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 042012
 

Well I am back. I have finally summoned enough energy to drag myself off the couch and over to my laptop in an effort to put together a bit of reflection on how last term’s iPad documentary project went. Despite what the title of this post might suggest, everyone is still alive and all in all, the entire project was a complete and unmitigated, fair to middling success. For those of you who prefer ed-speak, I feel all curricular objectives were met but the process by which we came to meet these objectives, is in need of some pedagogical realignment.

For anyone who is just joining us, the iDoc project was a little experiment where I had the kids create a 10 – 15 minute documentary on a teen health issue, using their iPads. At the end of the term, what I received from the kids was 6 documentaries on four different topics.

  • Eating Disorders
  • Gaming Addiction
  • Mental heath and the teen
  • Drug and Alcohol addiction
Since I let the kids choose their topic, I had some duplication but that was fine with me. What I was more concerned about was getting kids vested in a topic so they would have the interest to carry the project through to the end.

The way I set the project up was that all the documentaries were anchored by the research each group did prior to filming. This research was then supplemented with information I provided through direct instruction over the term and finally the students rounded out their information gathering by conducting interviews with students, teachers and “experts” on the topic they were documenting.

Because all the curricular content was still being covered during class time, the documentaries didn’t have to be the means by which the kids learned the content. This allowed the groups to concentrate on the production of the film rather than focusing on “learning” curriculum as they went along. This is not to say the kids were not learning anything but they were able to put their efforts into creating the documentary rather than learning the material.

Although I planned and delivered the curriculum over the course of the term as usual. When it came to producing the documentary, I purposely left the “how to” VERY unstructured. I provided the kids some basic criteria and showed a number of samples of what a documentary looks like but beyond that, it was left up to them. My reasoning for this was that I wanted a baseline. I wanted to see what the kids could create with only a topic, some research and a couple of iPads in hand.

The result was an interesting mix of inspired creativity and brilliance, connected by a fair bit of “WHAT THE ……. Was that?”

I laughed, I cried and frequently said to myself… “I gotta change that for next year!” but when all was said and done. the kids had learned something, I learned something and we all seemed to all have fun.

So what is next? Well from my pedagogical post-mortem, I now have a far better idea of how best to do this sort of thing in the future. I think most of the issues that could be encountered, were reveal and now the only place to go is onward and upward. For more info on how I will go about it… Read on!

The Unseemly Details 

Although most of the items listed below were discussed in class, they were not part of any sort of criteria students HAD to meet. The result is that some or all of these issues appeared in each of the documentaries. For the most part they were small niggly little things but they quickly added up to spoil at least a portion of each of the documentaries.

When using an iPad to film

  • Always film in landscape
  • Make sure your hand isn’t covering the mic
  • Make sure there isn’t much background noise while filming
  • Make sure you are filming just the torso of the person being interviewed
Text Slides
  • Use text slides to transition into new points you are trying to get across to viewers.
  • Text slides need to be timed so people can actually read what they say.
  • Don’t put too much information on a text slide.
Interviews
  • Maximum length of each video clip should be no more than 2 – 3 minutes
  • Break up your interview clips with a text slide or image supporting what you are discussing
Use of supplemental video
  • Supplemental video should not be the core of your documentary
  • Supplemental video clips should be 15 to 30 seconds maximum
  • GIVE CREDIT to the producers of your supplemental video.

Biggest blunder on my part

One thing I totally dropped the ball on with this project, is that I should of had the groups create a story board before they even started filming anything. Story boarding is a basic precept of film making and leaving it out of the process was a colossal blunder on my part. This would have made the production of the documentaries easier and the end product much more focused.

Solution to all our problems But I can’t manipulate it to do what I want.

While we were working on this project the new iMovie app came out with their fantastic trailer templates which have story board built right into them. When I saw these, I immediately thought this is precisely what we needed for this project. It would be GREAT if I could create a template with which the kids could create their first documentary with. Built right into the template is the story board, transitions, timing … all the things that the kids struggled with in this project, could be easily managed with a template. IF apple ever makes this possible, mini documentaries will be flowing out my classroom door on a weekly basis.

In the end

I am really quite pleased with the results. Although things weren’t perfect and I wasn’t really breaking any “new ground”, as creating videos as a demonstration of learning is not new. What this little project served to do, is prove that using video has become as accessible as creating a power point or a poster board.

What once was a major undertaking has become a daily classroom tool. There are still skills that we need to develop to use it effectively but it is now possible to make video a staple in the classroom.

Final word

It is undeniable that the iPad is a pretty nifty gadget and it will evolve as a teaching and learning tool as time goes by but we must keep reminding ourselves of this single truth. The iPad in and of itself does not necessarily make the process of learning any easier for student or teacher, it just makes it different. Once again, this project has proven to me that there is more to skool then a cool tool.

iDoc Sample

[youtube_sc url=OURRFs0_sEc width=430]

Mar 312012
 

You may remember a little while ago, I wrote a post called Whoa Nellie – Are we getting ahead of ourselves?“, where I took a brief look at three problems I have encountered recently in my efforts to move toward a Twenty First Century Learning environment. Following that post I tossed up a second called Whoa Nellie… Now what?Where I discussed how creating personal digital learning spaces could be a solution to some of the hurdles we are encountering as we move toward a Twenty First Century Learning model. Now that I am done with my Union Rabble Rousing for this year, I have some time to do a follow-up post and expand my thoughts on Personal Digital Spaces or PDS’s.

