Thursday, March 30, 2017

How do we know? - IMMOOC Week 5

How might we measure the impact of innovative practices in education?  How do you know you are headed in the right direction?  

Image result for checklistI struggle with this question  all the time.  As the Instructional Technology Specialist I work with teachers to use technology in innovative ways.  I have to address the question of  "Why should I give up the "tried and true" lessons and try something new and different?" Fortunately I work with quite a few teachers that see that their students need to be engaged in a different way and are willing to try new ideas, but the curriculum has to always be the focus.    

Here are some things I look for in each lesson to measure the impact of the innovation:

Student Engagement as seen in:
  • Student conversation:   I listen to what students are talking about during the lesson.  Many times the conversation will tell you whether the lesson is having a positive impact on comprehension or not.   I love hearing students discuss math as they are trying to race through a minecraft world that has math problems as obstacles.  The students will talk out the problem and find solutions.   They are motivated to keep trying to get the right answer and not just an answer to move on.  If the conversations stray to other topics, I know the students are not engaged and therefore are not learning.
  • Student Feedback:   I make sure to tell the students goodbye at the end of the class and I listen to what they are saying to each other as they leave.  Often  I have students tell me how much they enjoyed the lesson and how it tied into a passion they have at home. I also hear students continue to talk about the lesson and content as they leave the room. Too many complaints or grumbles means it did not hit the mark with the students and needs to be rethought.   
  • Discipline:  I often hear from teachers that certain classes are difficult and to be ready.  If the lesson can engage that group, then I know we are hitting the content in a way that they don't normally get.  It captures their attention and discipline issues go down.   If I am having continuing problems with student behavior, I know that the lesson is not working.  

Evidence of the 4C's:  Are students thinking critically?  Are they communicating?  Are they collaborating?  Are they being creative?   If I see these happening I know that we are on the right track for students overall.

Test Scores:  I hate to put this in here, but it is a reality.  I do ask teachers to let me know how the students do on the topic we are learning once the test rolls around.    I have been told that students have scored higher than the students who did not take part in the innovative lesson.   

Recently I watched Todd Rose's TedTalk, The Myth of Average, he talks about designing for the edges - designing for all students no matter their level.   I have been keeping this in mind as I design learning experiences for students. 

Reflection is Important - IMMOOC Week 4 #2

G. Couros - Innovator's Mindset
Over the years I have discovered twitter, Pinterest, G+ and other social networks to connect with people that also want to grow professionally and challenge what they know and do.  Looking through this list I am pleasantly surprised that I am practicing most of it.  I have voice and choice  in what I learn and how I learn it.   I am provided with opportunities for innovation and am able to find areas in the curriculum that would benefit from innovation and technology.  Today I am teaching 6th grade students how to use design thinking to solve problems caused by natural disasters in Southeast Asia using Littlebits.

What I am NOT doing is purposefully reflecting on what I am doing and learning. I am always assessing and making changes to improve the lesson throughout the day (and days as I often tech the lesson 10-20 times to get all the students in a grade level).     I do not take time to publicly reflect and share what is happening so that I am contributing to the global conversation.  I am hoping that this blog will become my place for reflection and sharing.  I have learned so much from others that maybe it is time that I venture out and share what I have learned with those outside my campus and district.

Learning Comes First! - IMMOOC Week 4

My job is to help teachers integrate technology into their lessons so it might come as odd when I say students should not be on computers every day for every lesson.  When I sit down to help teachers design a lesson I always start with,    Although I think it is important to include technology, it is more important to thoughtfully include it in ways that make sense.   Once we know what the outcomes should be we can see if technology is  good fit and then what tools work the best.  

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Risk Takers Wanted! - IMMOOC Week 3 - Post 3

What if we promoted risk-taking to our staff and students and modeled it openly as administrators? 

One of my favorite administrators used to tell the staff, "Even if you fall on your face, you're still moving forward."  That inspired me to try new things and see what happened.  Now as a instructional technology specialist I am continually looking for teachers that will take a risk with me.  

