Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Focus, Attention, Distraction

When I train on the use of technology in the classroom, teachers often bring up how distracting it can be.  I would love to give solutions like put the device away, or collect the devices, but the truth is...the devices that are distractions are also the devices that allow students to be curious and to search for answers.  So I don't.

What others tend to call distracted behavior, I refer to as curiosity.  Our brains are designed for it.  We find something that is interesting and we learn more about it.  When something grabs our attention, we have laser-like focus to learn about it.  When we have an interesting problem, we focus in on how to solve it, solve it, then move on.

I guess we just need to help our students be curious about our content.  With so many distractions on hand, we are competing for attention.  You can drive yourself crazy with the trying to remove all distractions, but I figure we just need to start working differently.

Knowing that focus will not be on one thing for the entire 50 minutes of the class period... How are we going to design our lesson?  Where will the focus be?  How will we grab attention?  Once we have it, what are we going to do with it?

Once you have tried that... What data did you collect (quantitative or qualitative)?  What does that tell you about your lesson?  Did it work? How will you use this information to adjust your lesson tomorrow?

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Innovating as a Mashup Artist

I have a nice drive in everyday.  I travel through a section that is so remote, there is no cell phone network connection, so I download and listen to podcasts.  I know this is something that others do frequently, but seeing as I just moved to this area, it is new to me.  I have fallen in love with the EntreLeadership podcast and am starting from the beginning (I am about 3 years behind).  This morning I listened to one with Austin Kleon, who wrote the book How to Steal Like an Artist. His take on innovation was one that I have agree with and that I think can apply to education as well.  He discussed that we tend to bring together the voices of others and mash them up to come up with our own voice.

How does this apply to innovation?  

Innovation is not the constant search for something new or the tireless journey for the cutting edge of new devices and tools.  For many of us, innovation is taking many things that we have at our disposal and making something new out of that.  Whether it be our voice, our thoughts, our products, or new ideas.

Isn't that what we want for our students?  

We teach them things so they can innovate.  I taught chemistry and science.  I did not want my students to memorize reactions that they would forget, I wanted them to replicate what I had taught them, combine it with other learnings from other classes, their personal history, and make something new.  Innovation is not making something new or replicating what another has done, it is transforming what we learn and experience and mashing it up into something new.

Where have you heard this before?  

You have heard people say to "give students voice" or ensure students are thinking critically.  What is that if not asking students to innovate by mashing up that which they have learned and experienced and turning it into a new thought.

The scary part about this is that we are never quite sure where this will go.  As teachers, we are not the masters of the background of every kid that comes into our room.  How do we respond to something that we are not expecting or something that, better yet, we do not yet understand?

An Innovative Classroom

Remember that our job as teachers is to innovate the learning environment so our students can think innovatively about the ideas, facts, and concepts that we present them.  Essentially, we are teeing them up to innovate with our content areas, but that is only one thing that students will use to innovate.  We ask that they value what we bring to the table, we need to make sure that we also value what they bring to the table.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Why am I stoked on Named Versions in Google Docs?

Ever wonder why a feature shows up?  I know we often look at the changes made in technology and, many times, scratch our heads thinking, why.  I tell my kids that it is one thing to say something doesn't make sense and it is another to understand how it can makes sense.  Enter named versions in the version history of Google Docs.  I thought it would be nice to have a rough draft and a final draft (or if you write like I do, rough draft 1 through 47 and never a final draft), but that was the end of it.

Then I started my current project, updating policies and regulations in our school district.  This is not a task that I love to do or even one that I have the knowledge to tackle alone.  So to get some help from friends, I turned the dusty PDF's into google docs and formatted them accordingly.  Lately, I have been obsessed with using the headings to make a table of contents, or even an outline.  That way, I can add names to the sections and they pop up at the top of the document for disseminating work (pro-tip).  Ramble ramble ramble, what the heck does this have to do with named versions?

So I named the version after I was done formatting the document.  Why?  Because I was trying to avoid doing the work.  Did I mention that this is not the most exciting thing about my job?  I just recognize the importance.  After I went through and modified the document for the sections that I feel I am responsible, I went back and named the version of the document.
Image of version history option location
Once there I named the new version (just double-click the time and type) and decided to click the button that I never click (in red below).

