Getting that digital work everyone is talking about!

Those of us that have taught for a few years understand the “big stack dilemma” very well.  Transporting, grading, logging scores, returning, accepting revisions, regrading,… uhhh, it just doesn’t stop.  To help the students that we work for it can’t stop.  But the process can be improved using some technology around the web and creative thinking.

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Mastery with iPads

There is a large difference when it comes to learning with iPads and that difference has to do with mastery.  A number of articles can be found on exploring the other differences, my latest favorite is Matt Levinson’s http://www.edutopia.org/blogs/ipad-be-nimble-be-quick-matt-levinson.  But something seems to get overlooked by outsiders of education in the argument.  Mastery.  I have worked with iPads since 2010 in schools and I was one of the largest advocates for laptops.  Yes, you read that correctly, laptops.  I thought that iPads were simply a consumption device and didn’t have the foresight to see beyond their current iteration.  Also having been a classroom teacher for the previous 10 years I knew how students learned best.  But that didn’t seem to make a difference to my administration.  People in much more influential positions than I in my district decided to get iPads anyway and something amazing started to happen.  Students started learning and retaining the information.  I thought, “But how could they?  They are just having fun with games!”  But I was at a point where I was frustrated with doing the same routines over and over again and not getting the results I wanted with student mastery so I dug deeper and found that I had something to learn about educational technology.

Data, data, data. In this day and age we are all looking for increased test scores and the like to prove our points, but my data on this subject is different.  It is all anecdotal, but to a teacher that has been in the game for a few years I know when learning is taking place.  Last night really got me thinking about it much more.  With yesterday being Mother’s Day, we celebrated with family and after the kids were in bed my wife and I sat down to watch a movie.  Five minutes in to the film her iPhone sounds with a message and she begins to laugh hysterically.  Our son, age the age of 7, used his iPod touch to take a photo of himself and send the following:

“Hi mom.  This is me in my room.  I love you and hope you had a good Mother’s Day.”

As all teachers do I back tracked the train of thought on how that message got from my son’s head to my wife.  And the answer was simple.  I taught him how to take photos the first day he got is iPod touch and he remembered it.  No only did he remember it, but he used it masterfully in context of importance.  That led me to thinking about all of the games my kids play on the iOS devices in our house and it is amazing how the mastery of basic tasks, taking a picture, math, spelling, definitions, writing, and other games had happened without drill and kill.  And so much more!

Walking around the classrooms don’t give me the same sense of learning in my district.  The students that I have are using shared iPads and honestly the learning is limited.  Oh they have fun and do get some concepts down, but there is so much more potential.  What places like Maine and Los Angeles have done with iPads is absolutely amazing.  Now if we can use that power for the greater good we might have something!

If your district is looking at iPads vs. Laptops there are a number of metrics you can consider, but one of the most overlooked is the amount of mastery and the speed at which it is acquired.  iPads are fun.  Students want to use them.  And with each use comes a desired learning that is cleverly disguised in games.  Laptops have games too, but it is the same thing that many of us learned on and laptops aren’t as fun.  Teachers have a unique opportunity to bring back the fun in learning with iPads.  I wish I had more data on the influence of fun in mastery (maybe a research paper worth writing), but I have to go with intuition on this matter.  If I could I would start with how long it takes a student to understand fractions Motion Math instead of worksheets!

UDL and The Flipped Classroom: The Full Picture

Interesting framework here! Maybe more tools for the education toolbox?

User Generated Education

In response to all of the attention given to the flipped classroom, I proposed The Flipped Classroom: The Full Picture and The Flipped Classroom: The Full Picture for Higher Education in which the viewing of videos (often discussed on the primary focus of the flipped classroom) becomes a part of a larger cycle of learning based on an experiential cycle of learning.

Universal Design for Learning has also been in the news lately as a new report Universal Design for Learning (UDL): Initiatives on the Move was released by the National Center on UDL, May, 2012. This post describes the principles of Universal Design for Learning and how they naturally occur when a full cycle of learning, including ideas related to the flipped classroom, are used within the instructional process.

Universal Design for Learning

The UDL framework:

  • includes three principles calling for educators to provide multiple means of engagement…

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Answers to 1:1 learning questions

It recently came to my attention that 1:1 learning (1 computing device for 1 student) is still a bit of a mystery for many educators.  While the idea of every student having a device like an iPad, laptop, or Chromebook could lead to a revolution in learning, the educators need to understand the concept and practice first.  Let the myths and (for some) hysteria of robots taking over slip away.  Teachers are and always will be essential as described in this post.  But teachers are also the crucial spark in the future of our country.  Here are the top 3 questions I get when discussing the topic with some answers and support for my fellow educators out there.

