoid Mary, confirming that fact that my constant nose blowing, gulping of water and coughing has not gone unnoticed by others. Ah well, we educational technologists for Collegiate Renewal soldier on when the school year has finished and we are infecting others with our germs (thought I'd try to set a stupid standard for Scott and Jay, the other two people to hold the job). I am actually looking forward to this session through my fog of streaming eyes and cold medication. This is the one session I'm attend for selfish reasons as I use a lot of Google tools. We'll see if the session title is true and he can show me 25 things I didn't know Google could do. Howie DiBlasi is the presenter, and you can check his website or follow him on Twitter at hdiblasi.

Looks like the wireless is not up to the number of people currently in the room, so teaching us to do as we go may be an issue. Rough multiplication tells me there are about 620 of us. On the upside, the handouts are up at . The Internet connection means I am not recording anything I already know, which so far is everything. Most of the things that have been talked about so far are on Google's search help site. Lots are thing that I have been teaching to others like wonderwheel, timeline and filetype:pdf and advanced search.

25 minutes pass, and I still haven't learned anything new. This would have been a good session for me a while ago, but not so much, now. I'm off to find something else. For the record, I don't think this is the presenter's fault. It's my identity issue - I still think of myself as just a basic user. I realize this is because I know enough to compare myself to those who generate open-source code worthy of use by others. I guess I need to adjust my thinking (although in my defence, the level for the session was listed was intermediate user). On the upside, my departure let one person from the line outside come in. Hopefully the session is just right for her.

The whole experience was an interesting experience for me in terms of engagement. I think I could be fairly be described as not merely loving learning but being obsessed with it. But I couldn't use the technology to learn my way, so I didn't feel like I could maximize my learning. Also, I was cut off from the community I like to learn with. Finally, the content didn't present a challenge. Guess I did learn something I can apply in my teaching after all. . .

Chris is to Collegiate Renewal as thinking is to brain- ISTE 2010, Day 3

My first morning session this Wed. is called Beyond Tools: Thoughtful 21st Century School Reform. It is presented by Chris Lehmann. Chris starts by reinforcing that pedagogy drives technology not the other way around.

He says the push for him comes from watching his elder son go from loving learning to hating learning, especially reading, in kindergarten. He also says being trusted with other people's children makes him want to be better everyday. Students are able to do more than ever before, but this creates a madden paradox of education in 2010. Kids are learning all the time digitally, and then the go to the school where the learning stops. This was basically the last thing he said that related to technology.

Next Cris moves to the difference between change and innovation. Change is just differently and innovation is completely new. In most schools, we have school plus computers. Technology needs to be like oxygen: ubiquitous, necessary and invisible. It can be transformative because we can create, research, collaboration, presentation and network, but these all existed. We may just be doing them better.

In order to tell a better story, we must have vision.  There is a profound difference between "I teach Math" and "I teach kids Math". Students should never be the objects of their own education. Schools need to be inquiry given and student-centered. It must be about their learning not our teaching. That doesn't mean we don't need teachers - we need them more than ever because they need strong mentors. Schools need to be collaborative and students need to engage at the synthesis level. The work needs to mater, so schools are a place of passion. Schools should not be preparation for life, it should be life. One way to do this is change how many classes we have and see them as lenses not silos. That means we have common themes and content is integrated across curriculum. More than anything else our students need to reflect and be metacognitive. They need to know how they learn. 

As I listen to Chris, I hear all the basic tenants of Collegiate Renewal. Our goal "All collegiate students will be engaged in their learning so they will graduate as active participants in lifelong learning and as responsible and caring citizens in the community, nation, and world" has much in common with the vision Chris is articulating. It's like his thinking is a part of the overall structure we have developed to guide everything.

Chris asked us to talk to a partner about our vision, and my partner was Tim from New York. Tim works as a professional developer for 22 schools, and his main vision is student engagement. Tim is hoping to change his professional development practice so that teachers pick one main goal connected to engagement and go after it, rather than attending sit and get sessions and getting a point or credit for them. Sounds like the shift in our professional learning practice over the last 5 years. Tim and I talked about the strengths and pitfalls of our approach.

Once we got back in the big group, Chris talked about some ways you know when you are getting to your vision (here is Chris' vision):
  • Your vision exists in the structure of the classrooms, not in the practice of a few teachers
  • We use common language intentionally
  • We use a common process of planning and assessment
  • The thing you use to assess at the end is the measure of the real focus of the class and articulate the most important learning in the class
These would be good ways of framing evidence around Collegiate Renewal. On thing I have noticed, is that some of the things Chris is talking about are givens in my teaching. He talked about releasing their grade 12 students to work on an independent inquiry, for example. I taught that same class last year to grade 11s - it was called Inquiry 20. However, to Chris' point, my teaching opportunities have not been standard, nor is the resulting learning students experience.

The next question Chris asked was "What is one structure you would change and how would you change it?" If I could pick one thing to change would be the rigidity of class structures. Although I have taught integrated classes, classes with community time, etc., I think few teachers have the opportunity to structure the learning so it is about what you learn not the time spent in the seat. One of the teachers stood up and talked about his experience in Maine, which works in that direction.

One of Chris' points in that each of the great changes we make also has problems. His goal is empowerment and his demon in entitlement. He asked us to think about some hard questions:
  • What is the worst consequence of your best idea and how will you mitigate it?
  • What are the obstacles to the change and how can you overcome them?
  • If you make these changes, how will the lives of teachers be different?
  • How will the lives of students be different?
  • How will you deal with the change?
Chris notes that at his school, students work really hard because of the projects. However, there needs to be balance. When you do real work, you need to do less of it, because it is much more demanding.

