Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Person Doing the Work Is Also Doing the Learning

Whenever I design lessons, conversations, professional development, or a conference session, I ask myself the following question:

Who's doing the heavy lifting here?
If the design requires me to do an extensive amount of talking, showing, and prompting, then I'm likely minimizing the retention and learning for the participant. In short, if I'm doing the work, then I'm also doing the learning. (Hat tip to a great teacher in Toledo who always says that!) My students should be the ones doing the work; I should be guiding the experience.

That's why I LOVED Tim Bedley's recent lesson where fourth and fifth grade students ran an Edcamp for each other. They determined the content, created the sessions, self monitored using the "rule of two feet," and blogged about their learning. Check out this amazing video of Tim's students during Edcamp 32:

Tim's students are definitely doing some heavy lifting with this lesson!

I had the privilege of commenting on some of Tim's students' blogs. Check out these amazing, insightful quotes from Tim's students:
  • If there was more time to Edcamp, then it would probably be the best time of my life. ~Alex
  • Because of reflections and learning about something I had never heard of, Edcamp was the greatest time I had. ~Elyahn
  • Edcamp, in my opinion, was awesome! I liked how a lot of people were respectful to the other people that were teaching. ~Phoenix
  • What I also liked about it was that it was so much fun because you would either be listening, taking pictures, or video taping the people who made the whole session. ~Alan
  • Edcamp was the best thing that we could have done in the whole year. ~Cole
The next time you plan a lesson or unit, let the students do the heavy lifting. Kids can do anything if we let them!

Monday, February 25, 2013

So, I Think I Hit a Nerve: Institutional Myths

It's quite possible that my last post hit a nerve. I received some incredible feedback about ways that educators put kids first and evade ridiculous rules.

However, one particular idea kept resurfacing:
The existence of institutional myths.

Sadly, the myths you shared seemed to be much stickier than unicorns or strawberry cows.

They included:
  • Myths about "what we have to teach"
  • Myths about what "being in control" looks like in the classroom
  • Myths about "why he/she is in education"
Why do these myths continue to exist? I believe simple answer is related to TRUST.

If teachers don't feel the implicit trust granted to a true professional, then they are likely to hang on to outdated compliance-based measures. This hurts kids. It hurts adults. It hurts organizations. 

So, reach out and TRUST someone today. 

If you're a teacher, trust your administrator to give you a straight answer when you ask him/her why a policy or procedure is in place. If you're an administrator, trust your teachers to help you make good choices for kids and communicate clearly about your expectations. If you're a superintendent, trust your principals to personalize policies to their buildings and situations. 

How will you trust today?   Let me know in the comments.

CC Photo Credits:
Unicorn by Enokson
Strawberry Cow by Jason Tromm

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Disobedience, by Design: Teaching In an Era of Stupid Rules

Sometimes, rules are stupid.

Lately, it seems like the rules dominating public education in the United States are becoming more and more about adults (and less about kids).

As we move closer and closer to the time of the year when many students are subjected to days and days of testing, I'm becoming more and more angry. Every time I hear one of my colleagues tell me "it's their job" to teach to the test, I feel like screaming. (Insert Wilhelm scream here.)

However, being angry won't change anything. But... being passionately thoughtful can generate change.

If you're a reader of my blog, it's likely that you are a dedicated, caring educator who's interested in helping students get good at life. (As compared to simply getting good at the game of school.)

So, this goes out to you, my friends. Here are 5 of my favorite ways to engage in disobedience, by design.

1. Ask kids HARD questions instead of fact-based ones. If your kids get used to answering hard questions, then they won't need test prep. If the answer can be Googled, then it's not worth asking.

2. Only grade what really matters. Are you required to spend time on mind numbing computer-based practice or final exams written completely at the acquisition level? Then, let your kids know that these tasks won't prepare them for life. Attribute fewer points (or no points) to these assignments. And, hey, if you can get away with it, stop grading all together! - When did testing replace learning? Maybe weighing a pig really does make it fatter. Or not.

3. Get positive press when your kids do awesome things. If you're using class time to engage kids in real, adult work, then chances are you're making a huge difference for someone. Call the newspaper, blog about it, and share your efforts with the community. A classroom surrounded by really positive PR is usually granted a little extra leeway...

4. Find out where the hard line really lies. I've worked with many teachers who vehemently believe that they must adhere to curricular pacing guides with fervor. However, when I asked the central office staff about this, they replied that it's only a guide and teachers can adapt it to their students' needs. Sometimes institutional myths emerge. If you're not sure why you're doing something; just ask. The answer may surprise you.

5. Start every administrative request with the following phrase:  
   "I have this great idea to help my kids learn..." Just trust me on this one. It's really hard to refuse a teacher who's trying really hard to innovate and help kids. It works!