Question #1 –  If every student has a device when do they use it?

Answer:  It should be up to the teacher.  It is your classroom.  You design the learning activities and provide the tools to accomplish the desired outcomes.  It is your world.  But don’t rest on “what has worked in the past”.  Using new tools does get difficult.  Change is hard.  But remember the education you are providing is for the students future.  Technology is a part of our everyday lives and we can show learners how to use it appropriately and successfully to enhance themselves.  Also, having something new and cool in class helps students engage in what is being taught because it is modern and connected to their lives.

Question #2 –  How am I supposed to teach something I don’t know all that well?

Answer:  For many I think you know more about technology than you give yourself credit for, but for some there is some learning to do.  If you are looking to move your classroom by yourself, then I would suggest getting to know TPACK, SAMR, ISTE standards, Project RED, and then the device manufacturers very well.  They will get you information on the concepts of integrating technology in the classroom.  Personally Apple has done the most promising work in the classroom and that is why they have a high rate of use with the iPad and Mac OS X systems. Google and Microsoft are both strong in the education world, but they are second and third for a reason at this point.    If you are talking about operational difficulties (like use of PowerPoint, etc…), then I would suggest looking for online classes or opportunities (like GCF Learn) to educate yourself.  If you are looking to advance on the salary schedule or keep your state certification they may require the demonstration of continued education.  Why not do both at the same time?

If your district is moving towards 1:1 then demand the professional development to support it!  Digital curriculum, flipping the classroom, and all of the other stuff that is in the Ed. Tech world are great tools, but they need to be taught and supported.  Sometimes administrators forget about this part and need gentle reminders (I was one of those so forgive me).

Question #3 –  So you are asking me to do more?  When am I going to have the time?

Answer:  Use time to make time.  I was at a lecture once and someone put it to me this way.  20 years ago you didn’t have a cell phone.  If you had to make a call you drove to a location to do so, looked up the phone number, and talked to someone.  Now, you spend about 15 minutes a day for the first month learning how your cell phone works and use it on a regular basis for calls, texts, emails, calendars, social media, games, pictures, etc…  The same idea applies to your classroom.  If you take time to learn how to create online quizzes (I like Google Forms and Flubaroo for that), you can digitally issue, grade, and communicate with students without having to touch a single piece of paper.  Research without encyclopedias or a trip to the library.  Draw without necessarily getting all of the crayons and paper out.   Provide feedback instantly while the student remembers the topic instead of weeks later with a red pen graded paper (we have all been there).  Allow classroom collaboration online without the noise and distractions a confined verbal area creates.  It does take time to use technology well, but for many educators using technology and devices in the classroom has allowed for them to get time back!  Here is what PBS has to say on using technology and flipped learning.

Question #4 –  What is the right way to do it?

Answer:  It is up to you.  The first step is to get in and try.  Second step is to learn more than you know now.  Third step is to keep trying.  While I don’t confess to knowing everything I can say that by helping teachers for the past 10 years teachers who allow their students to use technology often see benefits they had never before imagined.  There have been failures, but most of those came from poor planning (district or teacher) or abandonment of the process because it became difficult.  If you have the opportunity to move into a 1:1 classroom I encourage you to take that chance.  Don’t be afraid to look “dumb” in front of your students.  Do you think you ever ask students to do something that they are afraid to look “dumb” doing?  This is the year.  Take the risk.  And talk to others that have done it online (Google+, Pintrest, Edmodo, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, etc…)    We are out there to help each other.

Follow me @benjiasu (twitter) or google.com/+BenHarrison

It’s March planning season…

It’s March planning season…and no longer are my worries on spring break or end of the year planning.  Now that my classroom days are behind me a bit, I have focused my attention to planning professional development for the summer sessions and next year’s theme.  Why now?  In order to have full admin “buy-in” for the coming year principals and other personnel need to be educated and aware of the plan in advance.  Also, if their help is needed then they will need the “whens and wheres” of the activities.  Now is the time to make it a quality learning experience for our teachers so that our students will be better next year.  For my current school the coming year will bring the first phase of our 1:1 program which has all teachers getting new devices.  Being the Ed Tech guy is often a difficult conversation for some but the idea is to not just implement technology for technology’s sake.  My goal is to put the best tools in place for our future educators and learners. 

Foundational Framework

TPACK.org or more specifically the TPACK model is the framework that I begin all PD sessions with.  This model of “technology integration” provides everyone in the room with a great starting point.  

