Nov 102012
 

Well it is over. Months of prep and anticipation leading up to the Ed Tech Teacher – iPad Summit USA 2012, has come to pass. By all accounts it was a roaring success and in spite of what the title might suggest, it wasn’t an unrestrained orgy of apple awesomeness. Sure I have never seen so many apple products in one place at one time in my life and PC users hid in the shadows so’s to not attract attention to their digital deviance but the discussions were rarely about the hardware.

Although it was impossible to for me to attend all the sessions, there were some common themes that seemed to thread their way through most of the presentations. It was as though all the experience gained from two years of iPad use, had come to a confluence at this conference. Everyone seemed to have come to the conference with the same conclusions about the state of education and the role of technology… thus far. Some of it good, some of it bad and some of it, people didn’t really know what to make of it.

So here is what I am calling my Stuck in an airport, missed my connection, sleeping in Dallas, conference take aways. None of which I am endorsing or panning, it is purely my read on the conference.

  1. Best practice has yet to be established. No we have not gotten it right yet and it is going to take time and mistakes will be made. “Failure is inevitable” had become the unofficial slogan of the conference. The Conference Keynote speaker, Tony Wagner, uttered these words right out of the gate and it seemed to catch on. We are only just beginning to create this new paradigm for learning and so we need to expect mistakes to occur but perhaps more importantly, attendees came away with the understanding that we need teachers who are willing to make those mistakes, if we are going to get anywhere.
  2. How can I teach differently using technology was the single most significant question being asked. Without exception, everyone came to conclusion that in order for technology to truly reshape the learning environment, our teaching practice had to change. Without a change in teaching practice, technology will continue to be ineffective and relegated to a position of novelty item. Now the trick is to figure out what different looks like and the people at this conference are up to the challenge.
  3. Being a slave to test hampers innovative teaching, including innovative use of technology. I tweeted this out during a session and it seemed to resonate. This is where I am glad to be a Canadian teacher. From my point of view, standardized testing has handcuffed many of my colleagues south of the border. Much of teaching revolves around making sure their kids will “pass the test” first and foremost and if they have time they can try some innovative teaching using technology. I am not sure how a teacher can be expected to “teach differently” – “make mistakes” and “be innovative” if their students have to demonstrate their learning using a century old method. What is more, a teacher’s performance is measured with the results of these outdated tests. It makes no sense AT ALL.
  4. We have to let go of the traditional view of teacher. This discussion had a bit of an elephant in the room feel to it. How do you tell a teacher they have to change their practice or make a teacher change their practice? On more than one occasion I had heard the chilling “time to cut loose those who can’t or are unwilling to change”. In one session I suggested that it might not just be an “old teacher problem” as many young teachers have the same struggle with letting go of the “look at me model”. By the end of one session in particular, the issue wasn’t seen as just a teacher problem but instead a systemic problem. At one end we have people saying we need to get back to basics and the other we have people saying we have to change everything. All the while, teachers are evaluated and judged by old school criteria, just as their students are. Want teachers to change their practice. Change their job description.
  5. The age of the “Free Agent Learner” is upon us. I love this label. I have been trying to come up with an explanation for those kids who take control of their learning and these three words encapsulate it perfectly. Keeping in mind that access to information does not an education make, those people who are able to “educate” themselves using the information at their disposal are truly Free Agent Learners. With the advent of MOOCS, iTunes university and masses of FREE courses being offered via the internet, we are going to soon be faced with the problem of how do we accredit this type of learning.
  6. We have to give teachers the support needed to become comfortable with using technology in the classroom. Although there was a lot of talk about “not fearing technology” one tweet in particular by @sjunkins “I’ve yet to have student tell me they can’t use technology in class because they haven’t received any PD on it…” sort of rubbed me the wrong way a bit. The general consensus was that you can’t just hand out a bunch of devices to students and teachers and expect magic. “Give teachers time!” seemed to be the view of most but not time to adapt, if we did that it would take decades. If you want teachers to adopt technology into their practice, you need to Give teachers time to learn, to prep and to experiment. Someone even suggested adopting Google’s Twenty Percent Time so that teachers would have time to change their teaching practice. I liked that idea very much!
  7. Teachers who are using tech need to share! the phrase “pockets of innovation” was used repeatedly at this conference. Although there were some people who were coming from schools that had made some significant changes across the board using technology, most people were in situations where tech use is isolated. Teachers need to share their experience and expertise with others. Simple as that.
  8. PLN’s are a must for tech using teachers. I have spoken about this very thing more than once in this very blog. It would seem that the Personal Learning Network is a MUST for today’s tech using teacher. There is just so much going on and so much to learn that the traditional face to face learning network of days gone by just isn’t going to cut it. Whether you start by trolling on twitter, taking an iTunes U course, using a Zite for news and views… it doesn’t really matter. Educators who are looking to change their practice, need to actively seek information about the new world of education, if they hope to keep up.

Some other minor themes came up as well but I won’t flesh them out.

  • Tech HAS to be school supported. You can’t expect teachers to fund it.
  • Admin has to be as innovative as teachers.
  • Politicos have to stop making bad education decisions.
  • Innovation is incompatible with back to basics.
  • Kids can write, they just don’t write with a voice anymore.

I am sure I missed some things here and I would hope other attendees who happened to read this will pipe in as it was a lot to take in. In addition to the above, I would like to add what I found was missing from most of these discussions. I know this is my own personal opinion but I am sure others would share it.

With all this said however, there seemed to be one thing missing. One little but significant piece of the puzzle, without which all is for not. There was surprisingly little if any discussion on the role of student in this little learning revolution. We talked about how teachers have to change, education systems have to change, teaching practice has to change, the physical aspects of school have to change but NOTHING about how the student will have to change. Sure we talked about what kids should be able to do when they walk out the door but we did not discuss how the learner has to change their practice but there is no need to worry…

I think I stumbled upon a little hint as to how learners will have to change as we move ahead. It lies in the single most important thing I took away from this conference. People need to become “free agent learners” It does not matter if you are student or teacher. Those who will excel in the Twenty First Century Learning environment, will take on the responsibility for their own learning. The days of being a passive recipient of the information that comes your way is over. Those who don’t, will be left in the dust.