It is sometimes hard to find those risk takers when the focus is on test scores, or the pressure exists to not stray from the prescribed lesson plan and time frame.  I try to publicly celebrate those that are willing to take the risks with me, brag on what they were willing to try in order to encourage others to take a risk as well. I am encouraged to keep taking those risks that put students in the forefront and make learning more relevant.

Trust is Earned - IMMOOC Week 3 - Post 2

I have worked at my campus since 2001 in my position as Instructional Technology Specialist.  Over the years I have worked on gaining trust of those that I work with day in and day out. Some days I feel more successful about this than others.  What I have learned is that trust is earned over time. Here is my top three ways I have earned trust from the teachers I work with:
  • Do what you say you are going to do.  If I tell a teacher I am going to find a good resource for them, I need to do it.  
  • Be on the front lines with those you are working with.  I co-teach classes with teachers on a regular basis and I teach lessons in clubs and other activities to show teachers that I too am a teacher and I understand the struggles and realities that come with the job.   I am not there to judge, criticize or shame. I am there to help and walk alongside them.
  • Be kind.   I am human and get frustrated at times with situations and people.  Those I work with need to feel like I am not going to take my frustrations out on them or speak badly about them but will work with them to understand the situation and help reach a reasonable outcome.   

Fresh Coat of Paint? - IMMOOC Week 3 - Post 1

Photo Credit William Felker @ Unsplash
This past week was Spring Break and I took some time to fix up my son's room to make it function better for him.  We took everything out and put a fresh coat of paint on the walls.   If I stopped there we would not had made real improvements to the room for him.

This made me wonder how often do we slap fresh paint on what we do without considering how well the strategy functions?  We change the name, add technology, or some other superficial change and march it out as the latest and greatest.

What I have liked about Innovator's Mindset is that it challenges us to take a look at what we are doing and make intentional choices.  Looking forward to making more of those choices!

Monday, March 6, 2017

#IMMOOC Week 2

Innovation: Newer and Better 

A few years back my admin challenged me with coming up with ways for technology to help the ESL  and the at-risk students.   Th main concern was vocabulary development in these groups of kids. As I started researching and thinking this through it occurred to me that these students may not have the same kind of experiences as some of the other students.  My own children have traveled to 25 states and have been exposed to various types of land forms, climates, historical venues, etc.  When their teachers talk about The Battle of Gettysburg, or mountains and rock formations, they have prior knowledge to pull from.    After talking with the librarian we decided that we needed to create more experiences for all students to have them better understand what was being taught,  We were not given a budget for this and needed to work within the school day with the technology and programs we already had access to (this is our box).    What came out of this was a newer and better way to introduce students to units of study. We started taking them on virtual field trips.  Keeping the experience to just one class period we have set up trips where we took students to Pakistan and to a carpet factory so that they were better able to relate to the story of Iqbal.   We have taken them to fight in the battle of Gettysburg so that they understand the importance of the battle and of the Gettysburg Address.  We have set up museums so students were introduced to the 60s for The Outsiders novel or explored the Holocaust to prepare to read The Diary of Anne Frank.  Food and music is involved whenever appropriate to appeal to all 5 senses.  These lessons and experiences are probably one of the things I have created for my campus with the students in mind that I am most proud of.   We took the information they needed to learn and introduced it to them in an innovative way - newer and better.

Critical Questions for Educators

We have to know who our students are and how to connect with them.   The critical questions outlined in Chapter 2 are a good reference in considering who we are teaching to and how to make sure they are part of the equation.  Here are a few more questions that I might add:

  •  "What has the student been asked to do in other classes that day."  This is based on a conversation I had with a teacher who was shadowing a student for the day.  She remarked how the student was asked to do the same thing in multiple classes.  We talked about how we need to shake things up for them so that they are not in "school" mode and are more engaged in the day.   
  • "How have I designed for the edges?"  I just watched "The Myth of Average" TedxTalk by Todd Rose. (Please watch this is you have not.)    He talked about their is no such thing as an average student and we should be designing lessons for students that addressed their varying needs and interests.   I was curious what that looked like in a classroom and found another website that said it was about creating authentic learning experiences, differentiation in instruction and giving students a choice in product.  
Although the questions in the book hint towards these, I would need to ask myself these 2 questions directly. I think these questions are important to me since I have been passionate about designing different learning experiences since the 90s when I attended professional development about Multiple Intelligence and Differentiation and when I implemented these ideas I saw the engagement levels of my students increase.   