Photo Credits:

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Empathy: A Better Practice

My teaching career actually began in the back of a dance studio in East Greenville, PA. What started as an easy way to offset competition and costume costs quickly became my strongest passion. As time passed, I discovered that I loved sharing the beauty and art of classical ballet with the “under 6” crowd.

However, teaching someone else (especially someone under the age of 6) how to move their body in a specific fashion can be tough. Really tough. Although classical ballet has specific strategies and techniques for teaching movement, some of my students didn’t follow this path. Instead, I found myself constantly creating new exercises, stories or examples to help them reach the ambitious goals they had set for themselves.

In short, the “best practices” of the discipline often didn’t work in my classroom. Trying really hard to put myself in students’ shoes and imagine what they were seeing/hearing/feeling seemed to work much better.

So when I entered the teaching profession years later as an elementary school educator, I immediately disliked the term “best practice.” This wasn’t because the strategies, ideas, and research weren’t valuable; they were. My disdain occurred mostly because I didn’t think it was possible or fair to limit myself in the ways that I reached kids. In my mind, the term “best practice” seemed like a vehicle for standardizing my classroom.

And so, as I survived my first year of teaching, I made a promise to myself.

I would use best practices, but only if I was also using a better practice: EMPATHY.

As long as I considered how students would feel, think, and react to my instructional design, I was confident in using any of the “best practice” strategies. However, if my consideration for kids was absent, even the “best practice” strategies weren’t terribly effective.

Putting ourselves in the shoes of our students not only makes us better teachers, but it also makes us better people. Seeing the needs and perspectives of someone else, absent of judgement, is a critical component of any complex task or problem.

So, for now, I’ll always put the better practice first. How can you be empathetic today?

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The State of Edcamp

Note: This is cross posted at Smart Blog on Education.
This cross post is inspired by the fact that registration for Edcamp Philly 2013 is NOW OPEN! 
Join me on May 18th for some fantastic learning and conversation! Register here!

 Just as the president updated our nation on critical issues with his impending State of the Union Address, I wanted to provide the Edcamp community with a brief State of the Edcamp Address. Thanks to YOUR hard work, Edcampers, the face of professional development for educators is changing. Be proud.

Unbridled Growth
If you follow the Edcamp hashtag on Twitter or regularly visit the Edcamp Wiki, then you know that Edcamps have been exploding across the globe. Consider these stats:
  • 2010- 8 Edcamps
  • 2011- 51 Edcamps
  • 2012- 127 Edcamps

In short, Edcamps are growing, and they are growing fast! The Edcamp Wiki has over 800 members, and hundreds of thousands of tweets have been posted with #edcamp appended to them. Even more Edcamps are projected for 2013!

Adapting to Audience Needs
Edcamps are adapting to teacher needs. Spinoffs such as Edcamp Social Studies, Edcamp Leadership, and Padcamp have popped up. These events are helping teachers build professional learning communities in a whole new way. Teachers are igniting their passions and sharing their expertise through targeted collaboration.

Talking About More Than Tech
In the past two years, conversations at Edcamps have grown in sophistication and content. Often, sessions include all kinds of topics in education. The learning that happens at an Edcamp is much broader than tech tools and educational technology. Consider these sessions from recent Edcamp events:
  • Engagement, Respect, and Reciprocity in Public/Private School Partnerships by Chris Thinnes at Edcamp LA 2013 (@curtisCFEE)
  • We Taught 6th Graders Quantum Physics with Dance by Miller Rothlein at Edcamp Philly 2012 (@MiroDance)
  • How to Address Privacy and One’s Digital DNA by Nancy Sharoff and Beth Knittle at Edcamp Boston 2012 (@nsharoff and @bknittle)

Getting Kids Involved
Edcamp organizers see the value of having kids involved in the Edcamp experience. Not only are students presenting and learning alongside teachers at many Edcamps, but also students are actually running the events in some cases! Further, Tim Bedley recently ran the first Edcamp for students. As part of a blog reflection after the experience, one of Tim’s fourth-grade students said, “If there was more time to Edcamp, then it would probably be the best time of my life.”

Supporting Organizers and Generous Sponsors
Edcamps can’t happen without the amazing people who organize Edcamp events and support the Edcamp movement. Edcamp organizers across the globe have started to connect via social media to refine and expand events. For example, the state of Iowa and the country of Chile both have multi-site events coming up later this year! And since ANYONE (even you!) can be an Edcamp organizer, the group of organizers is incredibly diverse and brilliant!

Further more, generous donors such as Smartbrief and Evernote have helped to fund the Edcamp Minigrant Program which helps to ensure that Edcamps remain free and open.
Other sponsors, such as Flocabulary and Edutopia have generously provided free goodies to many Edcamps as well. (Flocabulary even made us our very own rap theme song called “It’s the Edcamp.”)