Thanks to the team at www.edtechteacher.org for inviting me to an outstanding conference.

Check out the conference Back Channel #ettipad

iPad Summit Wordle

Sep 132012
 

Well I was thrown a curve ball this year. My iPad cohort has morphed into a hodgepodge of new and old technology. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the numbers to run a straight iPad cohort so I am getting kids carrying everything from the latest and greatest in Apple and PC products to pencil and paper.

Now being one to complain (a lot), I am tempted to go on for a couple thousand words lamenting about how hard done by I am but I know I would not garner much sympathy from many of my colleagues. So I won’t! Instead I will look at this mishmash, as a little slice of reality, a true reflection of what the average secondary class looks like and carry on.

This year I will be able to write about realty, rather than an iPadian utopia.

For example, tomorrow I am going to have the kids write a journal response to the statement Highschool Should End at Grade 10 and instead of taking work in via a common app or digital format, I will be taking work in on Paper – Evernote – Google docs – Keynote – Microsoft Word and a holy host of others, because that is the reality of the modern classroom.

What I have also come to realize or perhaps resign myself to, is that with BYOD, a Personal Digital Device is just that a Personal Device. It is unrealistic to expect that everyone will be carrying one on any give day, never mind everyone carrying the same device. What I have also come to believe is that for BYOD to work, it is up to the student to make it work. The teacher can set the expectations around use and digital formats in which work needs to be done and after that, it is up to the student.

If the teacher takes on the role of the “director of the device” the classroom simply becomes a Twenty First Century version of the teacher centered classroom. If the purpose of BYOD is to help students become more independent learners, then the device needs to fit the learner, even if that device is a pencil and a piece of paper.

It is a brave new adventure in iPads In The Cla… I mean, iPads, Laptops & Paper – n – Pencil In The Classroom. Let’er fly and see where we land.

Wish Me Luck!

Sep 062012
 

Well I am closing in on my first Friday of the school year and I survived. Ok I more than survived. I had a great week! So great I am able to sit down and peel off a new blog post on our preseason Pro D event.

Every year the Thursday before school starts; our School Board brings in some highbrow intellectual, to bestow us teachers with some tid bits of wisdom that we can take with us as we navigate another school year. It is generally a pretty good show as Keynote Speakers are always top-drawer. Some of the A lister’s who have graced the stage of our school theater, include the likes of Sir Kenneth Robinson, Alfie Kohn and Stewart Shenkman, to name a few. I have forgotten the names of the others but they were big names, I swear! So good are these speakers, I even learn a thing or two each year. (insert dumbfounded slack jawed look here)

This years Keynote was Jennifer James, a renowned anthropologist from Seattle. I obviously don’t go to Seattle enough because up until last Thursday, I had never heard of her before but I have to say she was every bit as good as Sir Ken.

The topic this year was about change and James discussed how we (society) use cultural myths and belief systems to make sense of the world around us. Up until recently our world has changed slowly enough that we could seamlessly adapt these belief systems and myths to accommodate and make sense of changes in our world. Today however, technology is changing things so fast, that we can no longer adapt our beliefs and myths quickly enough. As a result, we are seeing conflict between what we believed to be true and the realities of the modern world.

James went on to imply that the education system is based on an outdated belief system, which is simply not adaptable to the modern world or the modern student. She went on in a round about way to say that, we (teachers) need to change if we hope to continue making positive change in young peoples lives. As much as I hate to admit it, she made a ton of sense but then again I am easily convinced. I have been lead down the garden path before because of a good keynote, as my brief association with AMWAY would suggest… but I like to think I am much older and wiser now. 😉

but James is kinda right.

In the past 20 years, technology has kicked the stuffing out of our education system and left those of us who work as educators bruised and bewildered. As a result, we have come to a crossroads in the world of education and quite frankly, no one seems really know which way to turn. The only thing that is certain, there is no going back.

The problem with moving ahead however, is that we need to let go of the belief system and cultural myths which built the education system we have. The way we teach our children is so culturally engrained that any change, regardless of how small, is going to cause some level of duress for someone whether it be teachers, parents or students.

A perfect example is changing the school calendar. The one we currently use is based on the needs of an agrarian society. In North America, the majority of us are no longer living on farms or harvesting crops but suggest changing the school calendar and all hell breaks loose. Education is a part of culture and cannot be seen as simply a service that can be adapted on a whim as the demand changes.

When we take a look at resistance to change in education, the assumption is that the resistance resides solely within the ranks of the educators themselves but that is a simplistic view.

Yes teachers frequently view the discussion around change in education as an affront to what it is they do. Some have been in the game for as many as 40 years and much of the talk around how the education system needs to change, is downright disrespectful to good people who have have spent a career doing a great job. To tell them that what it is they are doing is wrong, invalidates an entire career. To many it seems like the powers that be, simply want out with the old and in with the new. You can’t blame teachers for getting edgy at the mention of spring thaw and south bound ice flows.

Parents are a funny group when it comes to change. Here you have a situation where the majority of people’s concept of what education is like, is their own school career. Using that frame of reference, they view their own children’s educational experience. Obviously parents want what is best for their kids and that includes the latest and greatest in technology and pedagogy. If for some reason they feel their child isn’t getting it, there is hell to pay.

The irony in all this is that, while teachers are on the line for being current and school districts are expected to provide the latest and greatest in facilities and technologies, when things go bad the most common laments among parents go right back to their own experience in school. “School isn’t what it use to be!” “Teachers aren’t as good as they once were!” “We need to get back to basics and start teaching what really matters!”

Talk to a parent and you quickly realize that parents are as stuck in the past as teachers.