Why? Because I wanted to...avoiding work.  Actually, it is because I am haphazardly genius.  When clicked, not only does it make all of the non-named versions disappear, it shows the version with the collection of edits made between the named versions.  Probably something that most know, but, whatever, an epiphany for me!  To one up this, if you print from this view, it will print the edits made as a collective set of edits.  Why do I like this?  Because I like track changes (suggesting mode), but not while I am working.

 So, needless to say, I have more policies to edit today, but I felt it only necessary to share this with my reader(s).  Procrastination...maybe.  A great feature that can help with project management and updating shared documents...definitely.  Stop procrastinating and get back to your work, if that isn't the pot calling the kettle black.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

The Do's of Digital Literacy

Over the past year, I have been working on changing digital citizenship and information literacy from a set of rules and don't to a set of do's.  It is important to me that we provide students with ideas of what they can do... what is possible... rather than a list of what they shouldn't do.  Much like telling your friend not to look down.  The first thing we do is look down.  It is much more helpful to give your friend something to focus on to get over a fear or accomplish a task.

What is Digital Literacy?

  • Digital Citizenship - how to behave in a digital world
  • Information Literacy - how to access/utilize the information available
  • Digital Literacy = Digital Citizenship + Information Literacy - The ethics that allow us to build on the ideas of others and create something awesome in a digital space.

When students in our district log in to their chromebooks, they are taken to this homepage.  I wish I could say that these were created by me.  The idea was mine, but much of the execution was completed by our team of educators.  Their aesthetic and ability to find more powerful verbs is a gift I know I lack.  Please click through and see that they have transformed digital literacy into something that is truly inspirational for our students.

Please feel free to give us more ideas and you are more than welcome to ask for a copy of the google slides, brand them to your own district, and use where you would like.  The area of focus on the right is based on the scope and sequence of digital citizenship curriculum provided by CommonSense.org.

Currently, this resides on our student homepage, but we are working on a campaign where these would be transformed into bookmarks, posters, and other media to further our mission to infuse positive digital literacy into the culture of our schools.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Reflecting as a Teacher #innovatorscompass

Through my years as an educator, I heard the term reflective practitioner.  In essence, think about what you did today and whether or not you would change it or how you would alter things going forward.

How do you reflect?  For me it is the time I have in the car on the way home.  Only thing with that is it is usually focused on the stuff I did wrong or the things that happened at the end of the day.  At times, by the time I get an idea of what I really need to think about, I am home and it is time to work hang with the family and then dinner and bed.

I wanted to create something that helped with this.  I go through and think about what I would like to ask other teachers and myself about our practice.  Not for the sake of saying one is right or one is wrong, but for the sake of questioning to remove the answer of "because I have always done it that way.  So I created a YouTube channel, the Reflective Teacher Minute.  The idea is that a reflection is something so small that can make a huge difference.  That, and all the videos are 1 minute long.  It doesn't take long to ask a question.  The hard part is the thinking afterwards.  If you want to see, here they are...

So how do you think through your reflections?  Some people skip around from thought to thought while others work through their day and decisions.  I ask myself questions, mostly because I learned an amazing tool from a great friend.  It is a tool I use for lesson design, lesson improvement, initiative planning, coming up with new ideas, solving problems... so pretty much everything.  I use it for reflection.  It is the innovators compass by Ela Ben-Ur @elabenur.  If you want to learn more you can go to innovatorscompass.org and check it out.

When I reflect, I start in the lower left (observations) and work my way clockwise around the compass.  Through this I have learned to improve my practice, but also always make sure I focus on the big picture (principles).  What matters?  What else matters?  What doesn't matter?  By taking into account what matters I guide my moonshot thinking (Ideas) and eventually come to what I am going to try next time (experiment).  As simple as it is, that is where the genius lies.

So I challenge you to reflect.  Just take a minute each day and think.  If you need some help on what to think about, check out a video.  Even a minute each day is something so small that we can all do that can make a huge difference for our students and for us as professionals, and, more importantly, people.  Have a great day.

