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.

No excuses - ISTE 2010 Day 2

I enjoyed the second keynote of ISTE this morning, particularly the student panelist. The message from all 4 members was around what we need to do to help our students achieve the NETS and become global citizens. A number of the suggestions from the panel were solid:
  • Have your class investigate the way we can solve global issues now (environmental, economic, social, depending on the class)
  • Connect to others, especially classes from other cultures and experts, so students can collaborate beyond their own world views
  • Focus your classroom on the outcomes for students rather than what you are teaching. Lecture less and have students work in isolation less.
  • Become a global citizen yourself. Build a social network online, watch TED talks, expose yourself to cultures other than European and American ones so you can model global prospectives in your own thinking and action
  • Listen to your students - each student whose voice finds a place in your classroom will be yours (the student said, "If you listen to me, you have me.")
In the question section at then end, educators seemed inspired but raised the three standard concerns we always do:
  1. How can I do this with limited resources? I would say, by the end of next year, you will have a teacher laptop, sets of minis in your school, wireless access, reduced filtering, access to computer labs and access to data projectors. If you are doing something really remarkable and need more, apply for grants, call educational technologists downtown for support and resources, or ask the kids to bring things. The only way to change limited resources is to keep advocating for more until you have such a good case that it cannot be denied. Work with what you have, it is the best way to make a case for what you need.
  2. I have to teach to the standardized test - how can I cover these other things? The standardized test we face in Saskatchewan isn't high stakes (like teacher firings for lack of progress in the US) and is directly aligned with new curricular documents.  While it would be nice if it tested higher order skills more across all subjects, tests don't really do that well. That's what your classroom assessment is for. Plus you don't want to cover curriculum, you want your students to be learning by doing and thinking for themselves.
  3. The curriculum is so full I don't have time to teach deep things. What can I do? First, how you teach is much more important than what you teach in terms of getting to deep learning. If your students are focused on doing the NETS type skills to cover the curriculum, both are happening. Second, renewed curricula are actually focused directly on these types of skills. If you are ensuring your students meet the outcomes using the indicators, deep is built in. All our renewed documents have as their foundation three goals: building lifelong learners, building a sense of self and community and building engaged citizens. These goals are the exact things the panel thought schools should strive toward, and they underpin all renewed documents. The documents are also build around the inquiry process, where meaningful question drive the learning. There is no curriculum or powerful learning - they are the same thing.
As a teacher, I always think about how I meet my student's needs to the best of my ability given the circumstances I am working in. When I can't meet a student's need, I fight to change what other supports I can offer that student. We are working with young people, and there are no excuses for not doing everything we can to help them learn. The student on the panel today said the one thing he wished the school system had taught him was how to learn - he said all he knows to do is listen to the authority or read Wikipedia. I think teachers can easily help students learn to question, research, collaborate and experiment, and I know many great teachers who do this every day with the resources they have, using the curriculum they teach. Education has never been great at change and can be very institutional. If I wait for all barriers to go away before I believe I am responsible for my students learn to learn, I can never really be a teacher.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Google Earth Mashing - ISTE 2010 Day 1

I am in my final session of the day on Earth Mashing using Google Earth. In Saskatoon Public, the new teacher laptops have Google Earth as part of the standard build. I have been showing it to Science and History teachers this year, and am in the session  hoping to learn something new. Links for this session:
Okay, this session just started but I am already not caring for it. So far they have shown us three ways to call people and leave a message so you don't need to talk to them and three ways to pick a student digitally, all of which look like casino slot games. Each thing seems to be about avoiding connecting directly to others. Not a good sign. Ah well, I am trying to keep an open mind.

