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play a prominent roll because it is the knife that will carve out this new way of teaching and learning leaving behind outdated practices that rely solely on the teacher being the focal point of education to the teacher as being facilitator.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.

Play with tech, don’t teach it

I couldn’t agree more with the tweet from Matthew Weld; (@Matthew Weld) district technology coach & elementary computer teacher)! He tweets

I’ve found that kids don’t need to be taught the tool – just that it exists. Many teachers find this unbelievable #1to1techat

He says what I have been thinking for quite some time. In the winter/spring semester at BBHMS I taught computer technology to 6th and 8th graders and noticed they would tune me out if I tried teaching them how to use web technology. The look the class gave me with eyes glazed over was, “Seriously Mr. K, you don’t have to teach us this stuff. We’ll just play with it and figure it out.” Learned it they did and all while messing around with it. This experience gave me a brand new perspective on how kids learn, and not just technology.

Kids today were born into a digital age. While it may not mean much, it does mean the kids are comfortable around technology and are willing to play with it without worrying it will break which is in such contrast to older people who worry about breaking a computer. So, kids play and when they play with the technology they learn more about it because they are problem solving. The problem solving is a matter of how they can get the web-ware (web software) to do what they want it to do. Because computer software and web-ware use similar terms and methods of organization, kids are automatically looking for the modifying action in drop-down menus and icons. This automatic transference makes them potent web-ware learners (Internet in general) which means I have to do very little to teach the tech.

What does this mean for me as a the building tech coach, and am I still valuable to the district as a teacher? YES! My value as a teacher doesn’t diminish in the slightest. I add more value to the kids learning process because I offer knowledge of technology and facilitate the process of learning. Instead of being the focal point of all knowledge, I become the facilitator who helps kids make a jump in their learning broadening their understanding and use of Web 2.0 technology AND how to think about using it. Isn’t this the real point of education? It is helping kids move from one point of thinking to another expanding and deepening process and content. Love it!

The age of the computers

I could tell today the 6th graders were ready to work on their VoiceThread now that the boring part, me talking, was out of the way. Class started with the upload of images, and then it got rough.

The computers in the lab are a bit old; aged like a fine cheese. They work, so there are no complaints there. But, when the students started to record audio on them, the computers sloooooooowed down. Not only did they slow down but many just locked up which required a Restart and no one likes a Restart. The good thing was that the kids were patient making it easier to deal with as I flew from one side of the room to the other trying to fix or troubleshoot issues.

This brings me to a topic that I have been talking about with teachers at BBHMS. Many teachers received a laptop cart as part of a textbook adoption giving them an opportunity to put a laptop into the hands of every kid in the room. This is awesome!! What isn’t awesome are the wireless network difficulties that we are experiencing right now with so many wireless devices accessing the network. It gets frustrating for the teachers when they want to have the kids do things and can’t. I get that. Everyone loves to have a new technology and everyone wants it to work, and when it does everyone is happy. However, it hasn’t been a smooth ride and this is where teachers choose not to use technology because it can be such a hassle even it comes in a cart with 30 laptops. I have been explaining the issue and most are patient, but they want it to work. The lesson to learn is that technology is rarely without its glitches. Knowing the glitches were there, and as the tech guy, I kept a calm head and didn’t complain about how bad the computers were. I did mention that the computers were old, but if I started to complain the kids would have been reluctant to work.

Need to Know

Interesting day today with the 6th graders. As I was speaking in class close to mid-day, I found that the kids were listening with staring eyes. So, I stopped and got their attention by asking some questions. One of the questions I asked was, “What kind of stuff do you want to do in here?” in hopes that it would spark some kind of conversation. One answer from a student was that he would like to build a website. I said that would be fine and then asked what it would be about. He didn’t know. I questioned a bit further and came to understand that building a site would be cool but no one knows what the site would be about. With an idea lodged in head, the idea being that the kids really don’t know what they want to learn, I asked them to send me an email telling me what would interest them. The general pattern was this:

  • build a website
  • make games
  • learn VoiceThread (this is what we are doing right now)
  • learn how to better use Chrome

That was it. What did I learn? Despite the boredom on their faces, and knowing they really weren’t engaged in learning, the 6th graders still didn’t know what the alternative would be to learning what I was teaching. In even kids in the digital age really don’t know what is all out there and need someone to show it to them.