A PDS is simply a place where you can store “stuff” in a digital environment. It could be a piece of writing, video, drawing, presentation… Anything that you can record digitally can be put in this space. The most common of these types of spaces are Blogs but there are all sorts of different platforms you can use to create a PDS. My personal favourite is a blog, simply because you can do so many things with it. Once you create one, the only limitation as to what you can create is your imagination and your willingness to learn.

This very blog is an example of a PDS. I write and share what I have learned over my career and what I am learning on a day-to-day basis. I am proud of it and I go to great lengths to ensure that what I put up is a genuine reflection of who I am as a person and a professional. Sure, somethings I put up are complete nonsensical drivel but for the most part, I feel that I share some pretty decent stuff. Stuff that I want people to see, which leads to an other important point about Digital Spaces.

This blog is a part of my digital footprint. It is the first thing that comes up when people Google my name. It is my digital persona and therefore it is critical that I take great care in ensuring that I am putting my best foot forward when creating this digital footprint. This space is mine, it represents me and I want it to be as close to perfect as possible.

So why is this important?

If you are creating a digital space that is a quality representation of yourself, it takes effort, it takes thought and you cannot cheat the system. The act of creating this space and creating content for it, goes beyond the simple memorization of meaningless facts, theories or ideas. It forces the individual to be engaged with the topic or material they are sharing AND they have to learn to use the technology they are presenting it with.

How does this translate when we are discussing the three “problems” mentioned in the first of this series of posts? Well lets take a look.

Problem 1: Students who just wanted to know “what to study for?”

If we use PDS as a place to showcase what we have learned or perhaps share some opinions about what we have learned OR god forbid, come up with an original thought about the topic du jour.  The simple act of  creating the content for our digital space and sharing it with the world, in and of itself…  Is studying. Assuming the content is original, well presented and shows an understanding of the curriculum, perhaps a test is not necessary.

What is more, when a parent wants to see where their child is at or what they have done. The PDS will speak for itself. There is no more hiding behind artificial test results, garnered from the efforts of an all night study session. Theoretically the PDS is an accurate representation of how the student is doing is school and considering it is a public representation of what the student knows or is capable of, you would hope it is an individuals best work.

Finally, a PDS is a GREAT way to present yourself to the world beyond the hallowed halls of high school. In today’s world, grades are becoming less and less significant. Sure good grades are important, but the attitude of “just tell me what is going to be on the test” no longer cuts it. A student NEEDS to create an online presence that they can market to prospective post secondary schools and employers. Raw numbers from test results no longer make the grade.

Problem 2: A general resistance toward accepting digital devices as legitimate learning tools.

When it came time to start making plans for next years iPad integration cohort, I was shocked that we were having difficulties recruiting individuals to participate. I figured that we would have at least one additional group of kids in a school of 1500, who wanted to participate. I was at a loss for words but really it isn’t all that surprising.

It became crystal clear why this is the case when I gave my Work Experience & Graduation Transitions students the task of creating a digital space of their own to represent what they have accomplished in their first 12 years in the education system. Only 1 student out of 26, had a web site & understood what it was I wanted. Of the remaining 25, only 3 managed to put together a site that had any kind of evidence that they were  involved or interested in anything. The problem is that I know that this is not the case for these students. They are all amazing in their own right but they have never been directed to collect or create something which represents what they are all about in a digital format.

By incorporating the use of PDS’s into the learning environment as a part of the learning experience, we create a situation where the use of digital tools as a way to demonstrate learning is part and parcel of the school experience. There would be no question as to whether a student should be carrying a digital device, they would be as common as a binder or pencil crayons. Recruitment would no longer be an issue because carrying a Digital Device would be common place.

Problem 3: Use of digital spaces are restricted to the geeky minority.

When I was given the privilege of doing 3 guest lectures at my old Alma matter about iPads in the classroom, I went in assuming that the new and up and coming teachers would be on par if not beyond what I had to share with them. I was genuinely nervous because I figured they would be part of the digital elite and might expose me for the fraud I am but it wasn’t the case.

I was, in every way, more versed with digital technology in the classroom than they were. I quickly realized that a 45-year-old dinosaur such as myself, knew more about digital spaces then new teachers just entering the profession were. Once I completed my three lectures,  I immediately went to do some research on some of these students and none of them had a significant Digital Footprint. I was astonished! People who we assume are “digital natives” have no significant presence in the digital world, yet we are expecting them to teach our children to be good digital citizens. This is not to say Universities are not trying. The professor who asked me to speak to her classes is trying desperately to get new teachers up to speed, but the use of digital spaces is simply not seen as something “we” do as teachers.

