Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Part 6: Creating an Educational Ecosystem: Equilibrium

As I think back on the idea that a classroom is like an ecosystem, I realize that I am writing words that are static about a system that can be anything but static.  The beauty of an ecosystem is that organisms, environment, and energy naturally come to a state of equilibrium.  Many people think that an equilibrium is a state where everything stops.  In reality, it is where changes happen in all directions at the same speed.  It is a dynamic time of change where is appears that there is no change.  Like with your students, the most learning tends to happen when they have no idea that they are actually learning. Systems naturally reach an equilibrium as part of their design.

Most learning tends to happen when students have no idea that they are actually learning

The magic of equilibrium is that a system is stable because it is moving.  A glass of water appears still, but the molecules on the surface are evaporating and condensing at the same rate.  That motion keeps the water stable.  When a stress is placed on a system, the movement allows the system to react to the stress.  Drought, storms, wind, and erosion all affect an ecosystem, but the dynamic equilibrium adjusts to keep the system stable.  When there is an action, there is a reaction.  

Your classroom should be in an equilibrium.  That is to say that your classroom will shift to account for the structure that best supports your lesson and objective.  When you stress your class with a project, move it with a lab, or shake it with assessment and data driven methods that your classroom should be malleable enough to adjust to the changing needs of your class.  Not every activity you do will be collaborative (nor should it), not every activity will be alone (nor should it) the learning objective should determine the pedagogy and that, in turn, should affect how your classroom is spaced.  If your layout does not support your pedagogy and learning objective, then your ecosystem is not in equilibrium.

Your classroom should be in an equilibrium.

As you can see, I am a science guy.  When I think of the classroom I think of an ecosystem, equilibrium, energy, environment, and organisms.  However you think of your classroom, I hope that it is as something that lives.  Your classroom is more than seats, a floor, and four walls.  It is a tool to help you drive instruction, support learning, and engage students.  It is as important as the devices in their hands, their peers in the classroom, and the content to which you guide them.  Utilize the tool, don’t fight your classroom.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

SAMR and TPACK explained

Why are there 2 theories that essentially point to the same thing?  What do they mean?  Just frickin break it down for me.  Sound like you, read on.

I have found that my idea of SAMR and TPACK is very simple and that it makes sense to most teachers.  what it requires is thinking like a teacher, got that... If so, you should be fine.  In simple, you plan lessons with TPACK, you reflect on student performance with SAMR

Planning your lesson with TPACK

Teachers plan lessons, they think of the thing that they are going to teach and how they are going to teach it.  NOTE: teaching does not mean talking, teaching means there is learning.

TPACK - Technology, Pedagogy, And Content Knowledge (yep, its an acronym)
Technology - the things that you and the students are going to use in the lesson to support learning.
Pedagogy - what are your methods, how are students grouped.  (teacher stuff)
- think, pair, share and stuff like that.
Content Knowledge - the thing that you want the kids to learn (content objective if you want to be all hoity-toity about it)

So when you make a lesson, you teach some stuff, using some methods.  With TPACK the idea is that you teach some stuff, using some methods, and you have technology to support it.
It is a 3 circle venn diagram.  The difference between this model and "normal teaching" (which is just the bottom 2 circles) is that you integrate technology into a lesson to raise the level of the lesson.  Understand that it does not always mean that the lesson will be better.  That is for you, the teacher, to determine in the context (dotted blue circle) of your class.

Reflecting on the lesson with SAMR
I can only hope that as a teacher you reflect on your lessons.  If not formally, then informally as you are driving home, prepping the lesson for next year, or whatever.  The idea is that you think about what the students did, how they performed, how engaged they were with the topic, and did they learn.  In thinking about what students did during the lesson/activity, that is where you use SAMR.

Ask yourself with a lesson, could the students have done this without the technology?

Yes - then you just substituted the use of tech for something else.
Kinda - then you augmented the lesson with the use of technology, made it different in some way.
Not really - then you modified the lesson.  Students could have done some, but it would be very difficult to get similar products.
Heck No - then you transformed the lesson to something that would be impossible without technology.

I know what you are thinking... why not use my acronym YKNH?  Not as catchy.  Whatever.