Some tools that you may not know are there:
  • The ruler can be used for measuring either distance or area around the edge perimeter. Great for teaching geometry
  • You can use not just the Earth, but Mars, the Moon and Space
  • You can add your own pushpins, add details to them and put them in folders. This allows you to make tours.
  • You can download .kmz files, which are other people's tours, or have your students make tours
  • You can use a cheat sheet top allow your student to do a series of low level activities like crossing out the lies or choosing a multiple choice answer from a list (yawn). I'd far rather have my students make something than answer questions.
  • You can embed a fotobabble, animoto, sketchcast, scrapblog, photopeachslideroll or voicethread (not free unlike the rest of the list) or a glogster into Google Earth (exciting if kids do it, and you can do it with anything that offers and embed feature).You can use timetoast to get code for creating timelines in Google Earth (think Social Studies 9) or voki to have an avatar talk about something. For each of these you just take the embed code and then paste it into the description field of the placemark. This appears only into your own version of Google Earth. You need to share your placemark by right clicking on it and either emailing it to keep it private or clicking share to make it public. Make sure that you save your folder as a .kmz first, so all placemarks are saved together and ready to share (.kmz files are zip files). For schools with digital drop boxes, the .kmz file can just be copied into the drop box.
  • For those of you in science, you will sometimes see .kml files for download. Those are files sourcing from a live, updating database (like a Google spreadsheet).
  • I have my students make custom icons. You just take any .jpeg you have and make it an icon by right clicking on your pushpin and selecting properties. Then you left click once on your pushpin and change it. It allows students to customize their work in a way that feels familiar from social networking.
Google Earth has some good tutorials in their help section, including ones for putting your placemarks into your blog, wiki etc.

Something I did like learning is that if you want a throw away account for you students, you can create a gmail account that is your account +student (called picking backing). I might be JamesWMCI+betty. That was a good idea, especially for elementary students.

This session went much faster than the Internet connection allowed, and the presenters did not circulate to help those who could not keep up. By the end, that was a big chunk of the group because people fell behind and could not catch up. This wasn't an issue for me, but I got tired of hearing them say "well, never mind" or "we need to move on." The Internet wasn't tagging much, they just had more to do than the hour allowed. having said that, Google Earth is awesome, and now that it is on all teacher laptops, we should start teaching it more. We'll also need to add it to student machines as we renew the labs in high schools this year.

What Natives Need - ISTE 2010 Day 1

David Warlick always documents his sessions well and this one is no exception:
David started by showing a video of a 13 year old entrepreneur and asked "Why is he different than I was?" He worked through many questions and concluded that the student has no ceiling. The information environment he lives in ignores behaviors, empowers accomplishments, allows manipulation of abundant information and has gateways to find others. It's an environment that is difficult to contain. David asks:
"If their information experience cannot be walled in, what is school to our students?"
David described Millennials as having a culture of communication, collaboration and information. However, he says that video games, cell phone and social networking don't need to come into the classroom for students to invest in school. Instead, schools need to leverage what those things do that meets student need. They are where are student's friends are. He says if we can crack the code of what these things are offering, we can get to what students want (links in his list are to my previous blog posts on related subjects):
I have seen David present before in Saskatoon, and have shared some of his thinking about literacy with others in the division. Documenting one of his sessions is never as good as being there. He makes a point and then use a variety of examples to illustrate the point. Often his stories, or the morals of them, connect to stories of my own. One of David storied points:
We want our students to be the students we want to teach, instead of teaching the students they are.... How much time do we have before we figure out what questions we are going to ask on our texts with Google in their pockets?
I think that Google question is an interesting one and it's one I never answer the way my fellow teachers wish that I would. One of women I worked with has figured out that an iPod Touch can access the Internet, and when her students are "listening to music" they could be getting answers. She asked me what to do. I replied they could be listening to answers they recorded to tapes back when they had walkmans. She asked what we could do now that they could get answers instantaneously, short of taking their phones away or blocking them. I said: "Starting asking questions that are too high level to be answered using Google alone."

Then we talked about my To Kill a Mockingbird exam I gave last year. I don't give many exams other than required finals. My exam is open book, and you are encourage to work with others. But the questions are things like:
Using research-based criteria and examples from the novel, establish Atticus' strength and weakness as a parent.
What's more, I even gave them the questions from the year before, and three examples of student responses that we scored collectively. Confused, she asked what I am testing if I am not testing knowledge of what happened in the book. I have never taught literature for that reason, and actually she doesn't either. She is a great English teacher. I replied that on this test, students need to think critically, skim for theme and context, assess something against criteria, build an argument, write use persuasive techniques etc. Those are skills that matter (and are curricular outcomes), but simply knowing what Atticus' response to the mad dog  is worth nothing beyond the class. Leveraging what our students do well to help them do meaningful work is what really maters for teachers, but sometimes the fact that we are not digital thinkers leads us to be trapped into thinking which is actually inconstant with our epistemology.