For the kids, well… They are the pawns in all this, trapped between what was and what could be but kids are resistant to change as well. Many kids are still anchored securely in the old ways of teaching and learning, just like their teachers and parents. Every year I will have kids who just want to know “What will I be tested on?” and “What do I need to do to get an A?” Ask a kid to think for themselves and they are lost. “Uh… What is the answer?” They are as stuck in the teacher centered model as the rest of us.

Of the three groups, the students are undoubtedly the most receptive to change, then I would say teachers are next and surprisingly perhaps… parents are the least receptive to change in school system. The reason for this is that parents are frozen in the past. Change that they cannot gauge or measure against their own experience is frightening. It is a classic case of, better the devil you know then the devil you don’t.

The other reason I say parents are the most resistant to change is that, it always comes back to the ultimate question. “What is my child’s mark?” Parents want to know how their child is doing and their concept of success is based on old school measures of performance. Anecdotal descriptions of what their child can or cannot do are meaningless to many. “That is great! I am so glad my kids is outstanding at working collaboratively but what is his mark?” In the end, teachers give parents what they want. Marks based solely on content knowledge is a thing of the past but who are we to argue with a parent.

Yes James is right, we need change and resistance is futile but there is more than enough resistance to go around but it essentially comes down to this. As long as our education system is a slave to the culturally engrained belief that education is all about the mark, we will never be able to build a new belief system for our Education System.

Aug 262012
 

To start off, I will get straight to the punch and provide many of you with the answer to the single most frequently asked question about Content Management Systems for Education. NO YOU CANNOT UPLOAD FILES FROM YOUR IPAD TO EDMODO!

In the past 3 weeks 80% of all all keyword searches that point to my blog are asking this single question. What this suggests to me is that there are a large number of teachers looking for a Content Management System or CMS for their classroom this coming year. So a new blog post was born.

Over the years I have dabbled in many CMS’s but for any number of reasons, I have always moved on in search of something better. I have even tried to create my own classroom CMS but didn’t have the skills to create a site that could do everything I wanted it to do. To date the single most powerful Education CMS I have ever used, was Moodle and I would still be using it today were it not for the fact I had to host it on my nickle.

Last year I gave Edmodo a whirl and without a doubt it is no Moodle but it is trying and I quite liked it. Its interface is easy to use and there isn’t much of a learning curve in getting up and running. It seems to have been designed with the Luddite in mind or at least with an understanding of where the average Luddite is coming from

The other thing about Edmodo is that they are constantly improving their platform, adding new features and improving functionality but the single biggest problem with Edmodo is… yes you guessed it! YOU CANNOT UPLOAD FILES FROM YOUR IPAD TO EDMODO and I have my doubts that you ever will unless Edmodo sells its soul to the Devil or Apple, whichever comes first.

If you are hell bent on using edmodo and are running an iPad class, the Edmodo App is wonderful and I have no complaints. The way I get around the file upload issue is to have the kids post their work on a blog or in a google doc and have them submit the web link to their work. As long as I have that link, I can evaluate it. It is a wee bit of a pain but it works in a pinch and once you have the kids set up to do that, it is easy. Another option is to have the kids move the file they were working on with their iPad, onto a computer and then they can upload the document to Edmodo.

Some other nifty things you can do with Edmodo include marking and annotating students work online, provide parents with access to their child’s “learning environment”, create work groups, create discussion threads… and there are more features being added on a regular basis. Oh and it is FREE!

In my humble opinion, Moodle is still KING of the education CMS’s but the problem is that it requires some expertise, time, a host and a myriad of other things, which the average teacher off the street does not have at hand or have the time to acquire. If your school district will host a moodle site or already does, giddy up!

What I am not sure about however, is whether Moodle is iPad friendly or not. I have not tired myself but I have gotten a number of mixed reports on its functionality on an iPad. If you are running an iPad classroom next year, you might want to research other possibilities. If your kids have laptops or work in a computer lab, Moodle’s power and functionality is unparalleled.

I was asked to Beta Test Go Class last year but I unfortunately never got around to it. I did play with it a bit and from what I saw, it looks to be a slick little iPad friendly interface. Like Edmodo, Go class is designed with the average non tech geek teacher in mind. Getting things up and running looks to be fairly quick and easy.

What I like about Go Class is that it structures individual lesson planning into three tabs ShowExplain Ask. On the student end, the final product is clean and straight forward to use. You can even assign time limits on the task, see who has completed their work and provide formative assessment from your instructor dashboard. Just remember that Go Class is still in Beta stage but I think it is worth taking a look at.

UPDATE! Stop the presses! I have just been informed that there is a new Education CMS in town called Schoology. My first look was brief but it looks like it might be a winner in its own right. Right off the bat what I notice with Schoology is their App center and within that App center is Blackboard Collaborate, which is the industry standard for presenting content to people who are not sitting right in front of you. The integration of this App alone is a HUGE Plus, especially for those who are running a 100% online course or even a blended class.

In addition to Blackboard, Schoology has a reminder app to send kids reminders about due dates and tests via text messaging. They have a Turnitin.com app and selection of other interesting apps I have never hear of. Along with all the cool apps, Schoology has all the functionality of Edmodo and Go Class. It may be worth some serious consideration for those who are looking for a Classroom CMS.

These four are the only iPad friendly CMS’s for education that I am aware of but there may be some others which have slipped past my radar so be sure to keep your eyes open for others and share what you find.

The other thing educators have been doing to accommodate iPad use in the classroom is building individual lessons or activities around individual apps such as Evernote or Edublog. To be honest I have not used either in class but there are lots of teachers who do and both have an active community of educators who are more than happy to help you out.

Edublog actually operates on the WordPress CMS. For those of you who are not familiar with WordPress, it is the best blogging platform out there, even my blog runs on it. Edublogs has taken their site one epic step further than mine however and added a plugin called BuddyPress. This allows teachers to manage users within a class or a school.