As for my colleagues, who are actively teaching in the system today. I work with amazing people, one of which just got accepted at Oxford to do a PhD, but using Digital Spaces is not part of what she does. If we want teachers to use digital spaces and digital tools, we need to make them available and provide the  TIME to do it. Personally I LOVE the stuff and getting the likes of me to bring digital spaces into their teaching is easy but not everyone has bought into the digital frenzy.

If you want teachers to use digital tools to create digital spaces, you have to make it accessible for them. You need to encourage & FUND the use of digital spaces by the professionals you employ. Once teachers are using them for themselves, they are far more able to include them in their curriculum AND advise their students on how to create them for themselves.

Personally I am out-of-pocket in the neighborhood of $2000.00 a year hosting my own blogs and blogs of other teachers FOR FREE in an effort to help teachers create their PDS’s. In a sense I subsidize our school system so that we (as a profession) can move toward the “ideal” 21Century Learning Model. Unfortunately for my pocketbook, I think it is important enough so I take the financial hit but it shouldn’t be that way. If the school system want teachers to use digital spaces as a learning tool, they need to facilitate its use.

To conclude

PDS’s are the learning space of the future. They can be so much more than they currently are AND they are woefully under utilized as a legitimate learning tool. It is obvious that I LOVE the medium for many reasons but from a practical and professional perspective, Personal Digital Spaces are so important for our students. The medium is so powerful, that I believe it is short-sighted of us to not teach our children how to create their own Personal Digital Space and use these spaces as evidence of learning.

Life is no longer simply about grades or the reputation you have, it is also about the rock solid, concrete digital space you create.

Mar 132012
 

As the Teacher dispute in British Columbia starts to get ugly with plenty of mudslinging from both sides of the political spectrum. It would seem things are starting to come to a head simply by the pinch which only the withdrawal of Volunteer services can bring.

Teachers in school districts throughout the Province are now being told to ONLY do their job as outlined by contract and to work bell to bell. What this means is that any “extra time” a teacher volunteers to their school in the way of coaching, clubs, study sessions… etc, will be withdrawn. The strange thing is, it seems that the public feels that this action is more reprehensible than the legislation which got teachers to this point in the first place.

Like the kids, for many teachers the extra curricular stuff is the best part of their school day. Teachers do not volunteer out of obligation, they volunteer out of a love for the activity they are supporting. Despite the old adage, “those who can do, those who can’t, teach” Schools are packed with incredible people who have achieved great things in their lives. All of them want nothing more than to impart their wisdom, their skills and their experience on their students and extra curricular activities gives them this opportunity. With this said, the withdrawal of volunteer services is not taken lightly and there will be some instances where teachers will continue giving their time, regardless of professional or personal consequence.

So where does this leave us? Well for the short-term, things will be messy and both kids and teachers will be deprived of the opportunity to do what it is they love to do. How long will this last? It could be months, it could be years but one thing is for certain, this has been many years in the making.

Teachers giving their time, is not as simple and straight forward as one might think and before the general public goes straight to taking on a “HOW DARE YOU” position, one needs to understand that there is more to it than a simple temper-tantrum.

Teachers can no longer afford to “donate time”.

As I wrote in a previous post Teachers simply can no longer afford to give away their time. In cities like Vancouver, many teachers (usually the <40 crowd) need to work at least one additional job just to pay the bills. If a teacher is racing off to go to another job after school, they won’t be spending time with your child after school for free.

Should it come to the point where participation in extra curricular activities becomes part of a teachers job description, it would become a significant problem for many, as people’s livelihood would be at stake.

Liability issues are scaring teachers away from giving their time.

We are a litigious bunch nowadays and because of this, many teachers refuse to take on the responsibility of any activity that requires 24/7 supervision. Where common sense and personal responsibility use to be the code by which most extracurricular programs were run, today this expectation is not enough.

We no longer look at our youth as sentient beings, capable of making mistakes of their own doing. Instead if a kid screws up, we immediately start looking for an adult to blame. It is because of this, I will not take any group of kids anywhere that requires me to be “responsible” for them over night.

I have heard stories of coaches taking shifts, standing watch in hotel hallways all night long, to ensure kids are not sneaking out at night. I have been on watch myself until 1 am on occasion because kids could not behave themselves. I have even heard of programs resorting to requiring parents to accompany their child on road trips in an effort to mitigate liability issues for the coaching staff.

Our desire to blame an adult rather than expect our children to behave responsibly, is quickly destroying extracurricular activities all on its own. If a coach cannot have a reasonable expectation that kids are willing and able to conduct themselves in an appropriate manner, then you cannot expect teachers to take on that responsibility.

Pay for participation programs are poaching kids from school activities.

Kids have so many opportunities outside of school, that many simply do not have time for in school activities. We over schedule our children in an effort to enrich their lives but in doing so the “free” programs like those in schools, tend to suffer.