Now, just because you can do it, does not mean that you should.  There are times when redefining your lessons are what students need to learn the material.  There are other times when that is not what they need and you are just creating a long project that is drawn out and unengaging.  That is up to you to decide with your teacher powers.

The point of TPACK is to help you plan lessons that integrate technology more.  The point of SAMR is for you to refine you technology integration and get you to think about how to make your activities and lessons more transformative and engage your students in activities that require higher orders of thinking and deeper technology integration to create a product.

hope this helps.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

The most innovative tools on the internet

I am a fan of using the simplest tools to do a multitude of things.  It has lead me to find what I consider to be the most innovative tools on the internet.  I can use these tools every day for the next year and use them a different way every single day.  What is better, I do not have to learn 1000 different tools to do what I want to do.  I can work in a comfort zone and learn some great, in-depth things about these tools.

We need to model and inspire creativity to develop divergent thinking to get students to have an entrepreneurial spirit.

I have read blog posts and the horizon report on where technology is going and the most transformational tools on the internet.  I see augmented reality, but my students do not have the app on the chromebooks.  Google cardboard and expedition, but cardboard does not hold anything other than a cell phone (I don't have 40 of them).  Blended and mobile learning, but in my area I do not wish to create inequity for the students without devices, access to the device, or internet at home.  Digital textbooks, great resource as long as it is used correctly.  Social Media, blocked in my district.

I disagree with the idea that these are up and coming technology tools for the classroom.  I think that the up and coming technology is the tech that already exists.  The innovation comes with the application.  We are teaching the common core standards with a focus on collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and creativity.  We need to model and inspire creativity to develop divergent thinking to get students to have an entrepreneurial spirit.  An entrepreneur is the ultimate innovator, like a divergent thinker is the ultimate creative genius.

So what are the most innovative tools on the internet? Spreadsheet and a Slide

If a spreadsheet is just a place for numbers in boxes and a slide is the thing that holds words and pictures for your students to write and draw as you talk, then watch the video above.  Spreadsheets can be used for gradebooks, art, mapping workflow, collaborating, organizing, communicating and holding conversations, curating resources, posting student generated work, creating rubrics, document creation, databases, and the list goes on and on.  Slides can be used as video backgrounds, newspaper templates, newsletters, collages, children's books, collaborative spaces, class-wide blogging, sharing pictures, choose your own adventure stories, and many more.

Spreadsheets and Slides are the most expandable programs.  They have the lowest bottom floor of any internet tool available (maybe a doc), but they also have the largest potential for creativity and creation.

What does this mean for you as a teacher?

To integrate technology, you do not need to find the newest, best tool out there.  You need to use the one that you most likely already know how to use and apply it in a different way.  Think divergently.  If you do want another tool, use one that integrates with these to make your life easier.

What does this mean for you as a admin or leader of PD?

If you know EdTech you may have heard the terms SAMR and TPACK.  

I will go into those at a later post, but they generally talk about transforming activities, lessons, and student generated products with technology.  Teachers can transform their classes with simple technology.

Technology PD is simply professional development on teaching practice.  I am an advocate for the belief that it is not great teaching unless there is support for language learners, differentiation for fast and slow learners, and technology.  If your technology PD is on an expandable program like spreadsheets or slides, you are able to differentiate your PD for those who have a discomfort with clicking and making mistakes, requiring more attention while also providing an extension for those who may know the program but have only used it in a single facet.

Narrow the tools you teach, expand your influence to apprehensive teachers, get more teachers to integrate technology and transform their classrooms.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Part 5: Creating an Educational Ecosystem: Flow of Info

Water is an integral part of an ecosystem.  How much? Where is it? How does it move through the ecosystem and how are the organisms getting that water?  These factors determine the adaptations of organisms, the way they are shaped, and how large they grow.  Information is the water of your classroom ecosystem.  How does it flow through your class and how do your students need to adapt to get as much as they possibly can?

The space and interactions are integral in a digital classroom.  The manner in which your classroom is laid out and how you support the interactions in the classroom supports a way of working in the classroom.  Where is the focus? How are your norms supporting interactions in the space.  What is missing is the role of the teacher.

How does information flow through your classroom?