Characteristics of the Innovator's Mindset

Networking has been crucial to my development as an Instructional Technology Specialist.  Recently the 8th grade math teachers wanted me to present ideas for integrating technology into their classes.  This is an area that I have struggled with for a while since my background is in history.  I turned to social media for ideas.   I posted on twitter and on a Google+ community that I belonged to and asked for ideas.  Within a day I had enough ideas and several concrete examples that in the end I was very proud of the final product and the math teachers were happy with their training.  If I had been isolated I would have drug out the same old ideas and tried to sell them again.  Instead I was able to deliver some good ideas that have continued the conversation between us about technology integration.  In fact I agreed today to help develop a minecraft review session for them.    We are also in talks about trying out a BreakoutEdu game soon.    Opportunities that would not have existed without my network of amazing folks.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

#IMMOOC Week 1 - Being More Dog

After writing my answers to these questions I could see some clarity taking shape as to my educational philosophy.   I appreciated the opportunity to be forced to reflect and bring the different pieces that resonated with me together.   I am looking forward to continuing this process throughout the IMMOOC course.

The purpose of education is to provide access and opportunities to all students.  I recently heard Nadia Lopez (@The LopezEffect) tell a large group of educators that and it made sense to me.  I was impressed at her drive to empower students to learn and believe in themselves, not matter what their circumstances.   If we only offer opportunities to sit in rows and answer multiple choice questions, we are limiting the students' access to greater opportunities in the future.  Ones that require critical thinkers and problem-finders to get the job done.  I think as educators we must seek innovation to change what is available to our students so they are equipped in the best possible way for whatever their future holds.

Change can be scary and changing an entire organization can be daunting.  What I have come to realize is that I need to make small changes that are within my realm and not worry about the big things I cannot control.  I sometimes become paralyzed when the task seems too big or the system seems set against me.  By focusing in on what changes I can make that keep my focus on  what is truly best for students.  I am an instructional technology specialist and I am based on a campus to work with staff on integrating technology into their lessons.  I have also chosen (based on later chapters in this book and ideas gained from Kids Deserve It) to focus on the strengths of the staff I work with.  They have such great skills and ideas to offer and I should be seeking those out in a more intentional manner.  I believe that by changing my focus, I will have a greater impact.

If I would start a school from scratch I would want

  • To be able to put the right people in the right places and the flexibility to move those folks around as needed.   
  • I would want to work with a staff of those willing to say "Why not!"   I had a principal years ago that encouraged innovation and trying something new.   He told us that even if we fell on our face, we were making progress.  
  • I would want people to have time to truly implement something with fidelity before racing off on the next best trend or buzzword.   I think we abandon ideas and thoughts too quickly and then we lose the trust of those we work with.
  • I would want to develop a common set of skills and vocabulary to go with those skills so no matter what class students were in they would hear the same strategies.  I worked in a building where that happened and we were then able to focus on content and deeper understanding, instead of the activity itself.
  • A Genius Hour concept or 20% time would be built into the school for students and staff.  I want everyone to have an opportunity to grow in areas that interest them and to be able to see how those areas tie into school.
As I read through the Introduction, many things hit home and made me say shake my head in agreement.  One thing that challenged me was the commercial mentioned on page 7 "Be More Dog." We all have choices in how we want to spend our time and energy each day.    I would want the staff I work with to look at how I approach my job and my support of them and say I am more dog than cat.   I want to spend my days providing access and opportunities to the staff and students at my school so that great things can happen. 

I am looking forward to week two of the IMMOOC!