Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Climate of Fear and How It's Crippling Education

Pretty strong opening, eh?

When FDR delivered his first inaugural address, our nation was gripped by an economic stranglehold. Fear and desperation permeated our very culture. Doubt and paralysis infected our banks, our businesses, and the American psyche. FDR's famous "We have nothing to fear but fear itself" was both insightful and prophetic. While change did overcome fear, it was change through radical policy shifts. Only by embracing new policies, new methods, and science did we transform fear and paralysis to growth.

Are we brave enough to do the same today?

I wonder. The model we trained ourselves in is antiquated. The generations we educate do not learn, function, or exist in a world that we knew and worked within. How are we changing our educational practices to meet these changes and are we doing so in a timely manner to prepare for WHERE our students are going?

I don't think we are; furthermore, we are not doing so fast enough.

There. I said the negative, dirty fact that is looking education in the face. I am not criticizing teachers, our jobs, the work, our dedication. I am, however, criticizing the iron grip that we have on changing what we have done over and over. We love that dinosaur unit, the fun movie project, the participle scavenger hunt that we spent hours designing. We LOVE teaching them. They are like the smell of baking bread to us. LOVE THEM. They are fun, successful highlights of our work. After all, we did spend hours developing them. However: Do we know WHAT students learn from them, what skills they don't get during them? Do we have daily data that helps us pinpoint those who need to move faster through the materials or those who need immediate review?

No. Gulp.

Fear. DON'T MAKE ME CHANGE! We have to own that we are fearful of these changes. What if we NEVER get to teach that special dinosaur unit again? What if we have to change how we DO everything?

We do it.

Why? Because it will help ALL of our students. It will push them harder, further, and faster. We will grow, too. We will have to use our data to analyze, diagnose, and pinpoint how to help each student get up to speed. We will be diagnosticians (along with being counselors, facilitators, and coaches) every day. We will maximize our use of technology, and we will control learning in ways we have never done before. We MSUT be brave pioneers who use science (like those farmers who had to change their ways during the Great Depression and use new farming methods) and become bold policy makers (like those who initiated the WPA Act and put people to work who needed it). We have to change, folks. CHANGE is already here. It's we who are swimming in the wrong direction. If we continue to do so, we will only continue to distance ourselves from our students who are swimming with the current, not against it.

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Importance of What Your Librarian Taught You

I remember Mrs. Jira, my freshmen English teacher/librarian.  You do remember librarians, right?  Those unicorn-like creatures that are being eliminated from school systems because ALL they do is check out books....

Okay.  So I'm bitter.  I am a former librarian....turned technology teacher....turned consultant.  I love my job, but I have to poke with my stick every now and then.  BACK to topic.

Your librarian taught you some great stuff, and you might not have even noticed.  Librarians have been finding things no one else can find for years.  So here we are in the Twenty-first Century (living in a world with more information before), and we don't teach people how to FIND things on the Internet.  Logical.

Here's a few things EVERYONE should know about finding things on the Internet.  Most people "google" information.  They type a few things into the Google search engine and peek at the results.  Most people only access information they find on the FIRST page of mined results.  We are, after all, a busy people who yell "FASTER!" as we stand next to our microwave ovens.  Do we find what we need?  Sometimes.  Mostly, we find what others WANT us to find.

So how do we REALLY glean data using what our librarian taught us?  Let's take a mini-lesson, shall we?

Google works on a "natural language" algorithm that selects "key words" from the search string we type.  In simple terms, that means that whatever you type in the "search box" for the Google search engine is broken into words to be "searched."  For example, if I typed the following into Google:

What is the most popular blog?

The algorithm might pull "popular" and "blog" as key words and bring me results.  This type of search can be useful, but when doing specific reference searching, it will gather generic results or thousands of references that require eons of time to evaluate.  What if you have to find something more specific?  What if you need to know all of the articles on Apple technology development from the New York Times from 2009-2011?  Research is like that....specific....and sometimes unforgiving!

How would you create an entry to FIND something like that? Your librarian called this boolean search tools:  AND, OR, NOT, and " ".  Apple OR "Apple Technology" OR "Apple development" 2009...2011

Using this search string, you will get specific results for what you want like the following results:

Isn't that a better fix?  What does it all mean?