If you honestly reflect on your teaching you may notice that all information starts from you.  Does your ecosystem have a creek, is it a desert, or is it a rainforest?  A creek means that all water and information flow from a single source.  Are you that source?  A desert… If you are reading education blogs, I would assume that your classroom is not a desert.  Where information and learning is sparse.  A rainforest is starts with rain.  Rain falls on anything and everything.  That rain collects in many areas and rivers of runoff collect and move throughout the forest.  Information is everywhere.  It does not always come from the teacher, and when that information comes together it creates new information that travels around the classroom.

How are you supporting the movement of information around your classroom?  If you are the sole giver of information, then the students who pay attention and get close to you get the information (plants only grow next to the creek).  In a rainforest, information is encouraged from many sources, is not dependent on the teacher, and allows everything (every student) to grow.  Is can be painful to look back on a year and wonder what type of ecosystem you as a teacher support.  You can create a collaborative environment, develop norms that support collaboration, and still stand in front of the class and monopolize time and attention.

What can you do?

  • Put your instructions in writing.  Whether digital or on a whiteboard, you do not need to speak your instructions.  Let the students read them and get to work.
  • Time yourself.  There is nothing more convincing than data.  Time how long you talk to the entire class and record it daily.
  • Don’t talk to the entire class.  Getting every student’s attention takes time and stops work.
  • Get rid of the front of the room.  If there is no front, how can you get all their attention.
  • Implement Backchannel.  Allow students to interact with you and each other and have a simple method for pushing out information.
  • Let students time you when you start giving instructions.  Come up with a time limit and stick to it.

Reflecting on your ecosystem.  What culture does the learning ecosystem support?  If you have not read through this journey with me, then I recommend you go through the 5 parts of creating an Educational Ecosystem.  This entire journey started with the idea of having a vision, joining a conversation, and doing what is best for children.  The district will have a vision, a clear and simple set of goals, and an idea of what that should look like.  As a teacher, we need to join the conversation.  By structuring our classroom into an educational ecosystem, we are thoughtfully creating a space that support student learning with our vision for education.  It can be frustrating to feel like your voice is not heard.  Your actions and student learning shouts an undeniable and unmistakable opinion.  Be heard.

As you move toward next year, how are you going to redefine your ecosystem and how are you going to support student learning.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Inspiring Great Instruction

When it comes to planning professional development I am a snob. The goal of professional development (PD) is to improve teaching practice. What do we want teaching to look like in our district and model your PD to support this.  Simple, but incredibly difficult.

Get Rid of the Excuse!

There are always excuses for standing in front of the room and droning on.  I had to tell them something real quickly, I needed to give directions, I needed to make sure everybody was on the same page, this is something really difficult and so I had to get them all together and walk them through it slowly.  Pretty soon, everything can fall into that category and you are a sage on the stage, boring the crap out of your students.  And we wonder why they are disinterested in the material.

To make great teaching the norm, then it should be the norm for PD

With PD, there are always excuses for standing and preaching.  It is new information, adults are different than students, this is a special case, that is the way that I instruct best.  Regardless, you are perpetuating that idea that it is OK to do this.  It is OK to bore people just so you can get your point across.  It is PD on how you would like instruction to be, modelling the instruction that you would not like to see anymore.  If we are going to move our school or district culture away from the teacher in front of the room, then we should never give an excuse or teach with this model again.  If it is what is best for learning, then it is the way that we should teach.

So What Does this Mean?

If you would like to see

  • dynamic classrooms, then make your PD dynamic.
  • interactive classrooms, then make your PD interactive.
  • collaborative classrooms...
Do you see the pattern?  I am sick of seeing PD on differentiation that is not differentiated.

This is important for several reasons.  One, it promotes the type of culture and teaching that you wish to see in a school or district.  To make great teaching the norm, then it should be the norm for PD.  If we are told, then we rarely remember, but if we are involved, then we are engaged and we apply.  Two, as an administrator or leader of PD you may no longer be in the classroom and this will give you a sense of just how amazing your teachers are and exactly what you are expecting them to do.  Are you pushing too much on them?  Keep connected with your teachers and understand the pitfalls that they have.  Your empathy will make you a better leader.  Three, it takes preparation for you to teach like this.  Let your teachers know that you are invested in what they do and that their teaching and methods are worth your time to learn and apply, not just evaluate.

