Tech isn’t the focal point

Aside

When is technology the focal point in learning? Never. It never should be. There is no magical component that help students learn and while tech has been touted to have a major impact on learning, it hasn’t. It is easy to blame technology as not having impact when it should. Something has to get blamed. Technology by itself cannot be the focal point for learning.

People using strong pedagogy and technology as learners themselves produce learning.

Tool up with a digital tool belt

tool beltIn an age when there is a call for education transformation and heightened drive to assess students knowledge, students need more than just paper and pencil to demonstrate what they know. Paper and pencil are the technology of the past. Unfortunately teachers still require students to use this deprecated technology to take notes, write, and more. I do agree students need to write as writing brings together knowledge, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation to create a composition of original thought.

We are in an age of hyperaugmentation of thoughts and ideas using technology as the tool to create personal points of content. Available to everyone, old to young, are web technologies that allow creation of video, blogs, idea maps, images, photos, wikis, and more. Impressively, webware is expanding rapidly making it difficult to keep track of every new digital tool available. While this may seem daunting, it should not dissuade teachers from curating the best webware they can find and integrate into teaching and learning.

What then should teachers be developing alongside students so they can demonstrate how they are learning and what they have learned? A digital tool belt is needed. Teachers need to shift from traditional methods of teaching to a learnership pedagogy opening up opportunities for shared learning, leadership, and technology through purposeful change. A digital tool belt are the digital tools a student thinks about, readily has access to, and uses proficiently to create bits of content knowledge for teachers, parents, and the community to see.

Shouldn’t teachers be worrying about what kids know? No. Content knowledge can be gained anywhere at anytime using a wireless device. For students who don’t have access to one, schools can provide the Internet access needed. It is more important for students to learn how to learn becoming critical curators of the Web coupled with higher order thinking skills. Students who can curate the Web, are critical of the information in a site, and use that information to create new knowledge is the new skill teachers should be teaching.

What then should teachers teach? Real world problem solving combined with content knowledge. The heavy lifting of problem solving, critical thinking, and making clear choices through inquiry learning creates a richer and deeper learning experience. From beginning to end, students are developing their own learning while teachers are exercising learnership. Project based learning affords real world learning contexts engaging students in real life decisions using technology to communicate what is being learned.

The tools in a digital tool belt is essential for students to learn and solve today’s problems.

photo credit: tokenblogger.com via photopin cc

If kids say no, what do they say yes to?

I have been reading a lot about how students today want to be in control of their own learning deciding where and when they learn.  I asked my students today about whether or not they should have to come to school.  The answer was decidedly – no.

The current trends in education say that students are wanting to direct their own learning by deciding what, when, and when they learn.  I believe that a growing society is also to have population of learned citizens who produce the wants and needs of life other than just saying what they want to do.  Why do students not want to come to school?

Learning in a classroom is, at best, contrived.  The current methodology is to teach a mass of different skills, in different classrooms, with different teachers without any context or application.  Learning to learn is one thing, but learning with no meaning is another.  This is why students do not want to come to school, though they would argue it is just boring and are not learning anything.  I would also think they do not want to come to school because they lives are lived with hypermedia, and they receive information at whim and smile quick as light.  There is no waiting for the website, music, or video – maybe just a little depending on the connection speed.  In school students sit at a desk with a book and have to read, discuss, and answer.  Video games immerse the student in other world experiences to build and destroy stimulating all of the senses, yet they learn.  One girl said today that games can teach and they do.  The deck is stacked against education in this “learn in school” paradigm.

How do I respond to this negative attitude towards formal learning?  I have to seek ways that authentically engage students.  I like questions that starts with “What if?”  Getting the students to wonder how something would be different and how they would make it different will engage them because there is a sense of wonderment.

Any thoughts on how to further engage students who have such a dislike for school?

photo credit: Madison Guy via photopin cc

Just too long

At the beginning of the semester I worked with 8th grade students to identify issues they see in the world that “need fixing.” Using the well known brainstorm, the class came up with a list of ideas and they were to choose one from the list and research it. After research they created many different forms of media to let the world know what is going on. That is a really brief description because that isn’t the point of this post. The real point is that they have had far too long to complete their work.

To change this, I am going to do either one week or two week work sessions next semester.

Contrived doesn’t mean exciting or engaging

I observe students everyday as they learn and work.  A pedagogical stance of mine is that learning is to be authentic if learning is to occur at all.  Contrived instances or made up schemes seem not to have an impact as I predict they do.  Fairy tale learning atmospheres are thought to increase student motivation and generate a drive for learning. This has not been the case.

 

We brainstorm

Planning for learning is essential.  Assuming a teacher uses backwards design and that he/she plans with someone else, though someone may prefer planning as an individual.  When presented with something new a student has to learn, the teacher thinks of the best possible engaging learning experience possible.  Now, sometimes it is down right boring and that is a fact of life, but I do not believe there is a teacher out there who does not want his/her students really be into learning.  I brainstorm as many ideas as I can that would excite a student to learn.  With best laid intentions and a computer to type with, I compose a lesson plan that is astounding in terms of its creativity and learning potential.  The day comes and I deliver the instruction and you know what I quickly learn?