Here are some search terms you should always know.
OR = One or another
AND = In addition to
" " = Finds specific content
site: = looks within a specific site/domain
inurl:  = finds keywords within the URL
intitle:  = finds keywords within the title of a site
... = an elipse will find material within a time frame

Feeling "nerdy"?  You should!  Happy searching!  Oh, and THANK you librarian for those boolean search terms!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Core Curriculum IS Like Going To War

So did that title catch your attention?

I bet it did. It's rather like beginning an essay with the word "sex" or anything connected to the word "sex." So, using this heading is for a reason. I want to talk about "Core Curriculum." You've heard about it. Your administrators have been tossing it your way, and you've been examining it in your professional learning communities. You either have a grasp of the changes heading your way, or you don't. I am one of those in the first category. Hence the title. Core Curriculum will change the way we teach. If it doesn't, we're not doing it correctly. That's why it's like war. Tell a large group of committed stakeholders that all of their lives must change and there will be chaos, pure and simple. Some are excited, others are fearful. Some are angry, others simply plan to do nothing at all. So for those of you who know nothing of the changes to come, here are my thoughts on this "war," I mean "change."

Core Curriculum

1. It will open with a lot of flag waving and hoopla. Get prepared. There will be song singing and flag waving. Inspirational speeches will be given. You will feel something. All wars begin this way. Be prepared for it. There's nothing wrong with flag waving. Heck, I still cry during the national anthem when it's played for those who win medals at the Olympics.

2. Everyone will react differently when the shooting begins. You know that when we "pull the trigger" and begin implementation, everyone will react differently. Some will charge into the front lines, yelling fiercely, "Charge!" Some will be confused, milling about, shouting for help. Some will run the other way, fearful. Some will simply stand still, hoping that they go unnoticed in the uproar. Which will you be?

3. After the battle begins, your awareness awakens. It's going to be bloody. It's going to be hard. You are going to win some things and lose some things. More than that is the knowledge that when you come out on the other side, you will never be the same.

4. Be prepared for ugliness. You know the unit you love? The one on dinosaurs or cell division or poetry? Keep in mind that teaching depth of knowledge takes time, more time than you have ever invested before. That means that some of the things you love have to go. Let's call this war event---amputation. Grim business, eh?

5. When the war is over, you will be tired, but you will have a whole new perspective. I think that says it all.

Our implementation of Core Curriculum will be a battle. Like most wars, there is no way to predict the battles we will will fight or how we will fight them until we actually just DO. We will be changed, but all is for a reason: we fight to create the best possible education for the students placed in our classrooms.

For them, I will do battle.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Importance of Socialnomics and Social Media as Instructional Content

Social media, social networking and "socialnomics" are mainstays in today's business world. Those businesses who want to stay ahead of the curve are using social media tools to tap into the Internet network to launch campaigns, entice customers, and recruit employable talent.

What are schools doing?

Blocking these sites with filters.

If we don't teach our students who will? We need to teach our students the following: 1) How to use social media as a tool. 2) How to protect one's self while using social media. 3) How to leverage information and data in social media, and 4) How to use social media to make positive connections with the world of work. That means we as teachers have to be social media experts. Most teachers fear this task. Fear no more. We must wade into the social stream and navigate its depths. It is our job to protect, educate, and enlighten our students. Since common core curriculum emphasizes "college and career readiness" as outcomes, we must take into account all aspects of this outcome. Dealing with real world readiness is part of this recipe. Where to do this? I believe that library media specialists can deliver this information quite well. It should be integrated into web literacy lessons. Problem: many schools have eliminated library media specialists. (I am one of these people!) Thus, educators, where do we teach web literacy? I now have that task in my new role, but it is a task that we all should address. Our students' literacy is at stake.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Why Project-Based Learning IS "Best Practice" Education

"By better integrating academic, career and technical education, and work-based learning, the nation’s secondary schools can increase student engagement, boost student achievement, and provide students with more options after they graduate from high school, according to a new policy brief from the Alliance for Excellent Education."
---from Alliance for Education

We all want to prepare our students for the future, a future we cannot see. We want our education to be work relevant and we aspire to make our assessments authentic. We are ever more aware of the push for this environment. In my state, Kansas, I am looking at multiple movements in this area: Kansas Common Core Standards and CTE (Career and Technical Education Pathways). I, like many, find myself in this mix. Here's what I know. First, we need to look for methods (and tools) to help us shift accountability of learning from a teacher-based model to a student-learning based model. Please understand, I am not removing the concept of "accountability" from my plate at all. I believe we must share it. When we engage the "stake holders" in education, students are often overlooked; I feel they are the most important "stake holders" of all. Thus, in redesigning my curriculum two years ago, I used project-based education to drive my advanced level courses. Here was my concept:

1. Create individual project-based learning driven by content that engaged individual students.
2. Use self-regulated learning techniques in the process.
3. Use a "learning plan" to drive the process. Students would set goals, search for learning resources, and develop a time flow plan (with my guidance) that would drive the learning.
4. Each week, I monitor the process with progress reports/updates. The student and I evaluate the work flow progress and adjust/modify the plan accordingly.
5. Product output is held accountable to high standards established at the beginning of the process.
6. "Raise the bar" for production by broadcasting product to the public and making the creator the showcase representative on a public stage.
7. Finalize the project by using reflection interventions to help the student evaluate their learning process in a meaningful manner.

Sound easy? It's not. I work LONG hours. I guess you have to trust me on that, but let's just say that this is engaging learning, but it requires a different manner of teaching. I facilitate learning this way; I guide and manipulate my students into making themselves great. It works for my students, and for me, that's what matters most.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Best Free Tools To Flip Your Classroom

So you want to flip your classroom, but where do you start? I encourage the "sandbox" method: play in it. I am going to list what I feel are some of the best free technology tools out there. I'll tell you what they are and how I use them. Then, it's time for you to play. :-)

Dropbox - Dropbox is a great cloud technology storage tool. It's also cross platform, so moving items between operating systems is a breeze. Simply download the application, install, create an account, and you are on your way. You can create public links from the public folder. Drop a video in the public box, right click (or control click if you're on a Mac) and copy the public link from the video. Send it away for others to view. I actually create folders for all of my students. When they join dropbox, I get more free storage. They drop all of their projects here for me to grade. This is a very helpful tool since many email applications have attachment size limitations. Use the cloud and see how it can help you!

Edmodo - If you are looking to tap into the mobile technology world, this tool will be your best friend. Put your lesson plans online and have updates and text messages sent directly to your students. You can even create online assessments here. All for free.

UStreamTV - With UStreamTV, you can stream video live. Create your own channel and feed it through your Facebook page. I use this to broadcast student presentations. If you want to raise the bar in performance expectations, set up your rubrics and broadcast the performances of your students. I have parents who love that they know exactly what I am talking about when it comes to their student's performances. It's hard to doubt video.

Khan Academy - Here is the origin of flipped classrooms. While I don't use this content personally, I often use the same format when I develop my own content. It's great stuff.

TED-ed - TED talks for education. Great Lessons Worth Sharing. Here are great lessons (with extended plans) that you are allowed to flip for YOUR classroom. How great is this? I love it!

These are just a few tools I use. This is enough playtime for today. Be brave and jump in! Remember that everything you do must help you work smarter, faster, and more efficiently. Have a great day in the sandbox!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Ever Growing Power of Mobile Technology

My students don't wear wrist watches. Neither do I. Do you? Chances are if you are, you are not living the the mobile digital technology world that our teens and twenty-something users are. Before you cry, "Foul," realize this isn't a condemnation or a judgement. It's just a different style of living. I cannot listen to Ke$sha or Wiz Kahlifa without experiencing real pain, so I don't buy all of their lifestyle as well. We're different. That, however, does not excuse us from an awareness of that lifestyle and how we must harness it to stay current in the classroom and in life. Mobile technology is the future. The major computer companies know this and are planning accordingly. While we celebrate this move, I would like to know where your school's technology plan falls in this reality. If you are still existing in the world of a few scattered computer labs that teachers jockey to use, you can count your school clearly in the dark ages of the technology curve. Before you cry, "Foul," again, please note that I am fully aware of the financial challenges that face this country and my state when it comes to educational finance. The key word is awareness. We might not be able to change our direction immediately, but as educators, we have to remain current with trends and directions. We have to utilize what we know, use what we have, and access what we can. Many are now using polling through text to gather answers and responses from students. Sites such as Poll Everywhere and SMS Poll can be used. Problems also arise. First, there is the issue of fair and equal use. How do we make sure all students have access to mobile technology? Second, how do we govern the use of mobile technology and maintain safe standards within our school environment? Third, how do we train our staff to use and maintain mobile technology in our classrooms? All of these issues aside, it is our awareness and preparation for this technology that must happen. Now, as for that watch you are wearing, that's a different issue entirely.