Let your teachers know that you are invested in what they do

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Part 4: Creating an Educational Ecosystem: Interactions

Interactions: Your environment supports a type of interaction, but do the norms of the ecosystem also support this?  While the norms of the classroom should support the type of environment teachers wish to create, it is critical that norms not stifle learning or creativity.  

What types of interactions do you foster in your ecosystem?

Teachers know how to manage their classrooms, but the interactions managed in a digital classroom reach far beyond the walls of the classroom.  Norms for interaction must encompass the digital learning space where students venture. In a digital classroom, teachers must teach and reinforce skills of digital citizenship and informational literacy.  Without teaching this, it is for students to go to malicious websites, create a negative digital footprint, bully or degrade others in the class, and overlook copyright (free and published still belongs to others).

How teachers treat digital citizenship and information literacy sets a tone for the interactions that happen in the digital environment of the class.  What types of interactions are conducive to the ecosystem that reinforces learning and creativity?  Too stringent rules will remove all creativity and exploration from the kids.  A lack of rules will lead to a free for all in the digital realm of the class.  The lack of rules tends to reinforce a lack of consequences, leading to issues.

If your learning environment is going to be collaborative and communicative, then students need to understand the expectations for conduct online as well as the consequences for the abuse of the learning environment.  Students should understand the difference between a good digital citizen and that it is every person’s duty in the class to help keep the others in the classroom safe.  Do the students in your classroom know how to be good citizens and digital citizens?

I have many teachers ask about digital citizenship and online safety.  It is new to some, common sense to others, and misunderstood by a vast majority.  Go to CommonSenseMedia, netsmartz, ikeepsafe or any of the other amazing websites that teach about digital citizenship, data privacy, and information literacy.  Learn about these topics.  Work with your students to explore these topics.  Have a google hangout with a technology bigwig and ask them about data privacy and staying safe online.  Or hangout with a college admissions counselor or recruiter and ask them how colleges and government agencies are using digital footprint to gather more information about applicants.  Involve students, learn best practice, instill norms, teach students how and why to protect themselves online.

What types of interactions do you foster in your ecosystem?

Monday, May 23, 2016

Part 3: Creating an Educational Ecosystem: Environment

Part 3: Creating an Educational Ecosystem: Environment

Environment: What does your ecosystem look like?  The space in your classroom supports a type of learning.  There are many buzzwords these days regarding learning spaces.

Spaces based on task type
Spaces based on furniture
  • Standing desks
  • Wiggle chairs
  • Table groups
  • Individual chairs
  • Soft Chairs
  • Adjustable Space - Mobile Furniture

As a teacher, I learned that managing the space was a vital part of my job.  By managing the space I could change the way that students interacted or who they interacted with in the room.  

Moving the desks was also critical.  I was a chemistry teacher, with a room full of lab tables, no single desks.  Teachers near me with the same setup complained to me about the unruly children and how it was difficult to get them to face the same direction, let alone pay attention as it was so easy to talk to a friend.  Once I realized that these teachers were right, I figured I should stop lecturing and do more small group work where the students were required to talk to each other.  Despite the same teachers complaining that my class was seen as more fun, I kept having students collaborating to learn.  The experience taught me that the environment can have a large impact on how you teach.  Now I am the anti-row guy.  I know the type of instruction it supports and I have thought that type of instruction was boring since...For a long time.

A great resource to see how the room arrangements can support learning, check out the USC study on room configurations.  I love this research and resource as a way of showing how teachers can rearrange the room.  Most of it is common sense once you read it.  Like the answer for Jeopardy that you knew after the person on the TV said it.

Personally, my favorite is a room that supports multiple types of learning, built for differentiated instruction.  Parts of the room should be set aside for:
  • individual work
  • collaborative work
  • seminar or small group, targeted instruction
  • design studio

That is a large number of areas in the classroom, 5.  The areas are designed for students who need quiet, collaboration, extra help, to design, and to create in order to learn.  As the teacher, I would play a main role in 1 of those areas and a backup or mentor role in the other 4 areas. That is more on the interactions side, which is in my next blog post, but the two blend together.  Environments support certain types of interactions.