In Canada, many of the best athletes in a school are playing hockey. Depending on the level they are playing, some may try to do both school sports and club hockey but usually school sports are secondary. A kid can only attend one practice or game at a time and it is the free one that will get forsaken.

In the larger centers there are also a myriad of fine arts programs that draw kids away from in school programs and then of course there is the constant drive for academic excellence that send kids to extra studies outside of the school hours.

As a coach this is frequently a HUGE headache as teams may start a season with a full roster but kids will fall away as the season progresses until the team is no longer viable. The result is that, there is not much motivation for a teacher to give up their time for a fruitless cause.

Sometimes thank you just isn’t enough

I have a colleague who takes 6 – 8 kids every year on a hardcore wilderness experience over 10 days, during which he is on 24/7. In addition to this, the responsibility he takes on when he is in the middle of the bush is extraordinary as there is no support. No principal, no parents, no ambulance service, no nothing. He is literally on his own in the wilderness. Of the 240 hours he spends with these kids, only 64 of that might be considered “billable time” but he gets no additional pay, no days in lieu… absolutely nothing other than a thank you

Now that sort of thing would be unheard of in private industry, lets see a lawyer do that for free! I am thinking it would be an absolute “NO!” and the public would accept that but if a teacher says “NO!Ain’t gonna happen”, all hell breaks loose. Teachers are instantly labeled as selfish, greedy, uncaring and money-grubbing. If a teacher even thinks about saying “NO” they are instantly vilified. It just doesn’t add up.

Just like the BC Liberals have said, we need change in our school system and it looks as though the changes the @BClibs want to make will be at expense of the teaching profession and if that is they way they want to go, so be it. If they want to go to a free market system, where teachers are nothing more than a commodity, then teachers will more than likely start treating their time as such. You can’t have it both ways, where teachers are freewheeling with their time all the while the employer is trying their best to short change them at every corner.

Like it or not, the Good old days are gone and we are all going to pay for it in the end.

Side Note

Here is a great Video on what motivates us in the work we do. At about the 4:40 point in the video, pay close attention to what is most important in getting the most out of an employee.

Feb 222012
 

Well I have to thank everyone for making Old Nellie the single most popular post of all time on my blog. It seemed to generate some good discussion around Digital learning, BCEDPLAN and 21st Century Learning. Most of it focused on the concerns everyone has but there was a thread of optimism throughout and everyone seemed to agree that the horse is out of the barn and there is no turning back but a simple question remains… “Now What?”

Now that I managed to reign in Old Nellie and have her tied up in front of the local saloon and I am inside buying the house a round to celebrate the roaring success of my last post, I suppose the next step is to answer that simple question. “Now What?…” Spose I shoulda expected that.

Rule #1 of blogging, never pretend like you know something if you are not prepared to deliver some insight. I am thinkin I am in trouble here.

So here is what I figure… Personalized learning in Digital learning environments is not going to go away anytime soon. BCEDPLAN is pushing it, 21st Century Learning advocates are trumpeting its value and I am hoping they are both right because I will continue to be useful to my superiors.

What I think we are missing in this movement however is that “we” (the digi-geeks) have failed to identify what will get people to enter the digital learning space and ultimately accept it as a viable medium for teaching and learning.

BCEDPLAN says we need to give the kids the skills so they can be 21st Century Learners, Teachers are saying we need Professional development so we can be leaders in the digital classroom and parents are saying we need the digital devices in the hands of their children. All of which is true but they are still missing the boat here. Chris Kennedy is perhaps the closest to the mark when he says the first step is getting kids, teachers, administrators… writing and putting personal ideas out there using blogs. In fact Chris is spot on but to date I don’t think he has spun it in a way that I am about to share with you.

Getting people to invest their time and energy in the digital learning space is not so much about skills, money or devices as it is about ownership. Simple ownership of a personal digital space naturally encourages people to become vested in using, sharing and producing within a digital environment. This in turn builds skills and gives the individual access to resources and content that can then be used for teaching and learning.

If you need proof of this, just take a look around. You will quickly discover that virtually anyone who you would consider digitally literate are the ones with their own personal digital space of which they are lord and master. What they do with that space may vary from person to person but it is theirs. The result is that most people take great pride in making sure that the content they put out for others to see, is of the best quality they can muster. The individual invests time and effort in into learning how to go about creating a quality personal digital space worthy of showing the world and therefore becomes a competent digital citizen

In my classes, I refer to this as creating a positive digital footprint and I go to great lengths in making sure that kids understand the concept and the importance of creating a space that they can proudly present to the world. I have been doing this with classes since the early days of Blogger and some of my students from back then still maintain the blogs I had them create. In that time I have had kids who write, share art and photography, create digital portfolios for school or careers and some have even spun their blogs into small businesses. Each and every success using a personal digital space has been because the students see the value in creating it and do a good job of it because it is their’s.

