What Would Happen if the Lights Went Out?

What would happen to society if all our electronic devices failed? I’m not talking about just for a few hours or days but what if it was months or years? What if our electronic infrastructure was attacked, or began to fail as rapidly as it arose? No, I’m not a defeatist or a doomsayer. I genuinely wonder what would happen?

A single candle burning in the darkness

Without Electricity

 

I’ve talked to more than a few teachers recently who have used this argument as justification for supporting the argument that kids need to know some basic information in areas like history, English, math, and science? What happens if we throw out the textbooks and we put our faith in web based or cloud based materials?

I think that these are reasonable questions and I confess that I don’t have a good answer to them. I also remember an old saying, “don’t put all your eggs in one basket.”

TWITTER STRUGLES

I’ve been trying to get people to join in a new Twitter chat that I started a few weeks ago and I have heard all kinds of excuses.

“I don’t tweet.”
“But, it’s the best free professional development  around.”
“That’s nice, but I’m okay with that.”

Here’s another, “You want to get together and talk, let’s pick a night and do that instead of banging some keys and staring at screens.”

And another, “here comes that techno geek who doesn’t even know what’s going on in the world.”

TECHNOLOGY ISSUES

Because I use technology to try and become a better teacher and person, I have to put up with quite a few snide remarks from colleagues that have it all figured out. Sometimes I wish I had it all figured out. Sometimes I wish I had no knowledge of the impact that technology can have on teaching, learning, and connecting myself and my students to a global audience.

I have even been told to just be myself, to forget  what other teachers are doing in their classrooms. Quit reading “Teach Like a Pirate.” Quit reading blog posts. Quit Tweeting, Googleing, and all that social media stuff. Just quit trying to be someone you’re not.

The thing is, I’m not trying to be someone else, I’m trying to become a better teacher and person by learning from others successes and failures. And I’m trying to transcend mediocrity. I feel that if I’m not learning then I’m not improving. If I’m not engaged with what’s happening in the field of education then I will have to work harder to catch up in a few years.

PEDAGOGY

What would happen if I just closed my classroom door, assigned textbook readings, lectured, and then threw in a quiz here and a test there? What if I closed my classroom door and did whatever I wanted because, “unless parents or students are complaining you can do whatever you want.”

What if I bought into the philosophy that I’m going to do what’s best for me because the students and parents are ungrateful toward teachers and I don’t get paid enough to put up with this crap?

Would anyone really care as long as I kept out of their hair and didn’t ruffle any feathers?<p/>

I would care.

What would we do if the lights went out?

We Have to Stop Pretending…#MakeSchoolDifferent

Inspired by Scott Mcleod’s challenge at http://DangerouslyIrrevelant.org and Tom Whitby’s http://tomwhitby.wordpress.com  Scott originally challenged 5 educators to enter 5 ways that we can #MakeSchoolDifferent and the blogs were to be posted on twitter using the hashtag #MakeSchoolDifferent challenging five more educators to offer their contributions. I will enter my own contributions to the conversation.

makeschooldifferent21

We have to stop pretending…..

1. That practicing short term memory skills equates to long-term learning gains. If it is not important to a student, then it will not be remembered for long. You are only fooling yourself if you believe that these skills are important in today’s world.

2. That content is important. Being king of your content is nice, but if you are familiar with the content you teach then you can lead others to sources of rich content that can be mulled over, chewed on, and reshaped to form a learning experience for students versus a teacher controlled information dump.

3. That grades matter. The marks I received in school at any level do not make me who I am. I naturally do “old school” well, but I push myself to not care about the grade. I want my kids as well as myself to be in an always beta mode. Always learning, always curious, always pushing the boundaries of new experiences and new technology.

4. That traditional brick and mortar schools are better than other forms of learning. Blended courses, online courses, YouTube, Apps can all contribute to effective learning. Kids want to hear and see things that are authentic and relevant to their lives. They don’t want to waste time learning something that they may need sometime in the future, because the future is changing too rapidly.

5. That all students are the same. We are on the cusp of personalizing education for students and we should all be moving in the direction of learning how to make that happen, make it real, and improve it to the point that it is useable for all.

I am challenging the following educators to add their voice to the conversation #MakeSchoolDifferent:

1. Jimmy Casas @casas_jimmy

2. Paul Solarz @PaulSolarz

3. Shannon M. Miller @shannonmmiller

4. Jake Duncan @jkdncn

5. Joy Kirr @JoyKirr

Is Throwing out grades just a Flash in the Pan?

 

 I have been thinking a lot about the movement Teachers Throwing Out Grades. There is even a group dedicated to the topic with a Facebook page and a weekly Twitter chat #TTOG. My inner voice says this is right, but the 20+ year teacher in me says that society and higher education aren’t ready for it yet.

So many questions come to mind. On what should we base student achievement? Should we test or quiz? How do we quantify ideas, creativity, imagination, mastery? Do we really want kids to be masters of content or well rounded generalists? 

I’m not against this movement, because, my inner voice says it’s right. I would like to see how we can get from where we are to the point of throwing out grades. I imagine that if I were to throw out grades, that I would get a lot of push back. I have thought about grading against standards, but that seems like a stopgap measure at best. How do I assess what students know and how do I orchestrate that learning? 

Is it simply enough that my students know how to learn, get excited for learning, and can teach others the strategies that work for them? Add to that the things that are important to me as a parent; getting along with others, following directions, leading, is kind, helps others, and taking on appropriate challenges.