I have seen this particular platform used very successfully in elementary environments including my own children’s school. Teachers use Edu Blogs to get kids discussing topics online, providing links to resources and information and giving kids a safe and secure place to write online. To get all the features, you would need to run a full-blown Edublog site and would need a subscription. It is not necessarily affordable for an individual teacher but there is a fee schedule for schools. Pricing

To get a better idea of what you can do with an Edublog site check out Ten Ways To Use Edublogs To Teach

Evernote has been the darling of the APP world almost right out of the gate. I have used if for personal note taking but I have not used it for my classes. I have read about others who have done it very successfully and Wandering Academic did a great post on how Evernote can be used in the classroom.

What I like about using notebooks, is that kids have a far greater responsibility for what it is they do or do not do. In many ways it is not that much different then a paper notebook. With an all in one CMS, a teacher can keep constant tabs on what a student has or has not been doing but not so much with an app like Evernote.

Like Edublogs, you will need a subscription if you are going to run your class with it. A premium subscription is only $45 a year but they also do site licences and group pricing to help manage the cost.

So there it is, my two bits worth on Education CMS’s. There is just so many products out there, it is impossible to have tried or even know about them all. If you know of a product that you like or would like me to investigate for you, let me know.

One final and important note. There are some significant concerns in many countries about privacy laws and the protection of student identities and personal information. Before you start using any app where a students personal information is being stored outside of your school network, make sure you have the support of your administration and an appropriate use policy is in place. Make sure parents are aware of this policy and that they are ok with their children online. In some cases, you may simply not want to use an app because you do not have control over the information.

Aug 242012
 

With only a few glorious sunny days left in summer and the start of a new school year looming large, I figured I should get up to date on the wild and woolly education scene in British Columbia. My go to source for what is “hip and happanin” in education is the Vancouver Sun’s very own @jsteffenhagen. Janet seems to keep people interested in education regardless of political leanings and always fosters some heated discussion that riles up left-wing nut-bars like me.

You would think after returning from a two month-long, Five Star summer vacation in such exotic climes as Prince George, Vernon and South Surrey, there would be something new and exciting being discussed in the press. it would seem however, that the @bcedplan is still the topic du jour.

This week, the Ministry has released a new BC Ed Plan document which “is a summary of the comments people made on the @bcedplan site”. (@mikesher) and I have to say, that it is a really pretty document. It is also pretty light weight and lacks in any sort of functional detail or “plan”

As it seems to be turning out, the BCEdplan isn’t really a plan as of yet. It is more of a mish-mash of theory, ideas and opinion, not that there is anything particularly wrong with that. I just feel I was sold a bill of goods. The BCEdplan was presented as the document that would guide us to a Twenty First Century education system but it is far from being that document.

In reality, we have a long way to go before we reinvent our education system and it will take time, effort and useful dialog, which I think the Ministry is trying to do. The problem is that, from the outside looking in, no one can figure out what is going on?

As a contentious naysayer, I am just trying to do my part in ensuring we reinvent responsibly. The following is a page out of the new “what you’ve said” annotated with the first things that came to my mind as I read Theme 4: Digital Technologies in Schools. As you will see, there are far more questions than answers, therefore much work needs to be done.

Aug 092012
 

Well, it looks like another school year is on a collision course with my summer vacation, so I guess I better start being useful again. Since my usefulness generally doesn’t go much beyond the 9.7 inch dimensions of an iPad screen, I figured I should pen a preseason post on using iPads in the Classroom.

As I type this post, truckloads of iPads are being delivered and prepared for use in classrooms all over the world. Educational institutions are jumping on board the runaway train called the Apple Express, even though we have yet to prove that the iPad is the best personal electronic device for the classroom.

Undeniably, these are exciting times for tech geeks like me but what about my colleagues who are not sold on iPad mania but feel they need to step into the fray?

The devices are sitting in the principal’s office primed and ready to use but there has yet to be any Pro D on how to use these $500 paperweights?

What do you need to know before you start dolling them out to the inquiring minds sitting before you?

What follows are a few things I think every iPad using teacher needs to know, before being absorbed into the continuum of the iPad.

Plan your iPad time – I know it sounds a bit redundant but iPads do not a lesson make. Sure there are days when you can say “Go Crazy!” and students can spend the class exploring everything the iPad has to offer (within appropriate use guidelines) but they are not a replacement for good lesson planning.

This is something we learned very quickly in our little iPad experiment last year, not that we depended on the iPad to do the teaching but it didn’t take long to see that the iPad was more of a hindrance then a help in certain situations.

  • Kids don’t listen very well with an iPad in hand.
  • Class discussions are difficult to get going with an iPad in hand.
  • Group work does not always go well when each kid has an iPad in hand.

Cover your FOIPA – Not to be rude or anything but the Freedom Of Information & Privacy Act (Canadian) is nothing to mess with and can get you into a heap of trouble if something should go sideways during your class time, so you have to cover your vulnerabilities.

What people seem to misunderstand about the iPad, is that it is not the device itself which makes it a powerful educational tool. What makes it powerful is the immediacy with which students have access to relevant, real time information from anywhere at anytime. What the iPad is allowing teachers to do is break the traditional mold of using tired old, sanitized, static sources of information to deliver our educational gospel. In a way, the iPad is the tool of the pedagogical heretic.

Certainly, you can’t go out and let the kids use the iPad all willy nilly and may even need to engineer its use at the primary and intermediate levels but by the time students hit high school, we need to be able to turn kids loose and expect that they have the knowledge and the maturity to use any electronic device for academic purposes both effectively and responsibly.

So… To cover your FOIPA, ensure that parents are aware and approve of their children interacting with the real world on the internet before you turn kids loose with their iPads. Also ensure that parents and kids understand that students are expected to use the iPad in an appropriate manner in the classroom. Last year I sent a hard copy explaining what their child will be doing along with the expectations and safe use guidelines but I will also send a digital copy this year to ensure parents get the document.

