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James went on to imply that the education system is based on an outdated belief system, which is simply not adaptable to the modern world or the modern student.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. ūüėČ

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‚Äôt 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.

Oct 222011
 

Ok it is official. If this iPad thing doesn’t kill me, I will be ready to do a marathon by the time June comes around. At first I thought it was just me and my lousy lesson planning (still a strong possibility) but I think it might just be the nature of the beast. Having a classroom full of kids working on iPads is a high energy, high mileage endeavour. This past week felt like I was running summer day camps for 8 – 12 year olds again or herding cats.

Part of the issue is that, I haven’t standardized much of what we do in class. Certainly my lesson is the same for everyone but when I turn the kids loose to do work on their iPads, that lesson can be interacted with in 30 different ways. This of course is the beauty of the iPad, everyone’s experience with the curriculum is different but it can also be head spinning .

You now have 30 different possibilities in the hands of your students, not that all of these possibilities need your attention, it certainly generates a lot of questions.

As we move along with this project, I am sure we will find ways routinise our classroom activities in a way which make it easier for a teacher to answer the multitude of questions that crop up during a class. With that said, I also think that regardless of what we do to standardize the iPad classroom, it will remain a busier learning environment than a “traditional” learning space.

With all this said, in an effort to make things a little easier for everyone, I am trying to implement the following.

  1. Try to keep activities tied to a single app, 2 at the most.
      • Multi tasking on the iPad is cumbersome at best so keep it simple until kids become proficient with their device.
  2. Try to ensure every student uses the same app so their experience with the content or activity, will be consistent.
      • If you are using a classroom set of iPad’s, set them up all the same so the kids are experiencing the same thing.
  3. If possible, demo any activity you are doing using an iPad rather than a computer.
      • Although you would think students could differentiate between one device to another, some have some difficulties with the difference between the two. Keep your demos as close to what they will see on their own device as possible.
  4. Scale Activities.
      • Just like a Physical Education class you have to build lessons that match skill levels and move from the bottom up
      • One of the errors I made right out of the gate is that I assumed the kids would be proficient at using the iPad… Boy was I wrong.
  5. Screencasts
      • Creating Screencasts to which kids can refer at any time. This has been working well in my my regular classes so far and once I can start screen casting my iPad it will be fantastic teaching tool in the iPad classroom.

As iPad use becomes more popular and its use more ubiquitous. I am sure there will be an app or two, that will help teachers and students be more efficient with their class time. It is only a matter of time. In the mean time we will muddle along break new ground with what we have at our disposal.

Something I would like to see is LanSchool improving their iOS product to include some of the same features that their wired network product has. Specifically, the Send & Collect feature, ScreenFeed and Screen Blanking. These three tools would go a long way in creating a learning environment that was a little more unified and a little less freestyle. I will coin the term for this type of App right now. From this point forward, they will be called Unified Learning Environment Apps or ULEA’s

Until then, I am looking forward to my 4 hr marathon completion time this spring.

Nov 272010
 

I was thinking this week, about all these twitter feeds I am following and I could not get over just how…. Over the top, pro technology in the classroom they are. Twitter this, blog that. Gotta connect with kids on their turf, gotta be in touch with the pulse of web but¬†there never seems to be any thought put to the other side of the¬†equation. Perhaps if I followed #downwithtech or #twitteristhedevilswork I might get another viewpoint but I can’t help but wonder how my collegues who are less “wired” feel about this push to make their classrooms part of the digital landscape.

I know for a fact that there are a number of teachers who are not ready and perhaps will never be ready to drink the digital koolaid. They are great teachers, doing a great job in a classroom, just¬†teaching¬†it¬†old school. They don’t need twitter, blogs, wikis and all the other digital tools at their disposal to get kids to learn. They are master teachers without the digital¬†paraphernalia but they feel that the likes of me, are trying to dismantle and devalue that which they have spent an entire career creating and perfecting.

There are a number of other issues that lurk in the minds of the unconverted which we should be sensitive to well beyond the general notion that we Tech Geeks are out to get them and they are concerns that need to be heeded.

  • Availability of the Technology. This is a shortcoming for most schools. There simply isn’t enough technology to go around, for the kids or the teachers. We just haven’t hit a point of saturation yet where these digital tools are as ubiquitous as pencil and paper. Make it¬†accessible¬†without costing teachers anything and perhaps they will use it.
  • Some People Don’t Want To Use It! Plain and simple, some teachers see no need, nor do they want to use technology to teach. Does this make them bad teachers? NO! We the tech geeks need to respect that.
  • Management Issues. Even I, as someone who uses technology EVERY class, has issues around the appropriate¬†use of the technology in the classroom. Some I ignore, some I stomp on but it is an additional piece of management which some people do not wish to have to deal with. Teachers have a dozen things going on at any given time in a classroom, why add more to their plate?
  • Foundational Skills. In the digital world it is¬†EXTREMELY¬†difficult to determine how much of a students work is cut and paste or simply written by someone else. Much of kids work is a conglomeration of different information sources and¬†nary¬†a word of their own. What’s more, in the digital world, most information is written in point form, written sound bytes. Twitter is an excellent example of how thoughts have been reduced to 140 characters of information, hardly what you would call a body of text which needs to be read and then¬†dissected¬†for meaning. I am in complete agreement with my luddite¬†colleagues¬†who firmly¬†believe that, foundational skills are best taught and solidified through good old¬†fashioned¬†book lernin.
  • Just Don’t Got The Time or The Desire. Most teachers have lives outside of school and the 200+ kids they are¬†responsible¬†for in school. They are not all digital¬†dependent¬†like me, who spends more time with my laptop than I do with my family. We tech geeks love this stuff! We live it, we breath it and we have integrated it into our lives so that it is part of us. This is why using digital technology in the classroom is easy for us but some people DON’T want to make it part of their lives at home or at work.
  • Top Down Push. In my 15 years of teaching, I have learned more from other teachers than I have ever learned from an administrator but this is where the push to use technology in the classroom, seems to be coming from. All of us tech geeks have been playing with digital teaching tools for years but now that admin have caught onto the possibilities of digital learning tools, they seem to want all teachers to using them BUT if we are to expect other teachers to buy into the use of technology, it has to be a grassroots growth rather than by¬†administrative¬†decree.
  • The Digital Backlash This one is relatively new and has nothing to do with teachers. It is the digital backlash and the¬†occurrence¬†of parents¬†who are not allowing their kids to have access to digital media. For me, this started last year with one kid and this year I have 6 kids of 160, who’s parents WILL NOT allow their children to have access to any type of social media. To tell you the truth, I am doing the same with my own kids. They will not have ANY social media account before their 16th birthday. I¬†believe¬†this is a growing movement and something that we as educators who LOVE this sort of thing will be faced with more, in the¬†coming¬†years.

Whether we like it or not, the digital revolution might just have to be a digital evolution when it comes to teaching. The reality is that there are good teachers doing GREAT things with kids without using the latest and greatest web tools. We the “tech geeks”, have no business going about, trying to (Star Trek Reference Warning) assimilate all teaching¬†lifeforms¬†into a digital collective. Yes there are some great things you can do, yes you can engage learners with digital¬†resources, yes we have been sold BUT technology is not the end all and be all of learning. An excellent learning environment is about a teacher and the connection they have with the students and it. does not have to be a digital connection.