Just when I thought

Just when I thought kids were enthused about the work they were doing, I found a few who were doing other, funner things. It was disappointing to see it because I had addressed their needs by giving them control over their work. Now, and I know this is wrong, I feel like taking the control away from them. No worries, I won’t do it.

How do I keep them on task then when working on the computers? I have to accept they will not be on task 100% of the time, but I do not have to accept bare bones work and demand more of them. If I am up walking around the room like a soldier, the work gets done (no fun). I should schedule short formative checks the students are required to keep with me. I know I am going to have to move seats for the kids who are sitting together as friends and messing around when I am not looking. But, isn’t this what we all do until we are called on it? Yep.

Threading

As the proliferation of web technology grows, and increasingly gets into the hands of students and teachers, there will be an explosion of educational products to learn from. As it is right now, there is a vast amount of information to choose from, and as mobile devices get into the hands of more people, there will more to learn than we can possibly imagine. How can I have students create original products that show they have curated the content for what they needed? How will kids be able to choose the right web tools to show their understanding? As a technology integration specialist, I grapple with these kinds of questions to help teachers and students make the right choices that accurately portray what was learned. My students today registered for VoiceThread accounts to help them generate authentic products with voice and images as they learn. VoiceThread is one of many web applications that can transform learning.

The typical model in U.S. schools is for the teacher to download what she knows to the student who is supposed to recall, study, and regurgitate information back in almost the original form. Add to this the use of worksheets and the pump is primed for low level, unsustainable learning in the form of factoids that mean nothing. Maybe I went a little overboard there. The question for me as a technology integration specialist is how can tech be put to use to create original works that show a high level of thinking while maintaining the attraction value students love. Using a Web 2.0 app like VoiceThread helps myself and the teacher I work with to energize kids to learn.

Threading is not only about VoiceThread and working to create an authentic product that threads images, voice and video together, but also about the multi-step and multiple pathways that converge and diverge within student thinking. We call it thinking. We may want to call it threading.

No Guidelines, No Work

What makes for great collaboration? Great collaboration is ideal when all parties have a vested interest in the work they are doing. Parties may be interested in collaborating to create a great product. Other groups are forced to work with each other and collaboration is minimal. An observation I have is that when students get to choose their own groups minimal work gets done. Reasons?

  1. Friends want to be friends and be social.
  2. There is little accountability because friends may not want to upset one another.

Taking some time to think about this I found that groups need guidelines. Before I go further, I know this but I made an assumption that eighth grade students would know these guidelines and follow them. Not the case today.

Tomorrow will bring guidelines for students to follow.

Tech snafu

Having a computer has its advantages. I can have kids access information at a moment’s notice to find something worth looking up, or at least something I think is worth looking up, have software pre-installed, and complete needed activities. Would you ever imagine it would be disadvantage?

I had an interesting experience today that, while frustrating, taught me a great deal about helping kids learn with a computer in front of them. First, students don’t see the computer as a gateway to finding unlimited resources and information. I’ll ask a question and a response might be, “Where am I going to find the answer to that?” I might be coy and say inside your head, but it is a striking picture of forgotten ubiquitous technology. I am not saying that a student wouldn’t turn to it to find information at some point. I am saying that it was startling to note how many students need a reminder it is there. Often I over estimate student’s abilities to use a computer and to use it well. I was reminded of this when I was helping 6th graders gain access to the web or help them locate software. Shouldn’t they already know this stuff? Finally, I learned that if I am prepared, which I was prepared for the final class today (I was ready for the previous 3 but tech snafu’s always catch me off guard), that high quality learning takes place, yet to reach that high quality I really had to push the very boxed in thinking students have today in the classroom. As advantageous as computers are, and they really are, there are the disadvantages.

Learning Space

I find it peculiar that students get confused by working in learning spaces online. This is their first time doing so in a wiki and the interface throws them a bit, but that isn’t what I am I getting at. They simply find it odd to work together in a social context when the word school is involved. I think of many ways students might interact with each other digitally, likely in similar ways, and yet it is just odd for them to do so here. Just a reflection for the day.

The week went well and progress was made on the fronts of setting up web browsers, getting usable apps that can be used for productivity and fun, and the kids had a chance to start working together in their own learning spaces. It was a good week and I am looking forward to next.