Create Routines – Elementary teachers are really good at this and I should know! With a wife who is an elementary school teacher, I sometimes feel I am in grade 3. Everything has its time and place and in an iPad classroom, regardless of grade, it is a really good idea. Managing the use of the iPad is hard work but if the work you do with the iPad has been routinized, things become a bit easier.

The most common way to go about routinizing iPad use, is to tie it to a regularly scheduled task you do as part of your daily classroom activity. There are dozens of different tasks you can use for this purpose. What follows are three quick and easy possibilities.

  • Journaling – First 10 minutes of class have kids jot down some thoughts or a response to a prompt.
  • Twitter Time – Use twitter feed to follow a current event and have kids participate with comments and opinion.
  • Collaborate – Use a community sticky board to collaborate and share ideas after direct instruction.

Have a class set of Apps – Last year in our iPad pilot, we quickly discovered that in a BYOD classroom, Apps can be a pain in the backside. For any giving task, there can be as many Apps as there are kids in the classroom. It can be a logistical nightmare when they don’t all work as expected and you spend your class time troubleshooting App issues. This situation should be averted at all costs.

In the BYOD classroom, I would suggest providing a list of approved apps for use in your classroom and stick to it for the year. If a kid says “But I like this one!” Hold the line… You will be happy you did. If the kid insists… Don’t be their class time trouble-shooter.

In a setting where the iPads are school based this is not so much of an issue because you control the Apps that get installed but regardless of how kids are getting access to the device, MAKE SURE YOU ARE ALL USING THE SAME APP!

Take a risk – Now when I say “take a risk” I don’t mean push the boundaries of what might be considered acceptable use in the classroom… What I mean is that the iPad is in its infancy and it is front line teachers like you who are leading the way in discovering how it can best be utilized in the classroom. Forget the self-proclaimed iPad Gurus out there and cook up some hair brained idea of your own to try out in your classroom. Who knows, at this stage of the game, you might become an almighty iPad Guru yourself.

Roll with it – Here is the thing with iPads in a classroom… Things can go to hell in a hand-basket in a heartbeat but in the same breath, the opposite is true too. Because the information used in an iPad classroom is often dynamic, you never really know what might come up. Twitter feeds are a great example of an information source can send your class in a direction you did not plan for and sometimes it is a FANTASTIC learning opportunity which you just roll with.

For an example, you decide you need to do some current events in your Social Studies 10 class and the topic de jour is Arab Spring. You spend your entire evening researching and planning the perfect class and the next morning you are ready to enlighten the unwashed masses. You throw up the topic on the projector and put your flawlessly planned lesson into action. Not 10 seconds later the kid in the back of the room, who has only spoken once all year-long yells, “HEY TEACH! THIS IS SOME CRAZY STUFF… YOU GOTTA SEE!”

Cautiously you take a look at what is on his iPad screen and he has a live twitter feed of what is happening in Egypt live and uncensored. Tweets from a revolution on the other side off the world! How can your perfect lesson plan compare? So you throw up the feed on your projector and you follow and discuss what you are seeing unfold in your classroom live.

Compatibility – Although the whole idea of an iPad is that it runs Apps which do everything you need or want to do, every once in a while you will head to the web. Like most poor teachers who can’t afford an iPad of their own, you will find the websites you need to visit on your computer at home and assume everything is just ducky.

Next day, you show up at school – grab the iPad cart – get everything set up – the kids roll in – you start your lesson – send the kids to the great websites you found for this lesson and then you find out the iPad only works with one of the three!

You curse under your breath and frantically change gears. The only thing you can think of before your first coffee takes effect, is to have the kids pull out paper and pencil crayons and kick it old school.

 

So there you have it… My two bits worth. If you are venturing toward an iPad classroom, I hope you find my advice useful. It is an adventure for us all and things are changing on a daily basis. I also fully expect to make dozens of new errors over the coming school year, so check back often as I may have more advice to offer you.

Cheers & Happy New School Year

Jul 282012
 

Smack dab in the middle of my summer break, a disturbing thought came to me the other day. Actually it wasn’t the thought so much as the thinking part that was disturbing. Sitting pool side dozing in and out of lucidity, I thought to myself… “Kids need Personal Learning Networks as much as teachers or any other professionals do”

With a shake of the head, that brief but disturbing thought scampered away and I quickly settled in for a nap, only to be rudely awakened 30 minutes later by a drippy teenager, begging for money to go chase the ice cream truck.

All squinty eyed and muddled, my wily money-grubbing thirteen year old instantly sensed disorientation and robbed me of every last cent I had and booked it out down the street. Before I realized what had happened, that horrible thinking thing happened again. “If we want kids to effectively use technology for academic purposes, they need a Personal Learning Network”

As hard as I tried, I couldn’t stop thinking. This mid summer mental malady could only mean one thing! My red meat and beer levels had gotten too low and for that there is only one solution, so I gathered my things and headed back to the house to fire up the barbeque.

Unfortunately, even after a 12 ounce porterhouse and an undisclosed number of beer, the thinking didn’t stop. I realized that the only way I am going to be rid of this nagging brain activity, is by hammering out a blog post to cleanse out the thought hopper. After which, I will pour concrete in there so nothing else can slip in.

So here goes… My mid summer blog post on Personal Learning Networks.

Personal Learning Networks or PLN’s are another one of those hip and happening thingies that has recently taken the educational world by storm. Actually there has always been PLN’s, just that they were usually school or district based and required seeing the whites of someones eyes. Certainly, the face to face PLN is still important but with the advent of twitter and other social media, ones PLN has the potential to be global.