The Problem

Each and every one of the “Whoa!” moments I shared in my first post centered around traditional teacher centered learning environments. Whether it was my international student, the iPad kids or the teacher candidates. All of them are rooted in deeply ingrained ideas about what education is about. Teacher centered, controlled and driven. In none of these “whoa” moments do any of the individuals realize what is necessary to be successful in a personalized digital learning environment. As a society we want the teacher to be the center of the learning universe because it means we don’t have to take responsibility for our own learning but the personalized digital learning environment is going to demand that of both teachers and students.

The Solution

Learning skills, professionally developing and having the latest gadgets in our hands are meaningless if we do not have our own digital space. We need to be masters of our own www.domain.com . with which we participate, create and collaborate. It is only then that we can all communicate, learn  and educate in a personalized digital environment.

We can’t afford to keep Old Nellie tied up in front of the saloon with me inside buying rounds for too long. We need to keep moving ahead with all the great things we are doing but we need to understand that 21st Century learning isn’t about isolated technical skills, one off professional development opportunities and the latest digital gadgets. It is about taking personal responsibility for learning, creating, sharing both in the real and in the digital world. It is about creating a positive digital footprint that you can be proud of and is a true reflection of what you have learned, want to learn and can teach others.

 

Stay tuned for examples of personal digital environments kids and teachers, K – 12 can begin building tomorrow… 

Feb 162012
 

Smiley with Ringeye Nellie

I have had three Whoa Nellie! Moments this past month, which made me realize that this BC ED PLAN world I live in is still pretty isolated from the main stream of educational thought. All the tech here and tech there and personalize this and personalize that talk, is lost on many. It is like no one has even invited them to jump on the bandwagon or perhaps, people might not want any part of the new and improved vision of education I have been immersing myself in.

These moments have by no means, dissuaded me from forging ahead and becoming more entrenched in the world of digital driven personalized learning movement but they have certainly made me stop and think about where I am at, in relation to where the real world resides in their thinking.

The first Whoa Nellie! moment was when a parent of one of my International students popped in to see me about their child’s first term mark. I had given “Johnny” an “I” because very few of his assignments were completed. The parent was puzzled because I had not given any tests and that, “where they come from”, the test is all that matters. Assignments are essentially ignored, seen as “extra” work if the student doesn’t understand. Johnny was waiting for me to tell him what to study for the test and had no intention of doing the assignments. It would have been nice if he had expressed his view of how learning is achieved during the term when I asked him “what is up?” but…

What I realized at that moment, is that there are still people who subscribe the old school ways of learning. Take notes – memorize material – take test. Up until that moment, I had naively thought everyone had at least moved past this very Old School view of education but apparently I was wrong.

The second Whoa Nellie! moment was when I popped my head into my school while on medical leave. I wanted to make sure that everything had gone to hell in a hand basket without me … Which of course it hadn’t. In fact, I think the kids enjoyed having a real teacher for a change.

When I popped my head into my office, Stewart Baker and Alex Kozak (co heads of the iPad cohort) told me that 6 students signed up for next years incarnation of the iPads In The Classroom project. Only 6 kids out of a student body of 1500+ had put their name down for our iPad cohort. I was gobsmacked! After all the work we had done getting this thing rolling and now, come course planning time for next year, we manage to scrounge up a paltry 6 kids? What in god’s name did we do wrong?

Once we look into things a little more, I am sure we will have a clearer picture of why kids have not signed up in droves. Undoubtedly there will be a long laundry list of things which brought about this overwhelming lack of enthusiasm for the project. What it does tell me right off the bat however, is that 1494 students and their parents have not bought into, what the likes of me are selling. The panacea of a digitally driven classroom is not a part of most people’s view of education, even when the opportunity is right there in front of them.

The Final Whoa Nellie! moment came from three guest lectures I did for an Educational Technology class at the University of Victoria. One secondary and two elementary cohorts of up and coming teachers, had to listen to me drone on about iPads in the classroom. I was thrilled to do it. I felt like I had made it to the big leagues, called up from the minors to take three short shifts for my old Alma Matter.

In the short time I spent with these new teachers. I quickly realized that although I was talking to an Educational Technology class, these young teachers were not as technologically savvy as one might think. Once again I fell for the false notion that under 20 = digital native. Now I freely admit, I didn’t spend enough time with these students to truly gauge their level of competency but they definitely were not operating at the level of competency and acceptance as seen at the BCEDSFU conference, held at the same time I was doing the lectures.

Together, these three Whoa Nellie! moments, brought me back to reality. They made me realize that those of us who are behind the move toward the digitally driven, Twenty First Century learning space, are living in our own little world.

Each of these moments made clear a single very important issue which needs to be addressed before Twenty First Century learning environments ever become a reality.

First issue is that, many people still view education in very traditional ways. A place where teachers are seen as the gatekeepers of information, rote memorization is central to “learning”, testing measures understanding & percentages are seen as the only measure that matters. These old school hallmarks of what education should be are still very much a part of the general public’s understanding of what good teaching and evaluation is all about.