I am not convinced that the needs David articulates are really digital traits, although many researchers agree with him. In my mind, these traits have always been the hallmarks of the best learning. They are just a lot easier now that technology facilitates them. I do agree that students expect them more than they used to. I think that's a real opportunity to hack the code of traditional schooling and rewrite it to do what elegant code always does - meets the need in the most effective way possible.

Innovation and the Impossible - ISTE Day 1

"It always seems impossible until it's done..." Nelson Mandela
One of my favorite Mandela quotations is one of the series of banners about excellence throughout the Conference Center for ISTE 2010. The session I am attending now is called Innovative Leadership: 21st Century Innovations that Mater. Its main focus is how leaders set up environments to create the opportunity for innovation. The presenter is Cheryl Lemke, and for those of you who like to see all the information:
Cheryl started by talking about how students learn and noted that attending school is a small part of students' learning. Students also use peers and home as they always have. Relatively new are the networked public, work and distributed resources. Cheryl argues that we need to tap into their interests and use them in school in order to have the opportunity to have most powerful impact of students' learning. We'll only get 18.5% of their life time to help them learn so we want to set them up to keep learning in the post powerful way possible.

Cheryl's big focuses for Innovative Leaders:
  1. Own the innovation - don't delegate it to the right people, lead it. CEOs in top innovative countries don't delegate creative work, they do it themselves (The Innovator's DNA). Technology, social media, multimedia and eCommunication should inform every decision. They should be a factor via digital content, implementation, student voice, environmental scanning, expectations for teachers etc. The technology facilitator should be at all tables and be an advocate for the ways students learn best.
  2. Drive the change through creativity and knowledge - be creative, informed, tolerant and critical of digital technologies and our youth driving changes.  Our customer, our students, are digital natives. There are three basic was of thinking of learning: as acquisition, as participation, or as knowledge creation. As we focus on knowledge creation, we need to design our technology and our assessments to support creation. Knowledge creation doesn't happen in a vacuum - it uses teaming, Internet etc. We pull students out of this when we assess them and it doesn't make sense. Our structures are also set up to support acquisition not creation. Top innovators do some key things. They associate with things outside their sphere of influence and bring two different things together in new ways. The implications for the education is the need for more integration. Innovators ask questions all the time, and they asks the unaskable questions. Observing is another key trait of innovators. They watch the clients and users (students) and have student voice in what they do. We need much more student voice in education. Innovators are also experimenters. They believe failure is an essential part of success. We can do this with teachers around action research. Finally, they are networkers who bring people together and build effective groups. I think the role of Learning Leader is designed with this in mind - obviously a good thing that this is a main focus for us.
  3. Shift from Rules to Shared Principles - actively facilitate the development and adoption of guiding principles for 21st Century Learning. This one has big implication for how my division might approach things.
  4. Establishment of a Professional Learning System - includes observation, virtual and face to face work. Involves less student contact time, lesson study, and classroom observations. Doing there walk-throughs is very helpful for principals in particular, but for all leaders. We have been shifting our professional learning pretty dramatically in the last few years with these exact ideas in mind. We are still learning how to do this most effectively.
  5. Shape culture - the leaders establishes the culture of openness, collegiality, honesty, and adaptability, all focused on standards or goals. Leaders should look for positive deviants, who are those working outside the rules to make something work for students. This is a topic that is really on the radar of the Collegiate Renewal team.
  6. Ensure Digital Access and Infrastructure - including networks, devices, data systems, applications (web 1.0, 2.0, 3.0), instructional, business and technical support, policy). She noted that the system needs to be open enough to allow blogging, twitter etc. I think our filtering changes, use of online communities and use of web 2.0 tools are starting to make inroads here.
  7. Data, Assessment, trends and accountability- it needs to be focused on student engagement, not just metrics on competence. This whole section was closely correlated to our work, complete with diagrams of flow, like the one in the Collegiate Renewal data from this year. I think we need to keep working on a systematic approach to evidence collection, and I know that is a major focus of learning for next year in administrative professional learning.
Many of the principles Cheryl talked about next are those of Collegiate Renewal. We spent time talking about the value to motivation for staff and students and how to create engagement. One thing she highlighted was the shift to lesson study as a form of professional learning for teachers in schools where students are the most successful. Some interesting achievement statistics related to teaching:
  • Teacher effectiveness has the number one effect on student learning, and professional learning must be sustained over time, content based, focused on concrete tasks, in community etc.
  • 3 effective teachers in a row = +50 percentile
  • Single ineffective teacher is detectable 4 years later
  • A minimum of 6 days focused professional learning is necessary to make a substantial change in student performance.
My favorite quotations from the session:
"We defined the school system to make it the way it is, and we are the people with the power to redefine it. It is us."
"Business and industry are asking us turn education on its head. Let's go after that and do it."
"Sometimes behavior comes first and belief comes second. You can create change with resistance if you are doing something people will be able to see the impact of. Progress is the biggest motivator."
"People tell me that older teachers are stuck in time, but they came into teaching because they wanted to move things forward for kids. We need to give them real permission to go after 21st Century Learning."
I enjoyed this session quite a bit and it has lots of implications for the Collegiate Renewal work. Some we are working hard on, like professional learning systems and assessment and accountability. Others need more attention as we move forwards. I am leaving with lots to think about and record a fraction of what Cheryl said. I always enjoy a session like that. I left the session refocused on continuing to push for innovation.