Over this past year, I have grown my own digital PLN by leaps and bounds through this very blog and the use of twitter and quite frankly, it has quickly become far more valuable to me then my face to face PLN. This is not because my colleagues aren’t fabulous, brilliant people but because in the digital world, I am free of the institutionalized hierarchies and protocol which can hinder ones professional growth. But I digress…

My thinking is thus… If a digital PLN has been so good for me, then it might be something we should be encouraging our students to create. I thought I might have an original idea here! I might become famous or something but alas… Others had beaten me to the punch. I did a little research expecting to find nothing on the notion of a digital PLN for students but unfortunately, there have been people saying this very thing since 2008 but in my humble opinion, not as well as me. 😉

See what others say

The idea of a digital Personal Learning Network actually goes hand in hand with a recent post I did on the importance of creating a Personal Digital Learning Space. It is all part and parcel of a creating a positive digital footprint and using the technology to enhance our learning opportunities. Over the past couple of school years, I have stumbled upon a couple of kids who are way ahead of the curve and have done an outstanding job creating a PLN for themselves (Check out Joey Ahmadi and see how he has crafted his own digital identity and PLN) but by in large, kids make poor use of technology as a social learning tool. There are a couple of reasons for this but I will reserve comment for now.

Keep in mind, I am looking at the digital PLN from a high school perspective. When we look at this idea from what it means for primary and intermediate grades, there are some very different considerations to be taken into account. I am also making the assumption that high school students, have the maturity to begin creating a digital PLN which will be a positive representation of who they are and what they are all about.

Digital PLN Starter kit

In my opinion the following three items are must haves for a digital Personal Learning Network

  • Information source – We all need a source of information which meets our academic and professional needs. For generations of learners, this source of information has been the teacher, textbooks and classmates. Although these are still valid and important sources of ideas, opinion and yes even answers, in today’s world this is sometimes not sufficient and quite frankly rather static.

Personally, I still use traditional sources of information such as texts, talking to colleagues and on occasion attending a lecture but for my day-to-day professional development and information gathering, I have come to rely rather heavily on RSS feeds. Ever changing and dynamic, I have access to a wealth of information from reliable sources delivered to me on my digital device. Every morning I grab a coffee, fire up the ipad and peruse the latest in #edtech #education #politics #cycling

I currently favour an app called Zite which is infinitely customizable and more often than not delivers reliable content. When I find something I like, I can share it with my PLN, ponder what it means to me and my teaching practice, use it in my classroom… Sometimes it triggers a new thought which then turns into a blog post. The possibilities of how I use this information for my own professional development is endless and I see no reason to think a student’s experience would be any different.

  • Personal Blog – This is your home base, the place where you present your ideas to the world and where the world can share their opinion of those ideas. It is a representation of your interests and skills and it is the way you attract people to your PLN. It is amazing how a single blog post on a topic you feel passionate about, will bring out like-minded folks who are more than happy to help you further your academic or professional goals.

A blog is the foundation of your digital identity and its power for both good and evil is immeasurable.

  • Twitter account – I have to admit, I didn’t get twitter in the beginning. A site where you could share nothing but drivel in 140 characters or less… Wat Up Wit Dat? It wasn’t until I turned a class of 30 grade 10’s loose on the BCPSEA conference (A meeting of all the educational big wigs in the Province of British Columbia) that I came to understand the power of twitter. Thirty 15 year olds, engaging our provinces most powerful educational leaders in 140 characters. It was magic! Some of these kids took it to the suits and hammered them with smart relevant questions about their education and the big wigs answered back.

It was fantastic! In that 80 minute period, I immediately saw that twitter was a window to the world for these kids. Real people answering real questions in real-time and from that point on, I began using twitter to engage real people, with real questions, in real-time about my profession and interests.

Digital PLN’s are definitely not just for adults. In fact, I believe that in order for a digital revolution to occur in our schools, it will be imperative that we encourage and teach kids how to create a learning network that extends beyond the walls of our schools. In today’s world, information is ubiquitous and learning opportunities are but a click away. Lets help kids create and use a Personal Learning Network which will be with them through life.

Now back to my regularly scheduled barbecue induced oblivion.

Jun 282012
 

This past week, a few of my colleagues and I moseyed on up to Kelowna for the #Canflip education conference, to check out what all the flipped classroom hubbub was about? I actually had done a wee bit of it myself already but I have by no means “flipped out” quite yet. I needed more information and as you all know, I am the Eeyore of Edtech. I am always looking for something to be negative about, so I happily moped my way on up to Kelowna looking for a reason to be a naysayer.

For those who are not familiar with the term Flipped Classroom, it simply refers to the practice of reducing or eliminating in-class lectures by making the information piece of the learning process available to students outside of class time. When the student come to class they are ready to work on relevant activities, labs or projects, rather than listening to a teacher drone on for hours on end. Homework becomes nothing more than accessing the “lecture” or information online and then coming to class ready to ask questions and get down to work. Essentially, what use to be done at the kitchen table, is now done in class and what use to be done in class in done at the kitchen table.

This conference was the doing of three teachers Carolyn Durley – Graham Johnson & Paul Janke  from Okanagan Mission High School in Kelowna BC. They have become quite the trio around these parts, gaining notoriety for their class flipping. Fortunately for the likes of me, they are now sharing their experience because going to Chicago for the mother of all Flipped Classroom conferences is simply not in the stars for a small town boy like me.

Now as the Eeyore of Edtech, I would love to sit here and write several bellyaching paragraphs about how bad the conference was but the good folks at Okanagan Mission High School put on a hell of a show. Well planned and chock-a-block full of good info, it was a fantastic springboard from which attendees could begin to plan their own classroom flipping. The whole program was second only to the pulled pork sandwiches they served for lunch on the first day. They were straight up awesome!

Attendees ranged from the skeptic, to the recent #Edtech devotee, to hardcore Techno Geek but everyone seemed to be open-minded about the concept. For myself, there wasn’t much new, other than a couple useful websites and some nifty activities to go along with them but what I the conference did do was got me thinking… Yah Yah Yah groan all you want. Here comes Eeyore!

As with everything Edtech, I don’t necessarily think about what this means for me so much as I think about what this means for students, my colleagues and my school. As a result, I spent the whole conference asking myself things like, Would this be a good thing for every kid? What about the teachers who are master story tellers and their lectures are what makes them great? How many teachers have the technical skills or the time to develop the technical skills to flip their classroom? How do we introduce the concept to staff and support those who want to try it? and I wrapped up my thoughts with the idea of creating a Camtasia studio where teachers could build their videos with the help of expert staff and student volunteers.