As long as the traditional educational paradigm remains as part of what the majority believe in, the Twenty First Century learning model will continue to be a fringe educational concept

Second issue is that, digital tools have not been fully accepted as part of the learning environment. They are still seen primarily as a means of communicating and being entertained. If devices such as laptops and tablets were considered a critical part of the educational experience, we would not be having difficulty getting kids signed up for next years iPad cohort. Second to that, if digital tools were truly seen as essential for learning, we wouldn’t need to create a cohort at all. Kids would just simply have them in their back pack as commonly as kids carry binders or pencil cases.

We are slowly seeing more and more kids bringing laptops and tablets into the classroom on a regular basis but at this moment, digital tools are not seen as must have classroom accouterments. In time this will change but at this moment, we are struggling to make it a reality.

Third and final issue is that, if things like the BC ED PLAN are going to succeed, it can’t simply be a decree from above on a glossy image rich document. All levels of education need to be in on the changes necessary, to create the learning environments we are envisioning. It can’t simply be assumed that everyone is on board and everything will fall into place from Kindergarten to University. As it stands, the drivers behind the 21st CL movement are a small enthusiastic group of educators who think they have it right but most people are on the outside looking in.

This is where I feel that the Fin’s have it right. Their education plan has involved everyone from the ground up.What is more is that the Government has clearly stated their plans and outline their commitment to students, to teachers and to the Nation. This is not to say every school jurisdiction needs to follow Finland’s lead but it would be wise to at least come to understand how it is they came to have the best education system in the world.

There is certainly much that can be learned and experienced as we move toward a new educational paradigm. Undoubtedly there will be some bumps along the way but those of us who are galloping fast and furious into unknown pedagogical pastures, might want to reign in good old Nellie and take a look around and see who is on board. If we keep riding Nellie full speed ahead, we might end up flogging a dead horse.

Jan 312012
 

Happy New Year my friends ( I am going by the lunar calendar ) It has been a while but I really haven’t had much to write about, or at least there hasn’t been anything über exciting to share. Winter blah’s seem to have set in and it seems like me and the iPad cohort are just simmering like a pork roast in a slow cooker.

Actually we have been doing stuff but I think there just isn’t as much NEW stuff to share. What we did launch in the new year is the iDoc project I was talking about before Christmas and the kids have been working diligently on their documentaries.

The assignment was to take a teen health issue and create a 15 minute documentary on the topic. See Assignment Here Rubric is Here

I really didn’t want to restrict what it was they did but I had to give some guidance in how they should set up the iDoc so the assignment reads a bit like a step by step but I hope it is open enough for some liberal interpretation. Sometimes we give kids too much guidance and provide too much hand holding, so I tried to leave things up to some application of creative licence.

The single most important element of this iDoc is the 10 questions which the kids are researching and asking others for the video clips. These will be what guide the production and ultimately achieve the “Purpose” of the video. That being, sharing relevant information which teens should be aware of.

During this process, I am learning some things myself.

  • You must resist the urge to organize, control and supervise the kids every move
  • You cannot be a slave to the curriculum
  • Time is your friend
  • Patience is a must

In other words you have to roll with it. This is not the world of the standardized learning outcome. It is a learning environment of unpredictable learning outcomes and challenges but it is real learning, not that prescribed stuff that the ministry doles out in those must cover packages called IRP’s

Now for those of you who are reading this and saying BUT YOU HAVE TO FOLLOW THE CURRICULUM!!!!! Don’t worry, I am giving the kids a dose of boredom every 3 days, just so they will be all lerned up reel good, by the end of the year. Lord knows, I don’t want to deprive the kids or some quality ministry approved learning about STI’s and Drug addiction.

Finally, what has become so incredibly clear in doing this iDoc project, is that with the freedom that tools like the iPad provide us, comes a greater responsibility for learning. What might be surprising to some is that this shift in responsibility will not be onto the backs of teachers. As teachers let go of their role as the one who knows” and embrace a role as the one who shows”, students will need to take on more responsibility for finding the information they need. The days of passively sitting in the classroom looking to teacher for the answers are dying a rapid death and as such, so will the traditional responsibilities for learning.

I am loving my new role as director, as the kids come to me and ask, what do you think? or what should we do with this? I just hope this is the way we are going and it isn’t an anomaly in our daily academic routine.

Jan 102012
 

Blog posts are funny things. The thesis usually comes to you at peculiar moments throughout the day. In the middle of class, in the shower, driving home from work…. Or In the case of this post, while writhing in pain on the living room floor @ 3am, with a nasty case of kidney stones. If I were to truly share all the thoughts I had in the wee hours of that night, this post would be rated PG13, littered with F bombs and other expletives but in between the colourful language, a blog post was sketched out.

For some bazaar reason, during my two hour battle with a 4×6 mm stone that was raking its way through my kidney, I was thinking about the school system. Don’t ask me why, you would think I would be trying to picture sandy beaches and baby bunnies but that was not the case. Instead, five questions bounced between the F bombs. Each contrary to everything we have come to accept as a society about the value of education and its place in this world.