Technology and the Arts - ISTE Day 1

My first session this morning is called Rethinking Arts Education for the Youtube Generation. I have worked a fair amount with the arts over the year in couple capacities:
  • Drama 9-12
  • Arts education 10-30
  • Visual Arts 10, 20
  • Theater Arts 20, 30 (Technical Theater)
In general, I use technology a lot for the critical responsive strand in each of these. It will be interesting to see what the focus is for the two women who are presenting. They are a music specialist and visual arts specialist.

They argue that new technical tools provide ways of working with media instantly, and that they can be well suited to digital learners. Learning about the arts helps us to create more compelling media and really understand what creativity means in the 21st Century. They also mentioned that the issue of copyright and being a digital creator not consumer will be discussed.

What do we need to teach our students? The presenters showed a number of projects from their school and talked about the opportunities for arts teachers to help students learn fundamental skills.
  • First, they showed a sample from their school of pictures of students to a copyrighted music. They recommended teaching about creative commons and copyright (new laws coming here in Canada).
  • Next they showed a digital story with poor resolution images. They suggested me need to teach about file size, types of images etc. I use Google image search here to solve this issue once I have taught students the basics.
  • They also showed digital video creation. The video they showed wavered badly and they didn't understand composition. The presenters argued that even suggesting a tripod would have helped, but teaching composition is a real strength of arts
  • Next they played a song. This one had issues will levels in the audio.
  • They also showed an example of a poorly constructed digital slide show and talked about the need for teaching presentation skills and how to construct and effective slide show. I think that would be helpful to teach many adult presenters these skills - it would have helped our keynote speaker last night, and he was the former vice-president of the World Bank
  • Last they showed a student re-illustrating a professional's picture book and talked about why it is essential to create their own original work.
Next the presenters moved on to talking about creativity. They referred to Daniel Pink and his work as a good example, but think that many leaders use creativity as a buzz word and don't understand it. The stages of creativity in the multimedia process:
  1. Pre-production - use a concept map (think Bubblus for free or Inspiration as common software) or make jot notes about key things you want to focus on. In video, you might use a treatment, even before storyboarding.  These pre-production processes to make the key ideas clear is often missing in student work.
  2. Production - here we need to make sure that students understand basic theory so the work can be both sophisticated and successful. They used the example of teaching the rule of thirds and focal point before having students take a digital picture.
  3. Post-production - this is where students get ideas for how to polish the work to make it really sing. This often happens to me in the last three weeks of a drama production. These polish elements work best when you understand the possibilities and the teacher allows you to play with them. Very specific rules often prevent originality.
They had a number of resources and links for arts educators, including a prezi with national standards. However, much of their presentation was pages of presented text, an unfortunate choice given the subject mater. When the audience asked them a couple of questions, there was simply a reference to the handout.
They referred to many things, like the reference to creativity in ISTE's technology standards for students, called the NETS, but didn't actually fully explain any of their ideas.