Edcamp is a group effort and we ALL made it happen.

Moving Forward
The Edcamp Foundation is in the process of gaining offical 501(c)3 status, and they hope to innovate lots of new ways to help the Edcamp movement grow. But really, the future of Edcamp will be determined by the Edcampers.  It’s up to you to determine how Edcamps will grow and flourish. Let’s reclaim PD together.

Inspired to attend an Edcamp?

Have an Edcamp story to share? Leave it in the comments!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

My Favorite Tweeps to Follow: #Eduladies Edition

Happy Valentine’s Day by paparutzi, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  paparutzi 

Since today is all about spreading the love, I thought I'd thank my top 10 #Eduladies in the Twittersphere for inspiring me with their tweets! If you're not following these ladies, you should!

Lyn Hilt (@L_Hilt) - Lyn is a fantastic, connected principal in Reading, PA. She is also my classmate in #etmooc, and I'm learning a great deal alongside her. Keep the awesome posts and links coming, Lyn!

Marybeth Hertz (@mbteach) - Marybeth is an innovative computer teacher who always pushing my thinking about what's right in education. Based in Philly, she is passionate about everything that happens in Philly schools. MB, you rock.

Kassandra Boyd (@kassandraboyd) - I met Kassandra in Paris this fall. She is always thinking about how to create engaging curricular experiences for kids. Thanks for continuing the conversation long after our F2F meeting ended Kassandra!

Kim Sivick (@ksivick) - Kim is the maker and connector in my PLN. She is always building something with her kids and sharing it with someone amazing! She also gives me an great perspective on what's happening in independent schools. Thanks Kim!

Christine Miles (@ritzius2) - When she's not balancing her dissertation, amazing curriculum work, and Edcamp duties, Chrissy is tweeting about how we can spread great ideas. She shares articles and information about spreading both UbD and grassroots PD. Keep up the good work, Chrissi!

Shannon Miller (@shannonmiller) - Shannon is a librarian extrodinaire. If I need to find something or create digitally, her tweets can help me! Thanks Shannon!

Joyce Valenza (@joycevalenza) - Joyce is my trusted colleague and friend from Springfield Township. She helps me consider and reframe what's important AT EVERY TURN. I miss you Joyce!

Silvia Tolisano (@langwitches) - Silvia thinks about digital literacy, connection, and content creation in ways that make sense. Her resources are beautiful and impeccable. Thanks for always sharing your work with the PLN!

Meredith Martin (@geekyteach) - Meredith is my favorite person to see at an Edcamp. Not only is she incredibly positive, smart, and fun, but she also encourages me to take risks with my learning! Meredith, you're fantastic!

Diana Potts (@pottsedtech) - Diana is a deep UbD thinker, and she's always willing to think alongside me as I grapple with UbD problems and ideas. Thanks Diana!

PS- This post is dedicated to my 3 favorite #eduladies who are new to Twitter: @jessicaraba@tjohnson2013, and @katiezorzi. I wouldn't be half of what I am today without you guys! Thanks for being awesome!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Technology Integration by Design

Backwards letters by mag3737, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  mag3737 

Over the past year, most of my time has been spent helping fellow teachers and school leaders to “think backwards.” And while it’s tempting to imagine this merely involves reciting the alphabet from Z to A, it’s actually an instructional framework (developed by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe) where the goals precede action.

Beginning with student-focused goals allows us to ensure that we strategically prioritize time and resources in our classrooms. Although this way of thinking was initially designed for instructional units, it is also the perfect methodology for planning a new technology initiative.

In essence, this three-step process helps you to remain hyper-focused on student learning as you select devices, formats (carts, BYOD, 1:1, etc.), and apps.

Step 1: Define the goals of your technology initiative using desired outcomes, not tools.

What types of learning do you want to enable via this initiative? Consider the following examples:

  • Increase access to cutting-edge texts, news, and primary sources.
  • Promote interactive, digital methods of collecting real-time feedback from students.
  • Enhance opportunities for students to publish media for authentic audiences.
  • Augment anytime, anywhere learning for students.

As you determine your goals, remember to be strategic. Having too many goals is just as counterproductive as having none at all. It’s also important to ensure that all stakeholders, including students, have input into the project goals. Specific, shared goals make the rest of the process much easier.

Step 2: Carefully describe the types of evidence that will exist when the goals are met. 

What types of artifacts will be available when the goals have been met? Think in terms of student work samples or student learning opportunities. Try to refrain from identifying specific apps or tools. This will help to ensure that you evaluate all options equally. Consider the following pieces of evidence described by a team that identified “augment anytime, anywhere learning for students” as their primary goal:

  • Students will access texts related to coursework and texts related to personal interests at home and at school.
  • Students will flexibly enroll in on-site courses, fully online courses, and hybrid courses as part of the high school experience.
  • Students will publish their ideas in the form of text or media for large audiences.