I know what you are saying, “why can’t you be agreeable about anything?” But when you are born a contrarian, you just got to go with it. Besides it is waaaaaaaaaay more fun then being agreeable.

What follows is what I like to callThe Kidney Stone 5 – Thoughts of a delirious pedagogue, or the other working title. Questions worthy of consideration, as our policy makers sketch out what the Twenty First Century learner is going to look like…

Here goes nothin! I make no apologies.

Why does someone have to have a degree to make a living wage?

It would seem to me that sometime in the past 30 – 40 years, someone / somewhere decided that the only people who deserve to make a living wage are those who have some type of post secondary education. Simply putting in an honest days work for a living wage, just isn’t good enough any longer. In fact it is virtually unheard in the Western World. Of course there is a long list of reasons why this is the case but really, why can’t someone who doesn’t want to go to school for 4 or more years, make a living?

I can’t help but think about members of my family, who graduated from High School in the 70’s, never went to post secondary school but worked hard and made a great life for themselves. Now at the age of 55 – 60 they are looking at retirement with their house paid off, money in the bank and everything is rosy. Try that today and more than likely you will be living in subsidized housing and visiting the food bank on a regular basis?

At what point in the past 40 years did hard work become unworthy of a living income?

Why do we work so hard at warehousing young adults in the name of education?

Is education really all it is cracked up to be? Sure it has its place but why can’t people work and learn at the same time? Back in the day that was how it was done but somewhere along the line book lernin became king and real learning was out. We all know that warehousing youth in the name of education was done by design, it kept young people out of the workforce and left the jobs to the older people but does this really have a purpose any longer?

With the Baby Boomers starting to retire, perhaps we can stop warehousing our youth well into adulthood and start employing them. Perhaps going back the way things were before factory schools were established, teaching people along the way in real world situations rather than artificial learning environments that have little application.

A Good Read: The Coming Melt Down of Higher Education

Is keeping twenty somethings dependant and unproductive really good for our society?

By the time many young adults graduate from post secondary, they are in their late 20’s / early 30’s, carry immense debt and have yet to begin their productive adult lives. Many can’t even conceive having a life like their parents did. Buying a home is impossible and starting a family is laughable. They have been effectively shut out of the “real world” for a third of their lives all in the name of education. Historically this was a persons most productive years both from an economic and biological standpoint.

It begs the question, is this really good for our society, our economy and our youth to actively prevent them from actively contributing to their community?

A Good Read: The Higher Education Bubble

Perhaps every kid doesn’t need to be inspired, perhaps some just want their independence?

Anyone who reads this blog, probably graduated from high school back in the day, when grade 12 was the end of the line for many if not most. Do you remember the excitement you felt at the prospect of being FREE of school and independent of your parents. The prospect of starting your life, becoming an adult and being responsible for yourself. Now that was motivating, that was exciting.

In the past 40 years, under the mantra of education creates opportunity and choice, we have created a system of dependence and uncertainty and taken away perhaps the single most important choice of all. The choice to be an adult and get on with one’s life.

What is interesting about this thought is that things are not all that different today. I have kids on both ends of the academic spectrum who would like nothing more than to just get out of the system. On one end, I have kids who run their own businesses, are actively contributing their community and just want to get on with their well laid plans. On the other end, I have kids who just want a job, a pick-up truck and the opportunity to make a comfortable living.

Quite frankly, I struggle finding issue with either scenario.

Perhaps it isn’t our school system that is failing our youth. Maybe its the world outside the system, that sets them up for failure?

It is undeniable that the world has changed immeasurably in the past 40 years. It is also pretty hard to argue against making some changes to an education system, created for a world that no longer exists but there is a problem. Those who are calling for change refuse to recognize that the struggles our youth face in today’s world are not only caused by the education system. It would certainly be nice it were that simple but in reality, the problem has two sides.

Yes, we need to change things in our schools so kids can be better prepared for the Twenty First Century but our youth struggle in the real world because they are walking into a world that the education system can’t possibly prepare them for.

  • It is a world rejects the presence of youth in the work world.
  • It is a world where simply working hard isn’t good enough to make a living.
  • It is a world where I make more than 3 times what my father did but my home cost me 27 times more than the one he bought when he was starting out.
  • It is a world where academic inflation forces bright, skilled young people out of the workforce and into an academic warehouse, where they spend a decade of their lives preparing for work that might not pay the bills.

Sure it is convenient to point at the schools and say, “it’s their fault!” but in reality, some of the biggest problems facing our youth, have nothing to do with the school system they are a product of. Our education system may need some updating but I would say the world it delivers our kids into, is in dire need of repair.

So what does this all mean?

Well, I would hope that at some point, someone realizes that the difficulties our youth face involve more than just the education they receive. I hope that someone comes to understand that marginalizing youth in educational warehouses is not the most productive use of their time or ability. I hope that we rediscover that person’s worth can be measured by something other than the education that they have.