They talked quite a bit about the need for a global audience, and how student projects are shared on a school screen, but also on Youtube, via blogs and in online communities. They said all of this required changes in school culture and the comfort level of teachers with the digital media tools. They recommended one-on-one planning and instructional support to grow teacher competence. They also says that digital tools should not be siloed into a class or a room, but should be present everywhere.

Overall, this session was hard to follow and vague - even though I understood each individual thing they said. It would have benefited from stronger structure and more practical elements. Both presenters clearly felt that they had to advocate for the arts, even though their audience was composed predominantly of arts teachers and clearly in agreement. I have noticed this issue with arts teachers in the past. When we are together and could work on making things happen we sometimes use the time to agree it is important that something happens instead. One thing I was really hoping would be a focus (given the title and description) was how are students are changing and what we need to do to meet their learning needs. Other than mentioning students like to create digital products, the presenters did not cover this at all.

The most interesting part was a discussion between some music teachers about the value of playing in a high school band versus teaching each student to arrange and compose, so they are creators not consumers. The group discussed Finale, which some of us in Saskatoon are using. I really like it, although licences are expensive. If you are a music teacher and would like to play with it, you can download it for 30 days for free and play with it. They also talked about Stomp and other ways of teaching students "music is alive, not dead." People discussed iPod touch Orchestras using the music apps and other ways to essentially use digital technology as either instruments or mediums.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Beyond Digital Storytelling

The first session I am attending is a bring your own laptop session. The resources for the workshop are found at Each of the session presenters introduced themselves, and one I have followed for a while via his blog One of the other presenters introduced us to a blog I thought would interest Captain Orange, who frequently comments on this blog. It's a vegan and technology blog

The team's main point: Many times we teach digital storytelling without explaining storytelling well. Each talked about how telling stories in a variety of forms is important:
The shortest distance between truth and a human being is a story - Anthony de Mello
Other key ideas:
  1. Framing the story. The group discussed how each story has a story spine. I liked the part where they talked about the value of improv in building the story (close to my heart as Drama and English teacher). They did a sample improv for the group and then had us develop stories in small groups by framing. It was a good way to involve the audience and helped us to see that the spine of a story is easy to create. They also showed us a video that uses the storytelling spine - a funny anti-smoking ad. They also took us through a series of writing prompts and version of circle stories I have used for years.
  2. Expanding the story. The framing is not enough. They talked about the frame of StarWars is not as good as the whole narrative. They did not use this bunny video - but I think it illustrates their point. they used the StarWars example to show that expanding and growing stories makes them richer. They asked us to think of a story that is important to you. I thought of Wolves in the Walls. We each drew one word from each other's story, and then on the drawing we got back, wrote things that were like the story and not like it. The wolves I got back looked a lot like book, but the act of like and not like helped us to get all the adjectives and verbs associated with the main idea. I liked this activity and would use it again.  The presenters also talked about some of us did this digitally and others used paper and how the tool you use doesn't matter - it is how well it meets your needs. They showed is 5 card Flickr for storytelling. I have used it before and people like it so muck they won't move off it.
  3. Stories worth telling. If the story is good, students care about it and return to it - that's a good subject and it focus the story on what is most important. They also remember the content. The team talked about sharing the stories as an act of creating relevance - stories worth telling. Go to the digital story only with those stories that are really relevant to your students or the heart of your curriculum. They showed us a series of pictures that students created about how they learn. I think it would be a great idea for collegiate renewal to do in terms of student voice. The first picture on their stories worth telling page  illustrates it.
  4. Sharing the story. This section could have been better titled tech tips, as it covered a variety of how-tos. I would have liked more on how to share it so it is part of a community or gets found.
  • On PD- The team talked about how getting teachers to make a photostory and sharing it with a group of teachers is powerful way to help teachers grow their narratives (see a sample of a teacher's photostory with a given prompt). The group's website has how to's for the tools you need. 
  • On sound - One nice tip they gave was how to reduce ambient noise in the room - like by putting kids behind a barier made of electronics packaging or in part of a box lined with cardboard egg cartons. Carpet scraps also make a great liner for quiet sound spaces.
  • On using your voice - they showed us a a great video to illustrate the point that how we say things makes what we say more or less powerful:

They also shared a poem by the same author, Taylor Mali, on proofreading. It is a poem I know students would love, but the last line might be an issue in some classes.

Two tools I'm going to play with -  I'd like to use is Comic Life. I tried the free download (it is a 30 day trial). I have avoided it in the past because it is a pay version eventually, so not great for all. However, I thought it would be great for the Collegiate Renewal team, as we use comics for our major posters. I wanted to use it to make my digital story, but the defaults in my machine are set to a network drive, and the download doesn't allow me to change it, so I couldn't install properly.  I also saw a bit a Aviary - a free Google Ap. I'm not sure I'd recommend use of it as school as it is very intensive on the bandwidth, but I know some of my readers could use it at home. I had to settle for building a simple comic strip.

Once we were done learning the structure, they gave us time to build us a story for our selves and circulated to help us. We published stories on - I have used it before with students because they can call the number and record themselves creating their audio stories using a cell phone.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The "Last Post"

This week is my last week working with Collegiate Renewal, but I am hoping there is no Last Post playing mournfully to accompany the death of this blog. I'm being followed up as the Collegiate Renewal Educational Technologist by Scott St. Pierre, who has posted on it before and hopefully will again. I'll also post in partially in new curricular role when I attend ISTE next week.

I think the value of sharing what we learn with others in a digital manner is tremendous, especially because conversations with diverse thinkers really help your own thinking be richer.

Using RSS feeds has been my best way to deepen my own thinking and conversation this year, and it is a great accompaniment to conversations I have in the division. For example, in the last 5 days I have has 6 different conversations about the use of interactive white boards, like SmartBoards. It wasn't a topic I was specifically thinking about, as it was something I did extensive research on about 6 months ago. However, as it resurfaced in the division, I had a variety of ways to think about the conversation. Here is who I got to talk to:

  • Judy, who publishes about technology in the Online Learning Center here in Saskatoon Public
  • Jay, who bridges communication between our IS department and the learning side, and informs himself via his Twitter network of  Educational Technologists
  • Ruth, just returning from an education leave after studying educational technology. Ruth also learns via a Twitter network and will be an elementary teacher librarian in two schools next year.
Digital conversations via blogs
All of these people were talking about whether or not whiteboards could be used for transformational teaching. I thought I'd like to extend the conversation more, and searched my Google Reader for references to whiteboards in past blog posts and found 103 references. 25 of them were about directly about the role of interactive whiteboards in teaching style. Each of the blog posts I read or people I talked had a whole series of research, conversation and teaching experience behind their thinking.

Why all this matters:

Pamoram, a marketing source,  has a number of great info graphics about social media and this one illustrates what is happening in different age groups.
Teachers have always shared resources with each other by giving their "binders", folders of handouts and plans they developed. In the last 3 years, I learned so much about engaged learning that my "binder" was always changing and I didn't really have a form I could share. My RSS feed replaced the binder, and it means I will never make a binder again. I am learning so much and changing so much thanks to the influence of research, other teachers writing and conversations that my professional learning resists being neatly packaged because it doesn't end. Like the conversation about interactive whiteboards, I have ongoing dialogue with students, teachers, and researchers about each topic I think about. No Last Post for me - and hopefully not for the conversation around technology and Collegiate Renewal.