These forms of evidence can be easily observed and measured after your initiative begins. For example, you can survey students about their habits accessing authentic text on the device you select. You can also evaluate records of course offerings, student registrations, and course evaluations. Finally, you can measure the number and quality of text and media products published by students in a given year using rubrics. These pieces of evidence serve as clear, pragmatic indicators that your initiative is working.

Step 3: Identify the devices, formats (carts, BYOD, 1:1, etc.), apps, and actions that will generate the evidence required by your goals.

So, what do you actually purchase and how do you deploy it? As you evaluate each potential option, be sure to keep a list of your desired goals and required evidence close at hand. You may not find a single device or software solution that meets every need, but certain choices seem to rise to the top rather quickly. Further, carefully consider every aspect of what will need to happen to achieve success. Will infrastructure need to be updated? (Probably.) Will teachers need access to regular professional development and collaboration? (Most definitely.) With this framework, sketching out a detailed deployment plan becomes the logical conclusion of a well-planned argument.

While these three steps may seem commonsensical, there are plenty of device-driven horror stories out there. (Trust me, I’ve seen them in my former life as a tech director!) Technology integration must be designed to foster specific learning outcomes in a deliberate and thoughtful way. You’ll grow from strong goals, not a device.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

5 Awesome New Tools for Bloggers

In the past few weeks, I've had some amazing learning opportunities in fantastic places. In turn, I've collected some fantastic new tools to help me with my learning and writing. Here are my top five:
  1. Image Coder This site helps you to easily add properly cited Flickr images (just like the toolbox above) to your blog or website. You simply paste the photo link into the coder and it generates HTML which also includes a citation. I used to do all this manually. This saves me SO much time!
  2. Rebel Mouse This site creates a beautiful aggregation of your writing, tweets, and images. It uses your blog and other social media feeds to create a visually appealing virtual business card to share with folks. My page is HERE
  3. Mentor Mob If you are a blogger and you want others to experience your best work in a guided way, try Mentor Mob. Mentor Mob allows you to create a playlist of any series of links with guiding questions. It's a great way to scaffold and sequence digital texts for your readers.
  4. Popcorn Maker Okay media bloggers, you are going to love this. You can take any uploaded video (YouTube, etc.) and overlay Twitter feeds, text, or images. Remember VH1's Pop Up Video? It's like that ONLY BETTER. And there's no download required to remix your videos!
  5. Haiku Deck This is a free iPad app that allows you to create stunning slide presentations without much work. You can use your own images or those from Flickr. All the images are crisp and beautiful. When you are done, you can easily share or embed your deck. Here's an example of a deck I made recently.
Feel free to leave other suggestions in the comments regarding new tools that amaze you!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Rigorous Assessment, by Design

This post is cross posted at Education Is My Life.
Free Giant Macro Pencil and Pink Eraser Creative Commons

The purpose of education is to cultivate and develop students who are not merely good at school, but also good at life.

However, most traditional assessments promote the acquisition of superficial knowledge that can easily be “crammed” by learners. These types of tasks don’t prepare students for the messiness of life. The best assessments embrace the challenges and ambiguity involved in real, adult work.

In my experience, adult work typically has the following characteristics:

1. A real purpose and audience (i.e. You don’t only complete work for your boss; there are typically many parties involved.)

2. No clear “right” answer (i.e. Many different solutions or strategies could lead you to an acceptable answer)

3. A clear picture of what success looks like (i.e. If my presentation is exemplary, we’ll likely win the contract.)

In addition to modeling assessment after the demands of adult work, teachers must consider the role of educational transfer. Put simply, we must ask students to tackle unfamiliar problems without prompting from an adult or teacher. If we only ask our students to reproduce recipes that we’ve taught them, we’re missing the mark.

rigorous assessment design =
qualities of adult work + educational transfer

And remember, you don’t need an elephant to teach the color gray. Rigorous assessments don’t always require extensive technology, fluffy presentations, or oodles of class time. Consider these great examples of rigorous assessment from across the web:

Personally, when I’ve designed assessments that demand adult work and educational transfer, engagement has gone through the roof. Just before the winter holiday, I asked eighth grade students to redesign FEMA’s data collection methods during a disaster. On a day that is typically filled with word searches and food, students were fervently occupied with academic conversation and creative brainstorming.

So, use the power of rigorous assessment design to change your classroom and heighten expectations for your students. Cultivate students who are good at life!

Monday, February 4, 2013

Is Standardized Testing Like a Superbowl Blackout In Your School?

Today I have more questions than answers...
Football Field by danxoneil, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  danxoneil 

Is standardized testing like a Superbowl blackout in your school?

Does everything stop for a seeming eternity?

Does it shift momentum and change outcomes?

If so, how can we change that?


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