What does your environment look like?  
Do you have a any of the spaces listed above?  
Are there computers or other electronic devices in the room?  
How are the tables/desks laid out and where are they facing (they face the way students are supposed to look)?
What is on the walls?
How do you know which side is the front of the room?

Just a few questions to get you thinking.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Part 2: Creating an Educational Ecosystem: Parts of an Ecosystem

Part 2: Creating an Educational Ecosystem: Parts of an Ecosystem

Organisms:  living things.  Of which there are consumers, producers, and decomposers.  Organisms in an ecosystem are capable of some degree of response to stimuli, growth and development.  

Environment: surroundings.  The climate, terrain, order or disorder of the system.

Energy flow and Nutrient cycles: how energy (chemical, potential, and kinetic) as well as chemicals required for growth move throughout an ecosystem.  In a classroom ecosystem, this is the flow of information, learning, and teaching.  It is also the repetitious cycle for how the routines and repetitious nature of learning and information travel.

Interactions: Ecosystems are made of the first two, but an ecosystem is defined by the interactions of the organisms with other organisms and the environment.  Teachers are the ones with control over the ecosystem of the classroom.  Controlling the flow of information, interactions of the organisms with each other and with the environment.

Define your Ecosystem:

I will hopefully challenge you to reflect on your classroom and your practice.  Not to judge, just to ask you to think and ensure that this is the type of learning environment that you want for your students.  Before you read part part 2, consider the following questions: What do the organisms and environment look like in your classroom (include yourself)?  How do the organisms and environment interact to support the flow of information and learning in the classroom?

What are the parts of the ecosystem (organisms and environment) and how do all these parts interact to support learning?

While there are those in every district that work to develop culture, teachers have the responsibility to create the learning spaces inside their classrooms.  The ecosystem is the learning space and we, as educators, should always work to improve this space for the students in the classroom.  By defining, creating, and adjusting the educational ecosystem in our classrooms we are, in essence, driving the helping to drive the culture of our district.  Superintendents create a vision that is simple and clear.  Teachers need to define our response to that vision in a simple and clear learning ecosystem.  Without it, we are not in the conversation and all vision of learning will appear as top-down.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

1 More Thing

There are so many wonderful technology tools out there: Infographics, Video sites, Creation sites, blogging, minecraft, coding, etc.

There are also different ways of presenting this information.  Is it PBL, student-centered learning, integration with content, SAMR, etc.

As we offer trainings to our teachers it is no wonder why we hear or say that it seems like we are just getting one more thing.  The flavor of the month or app of the week training is not something that we should push out.  Let the teachers pull for that.

What is a Push and Pull Culture:
Do you feel like you are constantly pushing apps and training onto your teachers?
Do you feel that your district is constantly shoving technology down your throat?

Are you a district TOSA with a booked schedule of teachers calling you out to their school?
Are you innovating with the apps that your district has been trained and are you seeking more?

Are you a push district?  

How did we become a pull district?

Let me give some context and explain my situation.  I am the Director of EdTech in my district.  We have been implementing chromebooks and professional development for the past 3 years to increase the effectiveness of use of the chromebooks.

At the start of our implementation, we were a push district.  Out of necessity, we needed to show teachers what was possible.  At some point, we had to stop pushing out new apps and new programs.  Teachers self reported overload and implementation suffered.

This past year we have focused on 1 or 2 programs.  Every training has been on that. Our focus has been Google Sheets and Slides.  Why?  These are the 2 most expandable programs on the internet.  Every teacher (within reason) has created a powerpoint.  We can use that to reach to lowest common denominator in every one of our trainings.  We can also provide ideas for extension (collaboration, differentiation, combining with screencastify, etc).  Spreadsheets... it is hard pressed to find something that cannot be done on a spreadsheet.  To quote Alice Keeler "The answer is always a spreadsheet."

The most innovative thing in education is the teacher, no the computer.

What has this done?  Teachers are getting comfortable with these tools.  They can use the tool ad are extending to uses that I would never have figured out.  They have been able to transform their classrooms with simple tools.  It has reinforced that the most innovative thing in education is the teacher, no the computer.  They are asking us to come out and show them more.  Our teachers are creating a pull culture.