 

What I thought happened not

Here is a great example of what I thought was engaging was a complete flop.  I wanted students to see a problem in the district where I live and problem was that the town could use a new source of revenue.  Keep in mind this is my problem….the one I said is a problem.  So, in PBL style, I create an exciting opening event.  I made a Prezi, downloaded a snippit of the “Rocky” anthem and as students walk in I was playing it out and acting excited.  By the way, eighth graders do not get excited, and they were not excited or even interested in the Prezi that was playing and anthem.  I realized at that point, it flopped and my contrived instance of engagement went up in a puff of smoke.  I thought I developed an engaging opening sequence.  I thought I would capture their attention.  I thought and I thought and I thought.  My thoughts and planning didn’t do anything.

 

Contrived learning

When was the last time you learned something in a contrived atmosphere?  For instance, buying groceries thinking you have the metal cart under budget but the display as clerk shows the real dollars and sense blowing the food budget?  Or, when was the last time you painted a room only to find you were a gallon short and had to back to the store to get another gallon?  These are real life learning experiences that happen in real time and space.  Should learning be denigrated to contrived instances that have no meaning for students?  Nope.

 

My new plan of action

As I quickly realize the degree to which students do not connect real life to content, I must change how I go about teaching and learning.  In order for me to be an effective teacher I have to allow the feedback students are giving me to change how I go about my practice.  There is no better giver of new teaching tact than a student(s) reaction to my teaching.  If they aren’t into, I am going to have a very hard time getting them learn.  So, my new plan of action is to get a feel for what students want to learn about by proposing some ideas to them allowing them to have choice and then embed the instruction in their content preference.

 

The sandbox is open

At BBHMS we are moving in this direction though I haven’t come out and said this to the staff. I work with a Technology Committee and we are currently discussing what the tech culture should look like at our school. In our last meeting, all agreed there needs to be a wider array of tech being used and that tech is transforming teaching. We have not yet come to the point of researching the technology that should be used in our school as we are now beginning to phase in BYOD with a 1:1 in the future.

On Friday, October 19th part of the staff attended a tech forum that addressed BYOD and why we should use it. Some reasons we came up with were

  1. allows kids access to the Internet for information and webware
  2. opens technology to a wider range of teachers
  3. less expensive than a 1:1
  4. opens a culture of learning through technology
  5. kids are already using it

A step in the right direction
There has been a no cell phone use policy for years and for good reason. There is really no way to monitor what the kids are looking at or if they are accessing sites for information. This was a simple measure to keep students from doing what they should not. However, as a Cindy Hubert said in class, “…were born into the digital age…” and the students do not know what life is like without a computer. I recall my mother’s first computer which ran on DOS and had one stick of RAM. We had 5 1/2′ in floppy disks that sometimes worked and sometimes did not. The personal computer was beginning its way into homes. Now, the phones we carry in our pockets have the power and capability to do everything we need, and this is where we can leverage the power of BYOD.

Use it while you can
I cannot say that Brecksville-Broadview Heights Schools will go to a 1:1 in the next year, though we are on our way with the purchase of netbooks for science and social studies, but I do know that students have access to the world inside their pocket, so why not use it and abuse it for all it is worth. Students are eager to pull out their wireless device – show and tell to everyone! With such eagerness schools can engage kids in learning while helping them to learn how to search for information and then use Web 2.0 technology to create a new piece of information that documents their learning. While we wait for a 1:1 to come, using BYOD is a great way to engage students.

Conundrum
Heading down this path is awesome and I am excited to see what comes of it when teachers and students construct new knowledge! There are a few barriers that I could use some help with and would appreciate some feedback:

  1. What policies should we put in place when in appropriate digital citizenship is inappropriate?
  2. What do we do when students do not have a wireless device?
  3. How can the teachers come to some consensus on this topic?
  4. How do you get teachers to buy in?

The sandbox is wide open because we don’t have a view of what webware and hardware is out there to use. The important part is that we are beginning to use it.

Do you use BYOD, and, if so, how?

Let the discussion begin!!

me: i’m here

Denise: I thought the 3rd one could use Glogster.
me: Glogster would be perfect for the third one.
In Glogster, kids can import pics, YouTube videos and more.

Denise: I’m thinking about using the iPad for apps and then the netbooks for other activities. I just feel like I have no time to prepare anything besides pencil and paper.
HOw else could I use youtube?
I need to get an account for Glogster right?

me: What do you mean using iPad for apps? I’ll do some brainstorming for the other two ideas. One of your CC goals is to have kids create webs. I have a few ways for kids to do that together.

Denise: That would be cool- I was thinking pearltrees?

me: No, you don’t need a Glogster acct. I have a subscription and can add your kids to it.
Pearltrees would be a great idea! Pearltrees is about creating webs using websites by Pearling them.

