Friday, March 18, 2016

6 Free Classroom Innovations

As the Director of EdTech for my district, I hear teachers ask me for technology all the time.  If they only had this then they would be able to teach better, incorporate that, or be innovative.  I don't have the budget to accommodate everything, Plain and Simple.

I was told at the beginning of my career that free is not only a necessary thing, but invaluable.  Can teachers innovate in education with free?  The answer is yes, with creativity.  If this is the most important resource that we have, we need to ensure that teachers are not only trying to inspire creativity (one of the Common Core's 4C's), but that they are modelling it.

Innovations are Free:
1. Rearrange your room.  Your room arrangement supports learning in different ways. Before you get a bunch of technology, get out of the rows.  I have seen classrooms with students in rows, with and without technology and I would call neither innovative.  Get your students in groups, divide them up by interest, something.  By innovating the way that your students are sitting in the classroom you can shift the way that you interact with them...For Free.

2. Theme your classroom.  There are schools becoming academies with a focus and a school-wide shift in instructional focus.  So you may not have that kind of power to move the entire school, but who is to stop you from having your students act as product designers, fashionistas, entrepreneurs, create a student-generated weekly class newspaper for parents, etc.  The idea is that your curriculum is connected through a single thread. Through this thread, students are required to design, write, create, promote, research, and present.  Effectively hitting the standards through a class-wide focus.

3. Close the Textbook.  There a bunch of online resources that you can have students learn from.  This may take some technology, but you could do this in the computer lab or have a computer station somewhere in your building (definitely doesn't need a 1:1 environment).  Or use the social capital of the school and take advantage of the Funds of Knowledge of your community.

4. Change your focus.  Stop being a giver of knowledge and be a guide to understanding.  We are teachers because we believe that students can learn.  At the heart of everything, if we do not hold this belief, then we have made an unwise career choice (euphemism). To change our focus, we need to change how we think that students learn.  Create experiences and challenges that guide students to an understanding, not a piece of knowledge.  Focus on the process of design and creation.  Connecting to data collection, tally the number of questions versus answers-to-questions you give on a daily basis.  If you give info, then you are telling.  If you ask questions, then you are making the students research, read, summarize, and report findings (learning).

5. Collect Data to help personalize student learning.  I am often amazed by the number of people who cannot answer the question, “How do you know your students learned that?”  If students are not learning, then you are not teaching.  One requires the other.  Teaching without learning is just talking.  If you are not collecting data (online formative assessment, exit tickets, self assessment journals, etc.) then you cannot accurately state that your students are learning, or have learned the topics covered.  Does it need to be digital with pretty graphs? No.  It needs to be something that you can look at quickly before the students leave the classroom or before they come the next day to class.  If it is not data you can view quickly, then by the time you look at it, it is no longer relevant or accurate.

6. Teach as little as possible to let the students learn as much as possible. It is ok if you are not the end-all and be-all of everything knowledge.  With the internet, this is more of an unrealistic and unnecessary goal. If you can learn it from a google search, on-demand, then why memorize it. Students need to learn how to find and what to do with the information. The innovation comes with time spent in class. How much time are you in front of your class lecturing?  If the answer is a lot, then the class focus is on you and gaining facts of your limited knowledge.  Give them a task, not a fact. Spend more time with students solving problems in groups and spend your time going around and asking/answering questions.  You do not have to tell something for it to be learned, and if you are good at not telling them things, they will often learn something that you didn't know. That's OK.  I love the definition of learning. “gain or acquire knowledge of or skill in (something) by study, experience, or being taught.” How do students learn in your classroom?  Do they study, gain experience, or are they taught?

From top to bottom, in a school district, the focus should not be on the device as a prerequisite for innovation.  The device is an amplifier for innovation.  Truly innovative people are very good at 4 things: Collaboration, Communication, Critical Thinking, and Creativity.  Oddly enough, these are the same four things that the Common Core says are vital in instruction.  Go figure.  If we want to ensure our students are college and career ready, then maybe we should model college and career readiness.  We talk about great instruction as being modelling, showing, discovery, and celebration.  What better way to model, show, and inspire discovery than to be creative with your innovation.  Not only will this work, but your professionalism will be celebrated.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

The real innovation: The Teacher

I was working with a group of teachers today.  We were prepping a lesson study where myself and my colleague were introducing the teachers to a method of implementing technology in the classroom.  At one point during the prep, a teacher asked if technology was really necessary to complete the lesson.  This was a group who constantly struggled to get technology in their class, while the other half of the group had 1:1 chromebooks in the classroom.

The more I thought about it, the more I figured it could be done without technology.  Here is an outline of the activity.

We were having small groups of students collaborating on a single google slide.  The slide contained a primary source from the women's suffrage movement and 4 boxes.  Each person in the group was responsible for a part of the information: a 7 word summary sentence, persuasive words, an inference from the reading, and an overall reaction to the reading based on the other three boxes.

Once they finished their slide (one of 15 in the slideshow), they were responsible for going to the next two slides and leaving feedback in the notes section of the google slide.  Groups could add feedback that was in Agreement, addition to, or a connection to their slide.  Each group did this to 2 slides.

Once this was completed, students returned to their slide and, based on the feedback they received added to or readjusted the thoughts on the slide.

As a follow up, students were then required to use 3 primary sources and interpretations of the slide to write about the women's suffrage movement.

It was great, the students loved it, and they were completely engaged.  If you stick to the definitions of the theory, this was an S in SAMR.  This is an activity that could be accomplished with posters and a gallery walk to follow.  Does that mean this is bad?  No, the fact that this is a simple substitution does not mean that it does not engage students or increase their learning.  Could we have incorporated video, presentation of models, and extensions of learning that required students to pilfer the internet searching for extensions, opposing beliefs or something else?  SURE.  The point I am trying to make is that just because it is a Substitution of technology for paper does not mean it is a bad thing.  Over the last few months I have seen people searching for tools that are better or that do something different.

There is no magic bullet or something that will make every activity great every time.  The innovation is not the S-A-M-R level of the activity or the newness of the technology tool, it is in the teacher and the creativity that teachers use in implementing the technology.  The Common Core focuses on the 4 C's: Collaboration, Communication, Critical thinking, and Creativity.  As teachers we need to make sure we exercise the heck out of the last one.

Creativity does not mean finding the next great tool, it is repurposing and pinteresting (yep that's a verb) the hell out of the tools that we and the students know so we can model creativity and engage students with the ways that we can get them to do amazing things with the simple tools we have and can use.  Focus on the learning, what is the learning goal and what is the point of the lesson?  Be innovative in how you create the lesson and how you structure the activity: groups, pairs, personalized learning, competency based, etc.  Even if it is with an old tool.

I train a lot of teachers in technology.  It is not because I think technology is the only, or best way to teach, it is because I think it forces teachers to modify the ways they create lessons and pushes them to be creative.  Technology is a tool that pushes us out of rows and into innovative practice.  The practice itself is not a result of the technology, it is a result of the teacher.

Sorry if this is a rant... Nevermind, I'm not.