Although I didn’t come out  of the conference inspired to turn teaching on its head, I will continue move ahead with turning it on its ear. The reason my buy in won’t be whole hog is because I see flipping the classroom as new tool to add to my tickle trunk of tricks, rather than a methodology on which my teaching should be based. I enjoy standing and delivering my lessons and in my humble opinion some of them are gems. Based on the kids laughter (on occasion) my students like what I do in the front of the classroom too, so I won’t be eliminate all lectures anytime soon.

In the broader scope of things, the conference reinforced for me that teaching is becoming evermore dynamic and complex but we need to recognize that everyone cannot be all things. With this in mind, I have resolved to help any colleague who wants to flip all or parts of their teaching to do so. I think there might be some traction in my Camtasia studio idea, where teachers have the space and tools to produce their materials but this will take some planning and the techno geeks like me will need make this happen.

Wish me Luck!

Some Resources

Flipping Math

Flipper Teach

Flipped Classroom

The Flipped Class Network

Camtasia Studio

Jun 242012
 

Well the year has come to a close and I guess it is time to start reflecting on how things went with our little iPads in the classroom pilot. If you have been reading my blog, you are well aware that things have not been perfect but I am comfortable in saying that more good came of it then bad. Both teachers and students managed to learn a few things from this experience and we will be able to move forward and improve on how we teach and learn using digital devices.

In addition to what was going on in my iPad classroom, I also was able to experiment at home with my child. Up until this year she hasn’t really had very much access to digital technology for work or play, at least on the home front. This gave me the opportunity to work with a kid who was pretty close to a base line of digital exposure and allowed me to really control how the iPad was used for an educational purpose.

The most important lessons I learned this year however, have nothing to do with the iPad. These lessons were beyond the utilitarian business of learning and teaching with a digital device. Sure I learned what  apps work best or how best to demonstrate learning using the iPad but what this year REALLY solidified for me was that all digital all the time is not necessarily good, appropriate, best practice or even needed.

After this year, there is no longer any doubt in my mind that we need to teach our kids to be competent in the real world before immersing them in a digital one. Again this might seem like common sense BUT if you are a casual onlooker, you could not be blamed for thinking that all digital, all the time, is all good.

So without further adieu, here is a short but long-winded list of things I have come to believe after this years iPads in the Classroom project.

There is no replacement for good old-fashioned reading and writing skills. Although I am sure that I’m stating the obvious here, people seem to always forget or perhaps hope that technology can compensate for weaknesses in basic academic skills. Unfortunately, those who are hoping that the iPad can do that miraculous task, will be sorely disappointed. What digital technology seems to be able to do best, is amplify good academic skills. Kids who have strong foundational skills are able to use technology to leverage their abilities and push themselves even further ahead of their peers who have weak or average academic skills. I saw this both at home and in the classroom and I am certain this will probably continue to be the case for many generations to come.

Pen & Paper are still useful learning tools. I know this is akin to the point above but this is more about the process of creating digital content. During the school year, I quickly discovered that simply turning kids loose to work in a digital environment, is a hit and miss endeavor. This was especially true with my own 13-year-old daughter. It seemed that their ability to organize their thoughts and do a thorough job of the work at hand, suffered in a purely digital environment.  Quality of work was instantly improved when I required my students and my daughter to begin their work with a pencil and paper first. I would seem that, brain storming and outlining on paper first, especially in group situations,  was a far better way of organizing your work.

Now whether working in a purely digital environment is just a “new” skill that needs to be learned or whether pen & paper is simply superior for some tasks, I am not sure but time will certainly tell. For now, I will be requiring both my students and my own children to produce at least some of their work with pen and paper as part of a comprehensive learning process.

Self Regulation is this years pedagogical catch phrase. Everywhere you turn someone is using it. You see it in blog posts, hear it in staff meetings, on news reports… As much as I like the science behind it, the term has already become tiresome. If you run in education circles, it is one of those words you could use for a drinking game at one of those crazy off the hook teacher parties. Every time someone uses “self-regulation” in conversation, you take a shot of Petrone.

Although I jest, when it comes to digital devices, the ability to self regulate is absolutely imperative when it comes to classroom success. Students HAVE to be able too put down their device and direct their attention to something other than what is on their device screen. This could be during a group discussion, direct instruction, a presentation or just for a 10 second question and answer session.

Again it seems like common sense but as we all know, sense in not all that common. Everyone needs to learn to self regulate when it comes to their digital addictions. Of course there are examples of this everywhere. Texting while driving  is a perfect example of a lack of self-regulation . We need to be able to detach from the device to attend to real world situations when the needed. While texting and driving distracts you from doing the important task of driving safely, digital distraction in the classroom causes the learner to miss the opportunity to participate in their learning environment.

This leads to my next point and what people really seem to struggle with.

A new culture of learning needs to evolve in our schools, which accounts for the presence of digital devices in the classroom. One where students, parents and teachers recognize and respect that there is a time and a place for the use of digital tools. As I started formulating this post, I found a great blog post by Lisa Velmer Nielsen who suggests that all schools need to establish a Social media or BYOD policy. Although I agree with what Nielson has to say, I would argue we need to get beyond the notion of “policy”  and toward a universally accepted understanding around appropriate use of digital devices. It is most commonly referred to as being a good digital citizen but the question is how do we accomplish this? Currently the device seems to control the person rather than the person controlling the device and we need to flip this relationship between user and device.

It is easy to simply slide into creating a list of  thou shall not’s but the goal here is not to create a book of punitive measures for those who break the rules. We need to figure out how to create a culture, where everyone knows when to be immersed in the real world and when it is ok to slip into the digital one.

Access to information does not an education make. Again this is not rocket science but a far to common rationalization for not bothering to “learn the material” or “understand a concept” is that the answer is immediately available on your digital device. If you can Search it… why remember or understand it?