Denise: Do you know how to create an app? I thought that could be cool and see how the kids could run with it- more of a small group enrichment for accel.

me: BRB. I am going to check in Chrome Webstore for app creators.

Denise: cool

me: Ok, can’t find anything right now, but there might be something out on the web.
for which of the activities do you want kids to create an app?

Denise: I’m basically trying to start a doc for major lit skills that students are not really grasping well yet, and then work on others. my goal is to have parents in during EI to monitor and help guide these activities. I think the other I’d really like to work on is vocab. THey never do too well, so I want to use tech to increase abilities. I guess I could start with vocab games, but would like to do more.
For the view selected movie clips could this be on my youtube channel? Need huge refresher on that.

me: I have a perfect solution for game making. It is called Zondle and I am using it right now with Bev Cornett.

Denise: let’s do it. If she has the same planning as me I will come down when you’re already scheduled with her.

me: YouTube is a great place to find movie clips and add to your channel. Plus, the kids can go back and watch it whenever they want. What would you think about creating your own videos to put on YT to help teach or refresh what kids are learning in class? I found a piece of hardware I want to order that would help you do this.

Denise: why not. is it possible to use the wingclip videos in my youtube channel or is this something I’d have to link to Moodle? I’d like to streamline as much as possible. I guess I could link youtube channel to moodle?
not familiar with go animate- that’s an app?
btw I’m logging this as PLC- i will share the form with you.

Content before cool stuff

I began class yesterday by asking the kids what they felt was really cool to do in technology class. This question was prompted by an email from one of my students. In the email the student asked if he could create a video game using software received from a camp he attended this summer. So, to begin class yesterday, I asked this student if he wouldn’t mind sharing his idea with the class about creating a video game. Post student explanation, the entire class wanted to make a game and I was totally cool with it! Before they can make the game, I had to explain how I view learning.

I view learning as having two essential tools and the two are dependent upon one another. The first tool is content. Content cannot be ignored or pushed to the side. Without content, or what is being taught, getting to the product can’t happen. Teaching content doesn’t have to be boring. Boring is standing in front of the class with the teacher talking, students listening and taking notes. One method of contextual learning that I am a big fan of is Project Based Learning (PBL). The Buck Institute for Education says this:

In Project Based Learning (PBL), students go through an extended process of inquiry in response to a complex question, problem, or challenge. Rigorous projects help students learn key academic content and practice 21st Century Skills (such as collaboration, communication & critical thinking).

Before I move on, another good resource for PBL is edutopia. You will find resources to help plan for and implement project based learning. The other tool a student needs are the products to demonstrate learning. The products are the cool part of what I do because kids can get online and create some really cool stuff, but they can’t create the product without the content, so the two are married.

Techie validation

I met with a group of teachers this morning who signed up to be on the building technology committee. Past meetings in this circle focused on the conversations of the district technology team which, from what I experienced, delved into kinds of tech, policy and such. This isn’t to say the conversation wasn’t good, but it left me wanting more.

I know lead the building tech committee and as the leader I have to have a very clear vision of where the school will head with technology. The building principal has given me leeway to make decisions and do as I need to. A good leader has to have a vision first and I envision a school where staff and students have a netbook that allows them full time access to resources, but I also see the pedagogy changing dramatically as learning moves away from rote teaching practices to flexible practices that allow and expect kids to make meaning of what they are reading within the digital learning landscape. This kind of shift is radical because it asks teachers to completely change how they teach and how they approach learning. Learning should be understood as kids learning and their own learning. This said, technology will play a prominent roll because it is the knife that will carve out this new way of teaching and learning leaving behind outdated practices that rely solely on the teacher being the focal point of education to the teacher as being facilitator.

I had a striking conversation with a colleague about this very topic. Today’s kids are technologically far beyond most teachers. They are social networkers who converse online or through a camera making connections whenever they can and this is NORMAL to them. It is no big deal to use the iPod and Facetime or Skype. It is no big deal to start to make apps and distribute them. Soon, it will be no big deal to exist in a completely different space interacting, learning, responding, working, and socializing with ease. Can educators help kids do this? Will we stand in the way of their learning? How will we respond to this kind of learning? Hmmm, not sure.

What I do know is that what I am teaching kids today will help them tomorrow. Not only am I helping them learning cool, new Web 2.0 technologies, but I am helping them think through how to approach using all of it. There is a constant conversation about the learning process, setting your own expectations, and carrying a relevant conversation orally and digitally. Without the constant chatter, the kids lose focus and it devolves into a mess of “why am I even doing this,” thinking leading to a debased sense of learning and ownership.

So, I am much more than the tech guy. I combine high quality teaching methods with technology to expand what kids are learning and thinking about. It is this method of teaching that helps students to see a computer is much more than gadgets and fun. It really is about learning, problem solving, decision making, and learning how to learn. That last phrase, learning how to learn, is the hardest of all for students. They are so cultured to get everything from the teacher that they do not know how to get it (learning) for themselves.

I have evolved my teaching practices and pedagogy to meet the demands of a digital world where information is easy to access. The shift took some time for me, but I got there.