Schools must be transformative for students, and for teachers. Being willing to be transformed means that we have so much left to learn. That is the critical element of Collegiate Renewal for me is just that, engagement for both students and teachers through a growth mindset. Want to read more about Chris' ideas? Check out his site or follow him on twitter.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Teacher Librarians and Technology - ISTE 2010 Day 2

I am currently sitting in my first model lesson. It's called Worlds Converge: Fusing Library and Technology in the Classroom. Next year I get to keep working with TLs (Teacher Librarians) in my new role, and one of their major focuses has been technology in the secondary group. They are doing a book club next year with a focus of rethinking libraries in a digital age, and most have developed a virtual presence for their library this year.

A model lesson is a little different than some of the other sessions I have been to so far. 20 of us are on the inside, set up at Macbooks to be "students." I am on the edge so I can blog as I go, but I will be using a clicker to participate. Jenni Swanson Voorhees (K-4 Tech Coordinator) and Angela Smith (Elementary Librarian) are the presenters. Here is the link to the library and to the materials for the lesson. Angela and Jenni teach together, as we are hoping more of our SITLs and Secondary TLs will as we are able to see more connections. Here is the research process they developed collaboratively.

The model lesson is targeted at grade 4, and uses wikis and digital storytelling as its main tool. Like many of the poster sessions and student presentations I have stopped at and not blogged, it helps me to feel secure about the work we are doing. Our Secondary TLs have been working with a variety of digital storytelling tools and many have been partnering with teachers. We still have lots of work to do in helping our teachers learn how to use these tools well to create powerful learning, as you have to use them a while before you start to figure that out.

I enjoyed watching the model lesson, because they explained what they do at each stage and why. They use a book that narrates a student researching (Did Fleming rescue Churchill? : a research puzzle, by James Cross Giblin ; illustrated by Erik Brooks. ISBN: 9780805081831 for my TL friends). The book is a great choice, because the main character reads the urban legend on the website and this leads to a great conversation about authority and veracity. I have used a hoax site for years with secondary students, but it always works well. I have younger students search for the Pacific Northwestern Tree Octopus and the first link is always the hoax site. The nice thing about that one is there appears to be a number of hits on this subject. A classic way to put together several websites in a way students don't have to type them all in is a sharetab. Much simpler to create than a web quest, it is a helpful quick tool for teachers and TLs because it just takes a minute.

The presentation suggests teachers (and their TL support) need to be sure there are both sufficient sites and books when picking a research topic. Good sites for research or books must have:
  • Authority (that means the who the author is needs to be clear)
  • Currency (that means they need a copyright date that is current enough for the type of information)
  • Relevance (alignment to topic and appropriate readability and depth)
  • Usability (easy to navigate and scan, at least 3 ways to get anywhere)
  • Lack of Bias (addresses a research topic without bias, ie is academic instead of persuasive)
The presenters suggested that we all need to learn to read websites, just as we are taught to read a book, as a part of being information literate.

The next section of the presentation focused to teaching students how to take notes from the web, use a custom search in google prepared by a TL (which I would not do at secondary for secondary research), and break jobs among their research group. They suggested brainstorming a list of synonyms to help students search (I also like Google Wonder Wheel, which helps expands searching). They also reminded the group that holding down the CTRL button and pressing the F allows you to search for a specific word or phrase on any website or in any digital document.

One thing the group did not talk about was how to make sure you had a good research question or were conducting a meaningful inquiry. In fact, the topics used as examples were just animals like Pandas and people like Alexander Graham Bell. No one moved to things like: "What can people do help prevent the extinction of Pandas?" which is a low-level inquiry. I think that continues to be a problem in much of the work we do with students, because we never get to the higher level thinking skills.

I liked where the group moved to next. They used a free package of Microsoft software to help students draw their own art using tablet PCs and avoid copyright variations. I don't think it we'd do it that way as art isn't integrated with science much and we don't have tablets. The resulting wikis allowed students to comment on each other's work and see what each other had done without taking a lot of class time for presentations.

I think the more we have TLs and SITLs working together as a team to help teachers, the stronger our work will be. It certainly makes a big difference for teach and student learning every time in happens. Information literacy and 21st Century skills in general continue to be a place where students need stronger skills.

An Amorphous Case for Empathy - ISTE 2010 Day 2

I have see Alan November present before and he started today with talking about how Asia is really starting to focus on students connecting to each other. He says that the same type of urgency, cultural sensitivity and people skills in just not a similar focus in the US. Alan argues the most critical thing we need to do is globalize the curriculum and focus on empathy. He bases this interviews with everything from bank CEOs to cultural anthropologists.

Alan's presentation jumped around a lot and had some random stories that are part of his charm. It did not help that his mic jumped in and out. He did show some basic things for understanding world view like using the country code to get news from the specific place. Barry and I were is the session together and wondered how many of our history and social studies understand country code.

He used a number of examples to explain that we need to create assignments that encourage kids to be producers and be global thinkers. Alan says when we share, we need to share with other countries and different worldview automatically. So as a teacher, I would not have my students write about WWII using books - I would have them debate if the war was inevitable by debating with a German class and then consider writing (that's Alan's best advice on combating Internet plagiarism by the way). Alan says expanding the worldview is an opportunity that technology offers that we have never really had. I think we should be working on being able to understand different worldviews at the same time by starting with First Nations and Western worldviews. We should absolutely leverage as many worldviews for our students as we can, I just think we need to be able to do it locally first.

Alan ended with a case about why we need social networking. One of Alan's good illustrations is a podcast of an interview with Rahar Harfoush, the Canadian woman who was Barack Obama's media advisor. He notes that the tools she says are essential to help you become President are blocked in most schools.

I enjoyed the presentation very much but Alan's connection of wildly divergent issues makes it hard to blog. You'll have to trust me that Alan's case for empathy was a good one.