Finally, I hope that the move towards the Twenty First Century Learning model is more than just a new and improved way to warehouse our youth. If we are going to change the school system, lets take a big step backward and allow our youth to be contributing members of our society. Unfortunately this will require policy makers to stop pointing fingers and start to address the other reasons our youth fail to thrive in today’s world. Unlike the passage of my kidney stone, our children’s road to freedom shouldn’t be a one way street.

Dec 152011
 

A student asked me last week if I was going to “do the iPad thing next year” and strangely I said yes without hesitation. You would think after all the frustrations I have had and all the bellyaching I have done over this little digital device, I would have at least gave him a five second “ummmmmm” before I answered.

When I think about it though, it is a no brainer. I have been given the opportunity by the powers that be, to break new ground in the brave new world of education. Plus, I love technology! God forbid a solar flare should knock out all electronics on earth, I would be doomed both in and out of the classroom. Whether this kind of digital dependence is a good thing for me or my students is another story but I digress…

As much as I would love to say that the iPad experience has been GREAT! So far it has been a mixed bag and to be brutally honest, I would have to say that everything that didn’t work, was all the kid’s fault!

Kidding! The collective gasp of horror by my superiors reading that, is almost audible. I am going to pay for that one tomorrow 😉

We did do a number of good things this term and I will share at some point, I promise but it seems that people want to know about our difficulties so they can steer clear of them or fix them. The positives are there and we are building on them, we just need to clear the playing field of the pedagogical land mines first so more people can come and play.

With all that said, in keeping with the pointing out the negatives theme, here are my 3 biggest issues up until Christmas Break.

Me – I have to take some heat for this but then again, I am not sure that blame need be assigned but teaching strategies might need to be retooled.

As with any course, there is curriculum you need to plough through and every kid needs to have equal and measured access to it. This term the content I was doling out simply did not lend itself too much creativity, collaboration or individualized learning. The only difference between the iPad version of the course and my regular class is the way the information is dispensed, processed and ultimately presented.

This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing and we actually learned something from it:

  1. Traditional curriculum is no more engaging coming off an iPad, then is out of a book, handout or other traditional delivery method.
  2. When you have to plough through material which does not lend itself to individuality, the iPad is not necessarily the way to go.
  3. For cranking out work, a laptop is a far superior tool.

Now with all this said, after Christmas break, things are going to change as the curriculum lends itself to some very cool possibilities from this point on. I am looking forward to turning the kids loose on a project where they will be creating 15 minute documentaries on health and or social issues relating to teens, using only the iPad. There are just so many fantastic things that could come of this and I am really quite excited about it. Alternatively, it could be a complete unmitigated disaster but I am shooting for the fantastic option so stay tuned.

The iPad – Regardless of what Apple would have you believe, the iPad is not the end all and be all of learning tools.

It is my opinion that before the iPad can be considered education’s panacea, Apple needs to step up and address some of the functionality issues that I have discussed in previous posts. Whether they do or not, is anyone’s guess but as long as they continue to take the position of “the iPad way or the highway” then there will continue to be problems around functionality in the classroom.

At this very moment, (as I type the blog post on my PC) if I had to buy an Apple product for my child, I would choose the Macbook air. If I had to buy a tablet, I think it would be an Android device rather than an iPad. The reason being is that the file systems of both the Macbook and an Android tablet are not locked up like the iPad, giving you far greater freedom in how you use the device.

At the moment the iPad’s primary purpose is for dispensing media and it will remain as such until they give users access to the file system

The kids – Yes the kids have to take some of the heat too but I will be kind.

The intent of this little pilot was to see if the iPad would be a tool that engaged kids, made assignment completion easier and ultimately improved learning. What we were hoping for (but all knew better) was that the iPad alone would somehow be so engaging that no matter what we did, learning would take place. Now a little of that has been happening but not enough of it for us to jump up and yell “IT WORKED!”.

What we have discovered is that the ability of a student to self regulate, is imperative in order for the iPad to be a useful learning tool in a classroom. Kids need to be able to put the device down when the learning situation calls for their attention elsewhere. Kids need to be able to stay on task and not compulsively default to game play or other non productive activities when the teacher is not watching.

Certainly, the teacher needs to create a classroom environment where these things are expected but ultimately, the kids who can self regulate will thrive in an iPad classroom and those who cannot, will have greater difficulty succeeding without constant teacher intervention.

I am sure most of this will all be ironed out as we move along. In time we will develop best practice around using these tools K to 12 but it wont happen over night. When you think about it, we are creating a new academic culture that will define the classroom etiquette by which kids conduct themselves in Twenty First Century learning environment. There is still some heavy lifting to do but we will get there.

So, as I settle in for a long winters nap and visions of sugar plumbs dance in my head. I think all of us who are involved in the iPad cohort can settle in for a great Christmas break knowing that we did good. Sure there is a TON of work ahead but it will be fun. I liken it to getting first tracks on the ski hill. You look down the slope and it is all yours to do with what you will and you just know it will be a great run.

Cheers!