Friday, April 14, 2017

My Engineering Feat #ALS #dtk12chat

My mother could no longer grab a fork, spoon, or knife.  That does not seem like a big deal, but it is huge when it is a list of things that you cannot do any more.  She had ALS and was struggling to open and close her hands.  I sat and talked with her on one of my Wednesday night visits.  When somebody is that amazing, you know how to listen or figure it out quickly.  As I listened, I could here how frustrated she was as she struggled to eat her food, though that was not the main point of the conversation.  Thus framed my design challenge.  How might I create something, so that my mom could hold a utensil and feed herself?

I could not put my finger on it, but I could not forget this problem for a few days.  I woke up on Saturday and went immediately to the local hardware store.  I had it.  She could not grab with her fingers, but her thumb worked.  I bought a piece of aluminum and some rubber coating and brought it back to my house (no tools necessary, I already had them all).  Here is what I made.

Here is how it works.  Understand that her hand is smaller than mine, so the black part goes on the palm, use your thumb to hold down the utensil, and the utensil can be used without making a fist.  I also made her a cup holder so she could hold her cups too.

There is a curved opening in the back where the top of a utensil handle goes.  It is nearly closed to hold that part down.  The front is open, but has two sides to keep the front of the utensil from sliding off the side.

Mothers are so special that they will use it when you are around to make you feel special.  What I later found out, it that she used it daily until she was no longer able to lift her arms.

Why do I share this?

I have never been more proud of something I have created.  Not that it is an engineering masterpiece or that it was difficult to make, but that it was perfect for what she needed.

When I talk about teaching through engineering or how I believe that design thinking can change the face of education in our schools, it is not just talk.  I refuse to sell something that I don't buy into myself.

I designed this with empathy.

  • I listened to my mother.  
  • Found a problem to solve
  • I came up with 1000's of possible solutions 
  • I came up with one worth trying.  It took me hours to make a bent piece of aluminum because I failed many times.  
  • I tested it 
and I gave it away.

I built this for her and she used it.  It solved a huge problem for her.  After she passed away earlier this month I asked my step-father if I could have it.  He gave it to me and told me how much it helped and how she used it, even when I was not around.

I know this was not about education, specifically, but I know there are many who are trying to figure out this design thinking process.  Hopefully this helps out.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Add Design Thinking to your Lessons

I recently wrote a blog post for the Center of Digital Education on how districts can focus their PD efforts on a single transformative teaching practice, Design thinking.  Rather than focusing on a slew of teaching practices and diluting efforts, a single practice taught to all teachers concentrates efforts and allows instructional leaders to focus on a single initiative.  By making that practice design thinking, teachers can make any classroom, lesson, or activity a student-centered engineering activity that addresses all the initiatives that you would have taught anyway.  You can read more HERE.

The point of this post is more practical for the teacher.  What does a design thinking lesson look like?  How can we change any lesson into one that incorporates engineering and design.  This is more of a stretch in an english or history class than in a science or math class, seeing as how they are both in the STEM and STEAM acronym.  So here is an example of a transformed lesson.

A Social Science Lesson Transformed by Design Thinking

Imagine being a teacher and revisiting a lesson from last year, a lesson on the democratization of eastern Europe. Last year this was done through an amazing lecture with slides and photos.

   With Integrated Technology

This year, add in some technology. Students will research the topic online and complete some task regarding the topic. Add in collaboration, communication, and critical thinking. The lesson is now a collaborative Google map where students gather and post information about one of the eastern European countries that gained their independence, for the last time, in the 20th century.

With the addition of 4 things (technology, communication, collaboration, and critical thinking) the lesson is a student centered, engaging learning opportunity.

   With Design Thinking

Take this same lesson and add design thinking. Design the perfect house for a person living in [select country] during the last time they gained their independence. Take into account the culture, people, budget, climate, natural resources available, and time period to ensure that the house is attainable for the average citizen.

By adding design thinking, the lesson is transformed into a small project that requires students to learn, empathize, and build. The incorporation of empathy in the design process requires students to use technology to learn about the people and culture of a certain country. The task requires students to think critically, create, communicate their choices, and collaborate to create the house. By focusing on one thing, design thinking, five others were added to the lesson. Further, students who would not have normally cared about social studies, let alone eastern Europe in the 20th century, are now engaged in building a house for people of an eastern European country during a time of historical significance.