I began this blog with a promise to stop lurking and put myself out there. I was the Spectator that 41% of Americans in my age group are. Thanks to my ability to become a Creator, Critic and Collector, I also have a community I can use to engage in my learning each day. Thanks for being a part of my community this school year.


Thursday, June 3, 2010

Critical Thinking and Social Studies - Day 2

I'm now in the second day of the critical thinking and Social Studies day with Roland Case. Yesterday, we worked on understanding inquiry and starting to plan a unit using a template.

We are keeping working on the template today, and have started the day talking about the connection between technology and  critical, creative and collaborative thinking.  Case explains that critical thinking is criteria thinking, then compares it to creative thinking and notes that they are often viewed as opposite.

Case makes the "case" that creative and critical thinking are good partners. He argues that a problem in critical thinking is a situation where the answer is not immediately obvious - he says creative thinking is activated when the problem is concerned with imaging. He also notes that critical thinking is designed to judge the merits of the options. That happens in creative thinking as well, and there is a purpose as well. Then

Case says we also need to do collaborative thinking.  He notes that doing something and then just showing it to others is simply consulting. Collaboration is the act of doing it together, and makes critical and creative thinking much richer and more powerful than it would be otherwise.  His way of thinking was helpful for me here - I have understand the creative and critical thinking parts well, but his summary of collaborative, because it helps me see the connection.

I am often working on helping teachers to understand how technology is not something else, but a useful tool to help us do something that involves critical, collaborative, and creative thinking. Case's framing will be a nice way to help others understand it. However, I notice that Case is slowly easing us into talking about technology. Perhaps he is nervous that we will react poorly as he adds in technology.

Case says each tool has a particular way that it is designed to be used, which has an advantage and disadvantage. He helps us through textbooks and microphones - two technologies we are comfortable with. Then he asks us to talk about a technique - sharing with partners. After we discuss, he suggests alternatives like think/pair/share or email as ways to support effective sharing. Each time he says we must:
  • Explore each technology's orientation and disorientation
  • Play to the strenghts and mitigate the weaknesses
As Case goes through his rules for do's and don'ts around technology I find myself in general agreement but critical of some specific points. Almost all his examples are about interactive whiteboards, which he notes increase transmission unless they are used well. Hopefully I can see some examples of "used well". I think Cases' point that technologies are designed to be used in a specific way is valid, and in my experience, you need to work against the design of the smartboard to create high-level thinking opportunities in the hands of students. I love a good opportunity to do some critical thinking.

Critical Thinking and Social Studies - Day 1

This week I attended a feedback session with the curriculum writer for the Social Sciences in Saskatchewan, and I am now sitting is a session with Roland Case of the Critical Think Consortium related to the renewed Social Studies documents. I have used a number of CTC documents and resources before - and I'd recommend them for librarians, history teachers etc. In particular, the summary of critical challenges is good place for social science teachers to start.

The type of Inquiry Case is discussing is a relatively closed form of inquiry. He makes the argument that we have specific curricular outcomes, so we need to direct the questions. However, he sees Inquiry as a process of developing intellectual tools throughout. Critical thinking doesn't happen at the end, it occurs throughout.

Case looks at 5 categories of tools (which he had us develop through concept attainment):
  • Background Knowledge
  • Criteria for Judgement
  • Critical thinking vocabulary
  • Thinking strategies
  • Habits of mind
Students learn inquiry tools and practice inquiry skills throughout, using AFL to practice, get feedback and improve. The culminating task is interesting: "Draw on at least 3 past civilizations, recommend the the 2 most important lessons for future societies to remember. As a class, agree on the 5 most important lessons, and in groups, create artifacts to bury in a class time capsule expressing one of these lessons." I like this question because it is built to cumulatively, has some group and individual task, involves the academic and tactile and lends itself to differentiation.

I was gone from the session for an hour while attending an admin meeting, then returned to activities designed to help us check our understanding of the difference between fact questions, feeling/preference questions and questions that require informed judgement.

I think that these sessions would be helpful for teachers as they work towards understanding inquiry, and the direct ties to curriculum are very helpful. I'm hoping to see more on backwards design tomorrow.