TPACK-new

Being a former classroom and technology teacher allows me some credibility in the room, I’ll grant that.  But TPACK brings a larger educational impact than I ever could if it is talked about correctly.  The diagram to right is very straight forward – by blending pedagogical, content, and technological knowledge learners will benefit from the best implementation scheme.  The biggest issue I see is that some teachers have a difficult time with two or more of these areas and the battle is uphill from there.

Sadly many teachers lacking in the “P” or “C”  areas often view the “T” as “one more thing to do”.   They often don’t see any benefit to using devices, until they try it and are supported through successful implementations.   But how possible is a 1:1 learning environment in your school?  Leading my groups through the connecting of the dots between technology, content, and pedagogy and exploring the Venn diagram is usually a multiple hour session and has great results.  This foundational subject (sets of activities) sets up all of the scaffolding for the year and beyond.

Once a teacher challenged me on devices in the classroom and said that the distractions of the devices would take away from her students learning.  I told her that her fear is a possibility, but I have seen good and bad scenarios with technology.  She taught early primary and had been doing so for a number of years.  After my admittance I quickly replied back with a question that I like still like to use from time to time.  “Do you let your kids use glue in your class?”  The reason I ask that question is because I remember how easily kids could get into trouble with glue and often the answer to this question is “yes”.  I then asked how the classroom can be managed with such a powerful tool that has to be kept in workshops.  “Well, we have times and rules…” or something like that was her answer and it usually is by most and I like to remind them that technology is a tool just like glue.  There is a time and a place that it can be really helpful, but unsupervised it can ruin your day.

Working Concepts

Dr. Ruben Puetendura’s SAMR model is a powerful tool when looking at the working knowledge of technology in education.  Now that technology is not really “new” I have heard reports of other coaches that only use the SAMR model for professional development and I applaud that.  Maybe our schools systems are a bit behind the ball out west, but far too many teachers I have supported need more tools to help with the transfer of their knowledge and experiences.   So much has been done with the SAMR model that each year I simply take suggestions of classroom activities and adjust them for each level of the model using technology.

Standards to consider…

If my groups are off and running with TPACK and SAMR and are producing good work then I leave it at that.  But I have worked with many groups that need a more specific type of criteria to help guide them along.  For me, ISTE standards are the ones that I feel have the greatest breadth of technology in education and I have fostered using them.  But they are not the only standards out there.  One could guess that there are over 50 different sets of technology standards that can be used, but most of them are some sort of derivative of ISTE knowledge from a various point in time.    Recently I have come to also appreciate the UNESCO standards but I will get to what I like about them in just a bit.

As teacher trainers we have done a great job of getting our learners to look at standards.  Whether it be school, district, state, or Common Core standards we have done our job in getting teachers to use rational in their planning.  ISTE standards provide a great step for teachers looking to use that same rational when using technology in the classroom.  I have found that the standards and curriculum planning also establish a comfort level in the room and communication increase.  To talk with another teacher on an alike mindset as you allows both teachers to become creative in ways that they hadn’t been previously.

Evaluation is the problem key

It is almost an inevitability that if my PD group talks about standards that they will also get into evaluation and scoring.  While evaluation is the key to understanding knowledge, it is also a problem when it comes to standardization across all disciplines, grade levels, and activities and for a trainer that is a problem.  When my teachers get to this point of their development I like to have small group conversations about developing rubrics, but I focus on ongoing evaluation instead of a “one shot” deal.  Rubrics are great tools to use as long as they contain each part of what the project is to be evaluated on.  That sounds simple, right?  But so many times I have  encountered teachers that see the little bits and pieces of the project (the diorama and 200 word essay), but lack the overall critical thinking and creativity that are needed for tomorrow’s world.

Now that the UNESCO standards have been brought to my attention, courtesy of Microsoft’s Innovative Educator training, I feel like they have a piece of the evaluation of 21C skills that have been missing.  Keep in mind that they are not aligned with any of the ISTE or other standards out there, but they are something to be considered.

Is Typing Still Necessary?

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This morning I had the opportunity to sit with parents of our small community to discuss the future of our school.  Near the end of our strategic planning session a parent stopped me to ask my opinion on typing instruction.  Because I have actually taught typing in a previous life (district), been an educator for the past 15 years, and a technology lead for several districts, I have some opinions on the matter.  I quickly jumped on my soap box about why I wasn’t altogether thrilled with typing instruction in school.  Luckily for me I was able to convince myself to stop talking after a couple of minutes and ask her opinions on the subject.

“After my daughter’s second grade year one of the teachers sent home a Things to Do Over the Summer list and one of the activities on there was typing.  We practiced several times a day and her skill improved to where she was typing 15 words per minute.  I remember taking typing in school and it was so valuable to me as I moved on in high school and college.  I would really like to see that continue in the future.”