If you push, people push back.  
If you pull back, opponents tend to pull you back in.

In high school, I was a wrestler.  In wrestling, you need to set up your moves, get people to move in a certain way.  To get your opponent to step towards you, you step back.  It tends to be the opposite of what you think.  If you push, people push back.  If you pull back, opponents tend to pull you back in.

To get your teachers interested, step back.  Teach them less, but be mindful of what you choose to teach them. Show them creativity and possibilities with simple tools.  This is not to say that trainings are less rigorous or less valuable, this is to say that your trainings should not be scattered in the latest blog that you read (except this one), but that your trainings build off each other.  Find a program that you could use to teach a year of lessons with.  If your teachers learn one tool and use that tool with creativity and innovation, they can create a dynamic course.  If you are a DOK person, do not give 1000 trainings to a DOK level of 1 on each app.  Give teachers 1000 trainings on the same app with different applications of the same thing (application shows up in DOK level 2).  Don't give them one more thing every time.  Build on the 1 thing every time, it is more rigorous and effective.  Teachers will feel innovative using 1 program and pull at you for more training.  Create a Pull culture in your district.

Creating an Educational Ecosystem

Part 1: Creating an Educational Ecosystem: Overview

What is an Educational Ecosystem
The term ecosystem gives a picture of nature.  Plants, animals, water, paths, trees, and a plethora a tiny germs and insects cruising around.  

An area with plant and animal inhabitants who rely on each other.

That is a type of ecosystem, but in the broad sense, so is your classroom.  There are people, an environment, a set of rules for how to interact, a flow of information, and an interdependence between the people who reside in the ecosystem.Have you ever drawn your ecosystem, thought through the type of ecosystem that you have created, or that you have allowed to be created?  Through this series of blogs, I am going to look at the different aspects of an Educational Ecosystem and how these aspects can be combined and lead to an innovative learning environment.  In the true terms of an ecosystem, I am going to look at the organisms, the environment, the interactions between the organisms and environment, and the flow of energy (information) through the ecosystem.  Each time, I challenge you to look at your practice, your ecosystem.  The idea is to reflect on the ecosystem you have created and verify that it is what you want, or to change how it looks and lead to a different learning environment.

Why do this?
Often in education there is talk of top-down versus bottom-up reform and the argument that the district office can’t possibly understand each individual classroom while the teachers are unable to see the big picture.  I refuse to believe that either side should be discredited, but also that either side should stand still and let the other dictate.  Not that I am saying there should be a strike, revolt, or firings, but that all sides are working for the benefit of children and young adults.  How far off can they be from each other?  

I argue that the most important aspect of education is the culture.  We should work towards a growth mindset and change the culture of the schools for the better.  Where do we start?  We start with a conversation.  Not a conversation of words, but by walking the walk, nt just talking the talk.  We start with the overall culture and the individual educational ecosystems.  Culture is a way of thinking, behaving, or working that exists in a place or organization.  Superintendents should provide the vision that leads to the culture of the district.  Teachers determine the individual ecosystems where students learn on the day to day.  My advice to a superintendent is to have a simple and clear vision.  I feel I am not qualified to say much more than that as I have no idea what else they have to do.  For teachers, I want to look at and develop the idea of the Educational Ecosystem.  

Why ecosystem?  
The classroom is a limit to learning.  Contained within the four walls of a classroom are the students, a teacher, textbooks, and a projector.  Today there are so many more things that enter the classroom both physically and virtually that I feel the term classroom is misunderstood.  Teachers no longer have to manage a classroom, they are responsible for managing a connected ecosystem that extends way beyond the four walls of the room to possibly a global (and beyond) set of influences and interactions.  To manage a learning environment is to understand the balance of interactions, the flow of information, and cycles of learning that take place.  A classroom is an ecosystem.

I heard the VP of sales for Apple, John Couch, mention that Apple is not a product, device, or software solution, but rather that they are an ecosystem for learning.  It was a great keynote for an hour and I am sure that readers know who Apple is and what they do/make, so figure out what else was said.  If I can be so insensitive to my readers and Apple… Google it.  His use of the term ecosystem is something that has stuck with me.  Learning environments (classrooms) are ecosystems and can be defined as such.