This past week, I saw a reprint of a blog post by Larry Cuban in the Washington Post  The technology mistake: Confusing access to information with becoming educatedIt takes my original thoughts far beyond what I intended and is well worth the read.

Regardless of who is saying it… The simple message is that WE MUST NOT equate easy access to information, with learning or becoming educated.

Finally, I realize that this post isn’t what some people were hoping for and I apologize for not writing a RahRah SisBoomBa feel good post about the iPad but everyone already knows that the iPad is cool and holds incredible potential as a learning tool. I feel what we need more than anything else is to hear the voice of the common old, run of the mill teacher, slogging it out in the trenches trying to make technology work in the classroom.

At some point, I will post something in the next couple of weeks about all the AMAZING and FANTASTIC things I did in the classroom with the iPad but for now, I leave you with these bigger observations, which are perhaps more important than the  nuts and bolts of using iPads in the classroom.

Happy Summer all!

May 232012
 

Digital free learning, novel idea isn’t it? This topic has been cropping up in the staff room quite frequently the past few months and it isn’t just your garden variety bellyaching you use to hear about kids and cellphones in class. It is what can only be described as collective concern about what seems to be happening to the traditional processes by which students have been learning for generations. There is an unsettling feeling that with the digitization of our learning environments, we are throwing the baby out with the bath water and what is more, many teachers are feeling a bit over run by the Digital Hoard.

This is not to say that teachers feel that everything digital is bad, just that there is a huge risk in embracing a medium which we know very little about when it comes to learning and cognition. There is a genuine concern that a wholesale digitization of the classroom, will destroy the very learning environments that have brought us to this point in our human evolution.

As I was perusing the literature for some supporting evidence for the notion of academic subversion by digitization, I stumbled upon a collection of essays in a book called The Digital Divide. Each of the essays looks at the effects of the digital revolution on our world and the changes it has made to the social and intellectual fabric of our society. All of these essays marvel at the changes driven by the digitization of our world but many of them also have concerns about how this will play out in the long term. When I finished the book, I came back to one essay Learning to think in a digital world by Maryanne Wolf where she concluded with a quote from Technological visionary Edward Tennent . It would be a shame if the very intellect that produced the digital revolution could be destroyed by it.”

This one quote brought me right back to the discussions around the staff room lunch table. Are we unwittingly dismantling the very thing that got us here? Many teachers feel that students are quickly losing critical cognitive skills because of their ever growing digital dependence and it is hard to find a teacher who will disagree. Common laments include:

  • Inability deduce or infer meaning from a text.
  • Inability to draw relationships between like or unlike things
  • Lack of original thought (pulling something out of nothing)
  • little or no patience for working things out without digital assistance.
  • Taking things at face value or believing that there is a single web searchable answer

I even encounter some of these with my own children. Although my wife and I have gone to great lengths to restricted their access to the NET for entertainment or academic purposes, they have been conditioned to defer to a search engine whenever they can’t figure anything out under their own brain power. I can only assume this comes from school because at home, we do our best to be inhumane and make them turn pages of books and actually think about the questions they are working on. There is very little “Let’s just Google it!” In our household.

What this suggests to me is that some valuable thinking skills which once were part and parcel of our education system have already been lost to the great search engine in the sky.

So what do we do?

Well… like it or not, the digital horse is out of the barn and we are not going to get it back in anytime soon. As a über digi-geek myself, I certainly don’t want to go back but I recognize that there is a need for some serious thought about the how and when we should be exposing kids to digital media and the devices that deliver it.

In the same Maryanne Wolf essay mentioned above, she opens her concluding paragraph with “Children need to have both time to think and the motivation to think for themselvs, to develop and expert reading brain before the digital mode dominates their reading.” Sven Birkerts referred to this as Deep Reading. It is the kind of reading where the individual is able to to infer meaning from a text, or extend their thinking beyond what is literary expressed in that text. We know that having this type of reading and thinking skill is crucial to ones academic success, yet there is mounting evidence that digital delivery derails it.

We are faced with a growing academic conundrum. On one hand, maybe old school learning and thinking is simply passé and we need to just let go of the old and move on with the new. On the other, if we acquiesce and let the tried and true become consumed by digitization, we may lose more then anyone can possibly imagine. Even I, a über digi-geek, think it prudent to preserve at least some vestige of what got us here but where do we start.

Currently it would seem the approach that is being taken is like that of the small river side community during spring run off. The digital river just keeps on coming and the towns people are sand bagging like crazy trying to hold back the rising waters. The problem is that the flow of digital media will not stop and so we need to find a way to save the most important structures in our little river side education community. Time for resistance is long past, coexistence is what we need to be working toward.

Were it up to me, I would start with five common sense things, which would act as a foundation on which coexistence could be built. Some of it is under way but none of it seems to be part of any “real” plan.

  1. We need to get both the pro digital and the anti digital sides to agree that there is value in both the new and the old.
  2. We need to identify what we cannot afford to loose from old school education and ensure it is a part of a quality new age education.
  3. We need to take a serious look at the effects of digital media on the immature brain and establish guidelines for age appropriate access to digital delivery.
  4. Lets start building a school culture that recognizes that digital tools are not always necessary or beneficial to learning certain things.
  5. Lets make sure there are digital free spaces, where the brain is the only advanced electronic in the room.

Lets be clear, I LOVE digital technology. I am even one of those rotten people who are cramming it down other educators throats whether they want me to or not. I recognize however, that we cannot allow the digitization of our schools to wipe out the education system we are all a product of. As a parent, I don’t want my children to be digitally dependent and I sincerely think there is far too much to be lost if we were to allow this to happen. We need to start bridging the digital divide and working to create an education system that values where we came from and where we are going. This can only be accomplished if we are working together.

The first step is to accept that the digital age is here but we also need to recognize that it would have never arrived where it not for good old fashioned schooling.