I am glad that I made the resolution this year to listen more because it will allow me to see other view points on the subjects that I hold dear.  In this case, I have a chance to see why so many people still find typing instruction a necessary component of using the computer or being technologically savvy.  But is development of keyboard typing important?  Here are some reasons why I think we have over valued our stock in typing instruction:

1. Timed writing?

Typing was invented and used as a substitution for writing.  If this is true then can you tell me the last time an application, test, or other measurement tool asked how many words per minute you can write?  My guess would be that the majority of us have never been asked that question.  From most of the English teachers that I have worked with the speed of the work is not nearly as important as the quality of the work.  Simply stated, it is more important to write well than  write quickly.  So when did time become such an important factor?  I assume in the days before personal computers were popular that many assistants typed the work of their bosses.  The more of that work that could be typed quickly, the more work could be accomplished to make the boss look good.  I know that in my high school typing class we copied the information from a textbook (I look back on this and laugh now) for practice.  But, is this a valuable use of time in our digital age?

2. If speed is the name of the game…

then we are already using the wrong equipment.  It has been acknowledged for years that that QWERTY keyboard does not have the cleanest or easiest of layouts for typing speed.  The Dvorak keyboard has been setup so that the keys that are used most often are near our strongest fingers.  Brilliant!  If you are truly looking to speed up writing then please start looking into the Dvorak board.  As a mentor and instructor to young teachers, I know that the content of the writing is far more valuable than how fast they can retype notes.  If I wanted exactly what I said typed, I would have typed it and made copies for all.

3.  Out of content typing.

Most typing programs over the past 30 years have all been focused on route memorization of keys.  Let’s be clear, my goal isn’t to talk anyone out of helping students learn the keyboard.  Instead I would like for students to learn how to type within the context of their learning of other subjects.  For instance, if you are having students write a paper spend a few moments talking about where the keys are and how some have found a benefit with the home row.  Typing is an art form that must be practiced.

4.  Typing has evolved…

Even as I am sitting here I can recall my typing instructor talking about “good posture” and “not looking at the keys”, but the ways in where and how we type have dramatically changed over the past two decades.  In my high school I may be exposed to a keyboard for 1-2 hours daily unless a paper was due.  According to the Washington Post, teens spend an average of 7.5 hours consuming media each day.  With also texting an average of 60 times per day, our students are exposed to typing at an astonishing level.  My guess is that most of them aren’t doing this at a dedicated workstation and they are all successful in what they are typing.  (Except for the iPhone’s auto-correct.  That needs to be fixed!)  iPads, iPhones, Android devices, laptops, tablets, ereaders and more are constantly within the reach of our children.  With all this exposure should we focus our energy and time on how quickly to type or what is being typed?

Finally, there is no one way to do it.

My father-in-law is an amazing guy.  VP of an international company, father of two, grandfather to 5, and great overall man.  In the years before his retirement I asked him why he would “hunt and peck” on his keyboard to type his reports, presentations, and emails.  He said one comment that I will never forget.  “It gets the job done for me.”  That is as simple a statement as necessary.  What I have gained is an appreciation for practicing what is personally comfortable.  Not necessarily what Mavis Beacon or some other program is telling you is the proper way.

I have to admit…

In the beginning of my career I saw the value in typing much differently.  I would instruct for hours about “proper” typing skills and how those would benefit each student forever.  One day a student approached me early in the semester and asked me why she had to learn typing.  I went through my usual speech about how I could show her how to master a machine that will help her everyday for the rest of her life.  She then challenged me to a typing test.  An eighth grader typed 78 words per minute and beat me.  She was a gracious winner (thank you Mikayla) and also insightful.  After beating me soundly on my own terms she asked me, “Do you know how many other kids can do this too?”  Of course I didn’t.  I thought the only way they were going to learn was through me.  Because our state still had the standard and I was in a public school I made the declaration.  “To all students, part of my requirements is for you to show me that you can type 35 wpm.  Once you show me, you don’t have to show me again.”  Within two weeks 85% of my students had met the requirement and I began my journey on understanding education more.

Now the hard question.  When will we no longer type?

Just my thoughts for today.

-B

Resources 

Typing History – http://www.daskeyboard.com/blog/typing-through-time-the-history-of-the-keyboard/

Washington Post – http://www.washingtonpost.com/postlive/teens-are-spending-more-time-consuming-media-on-mobile-devices/2013/03/12/309bb242-8689-11e2-98a3-b3db6b9ac586_story.html 

Images used with permission from unsplash.com