It’s definitely a lot to think about and it causes a lot of cognitive dissonance. I rack my brain and just can’t bridge the gap between where we are in education and where we are going in education. Could it be that there is such exponential change that I can’t think fast enough to keep up? Whatever it is I really wish I had a little more clarity on the topic of throwing out grades.

Topics not Subjects

So Finland has figured out how to increase student achievement, again (read full article). Being at the top of PISA in math and reading wasn’t good enough so they decided that kids learn best by topics versus by subject area.

Hopefully you noticed where I messed up in the last sentence. Go ahead, read it again and analyze it. Finland didn’t decide how kids learn best, good teachers everywhere have known that students at all levels learn best by topics. The Finns have just had the fortitude to go ahead and implement what they know is best for their kids. We have called it “authentic learning.”

Anytime a teacher can make connections relevant and related across subject areas work for students. When I first started teaching in 95 it was called integrated thematic instruction or interdisciplinary thematic instruction. I remember that my best semester as an undergraduate was when the topics in biology course matched up with the topics in geography, cooperatives, and English. It was as if someone climbed inside my little closet of a brain and turned the light on. “I can see!” It made sense.

 

 Others have written about silo learning (subjects) before and I understand authentic learning, but for whatever reason it wasn’t until I read the article on the Finns new implementation that it has finally solidified in my brain. I have struggled for many years because I don’t see myself as an expert in a subject area. I have always been interested in many different things all at the same time (some might actually identity me as a generalist). I found myself envious of elementary teachers being able to make the connections rather easily due to their self contained classrooms but I don’t enjoy working with a younger age group.

I am not calling for an end to subject matter experts, but I do think that if we focus on the acts of teaching and learning we can gather the infromation we need when it’s needed. Good teachers can teach well, great teachers teach others how to learn what the want to learn and model learning in action, word, and deed making connections across many disciplines in the process.

Twitter High School Theology Education Chat

twitter-bird-callout  #RCTheoEdChat 

One of the groups who do not appear to have a voice in education are Catholic high school Theology teachers. There are many Catholic blogs and bloggers and some, in my opinion watered down, lesson plans for Theology teachers but no where have I seen open dialogue. There is a Theology teacher who has posted her lessons on iTunes U but resources are scarce.

In this day and time we must gather together to discuss issues related to technology use, pedagogy, best practices, engaging students, building relationships, sharing resources, and supporting each other. We can utilize technologies including social media spaces as forces for good.

I propose that we come together as high  school teachers of Theology on a weekly basis. I am willing to lead this new chat but word of the chat needs to spread across the globe in order to be most effective. I invite you to join me for the premiere of #RCTheoEdChat on Sunday, February 22nd at 7:00 pm CST. The topic for that evening will be Creating Reflective Learners. If you have ideas for future topics please Email, text, tweet, call, or leave a message. Expand your Personal/Professional Learning Network (PLN) and join us for this great adventure!

What Your School Says About Your Culture

Psychologists say that it takes less than a second for our mind to form a first impression. So someone walking into our buildings judges our school in the blink of an eye. The entire school building should maintain a warm and learner centered focus, but is learning the focus at the entrance to your school?
                          welcome
Many school entrances look like a trophy room. These “trophy schools” tend to highlight the achievements of their sports teams rather than any academic accomplishments. One of the most underutilized spaces in many schools is the lobby. Why do we not use this space for learning and welcoming?
A warm hand shake of welcoming in the morning and a warm inviting atmosphere can set the proper scene and mindset for learning. The entrance should scream YOU MATTER, we care about you. So many entrances say, yep, we’re a school. I think that there should be information about the school, places for conversation, bright lighting, warm color tones, and a large screen television that rotates through important information (updated on a regular basis) and pictures of students just enjoying learning. There could even be a slightly smaller television monitor that streams the social media feed from the school.
Of course, what would be wrong with having a coffee/cappuccino bar in the entrance? The sweet smells emanating in the morning can really have a psychological “wake up” effect. And, much of my pay check could then go directly into the coffee coffers. I think this could be a nice fundraiser for different school groups to rotate through and give some students the opportunity to do a work study in managing school stores like DECA provides.
Any way you look at it we want an inviting atmosphere where students, parents, and the community feel welcome and where everyone takes pride in their school.Print

Books, Worksheets, and Lecture O My!

Well as soon as I posted my thoughts last week, I came across a couple posts from colleagues I respect that challenged my thinking. I need to try and flesh those thoughts out here.
     1. There are times where lecture (or direct instruction) is necessary or even expected by the students. We can add technology into the mix like a flipped lesson, but it is still someone talking about a concept, definition, or way of doing something to others gathered around to learn.
As a matter of fact, when I reflect further, I enjoy listening to someone who can take a lecture and create an experience for learners (thanks Dave Burgess, Arrrgh).
     2. Even though I haven’t written about it in the past, sometimes a worksheet or a digital worksheet fits the bill. Our students come in all shapes, sizes, cultures, and with different life experiences. George Couros points out in his blog that good teaching is good teaching and that if a worksheet helps a learner grasp a concept better than another means, then use the worksheet.
Picture of a book.

Photo by Dave Huets *

3. If you read my blog regularly, then you might remember that my oldest daughter doesn’t like to read books from a computer screen or E-book reader. Does this mean that she is anti-technology? Does this mean that she should be forced to read text material online? Does this mean she has become a reading snob? Of course not. She is yet another reminder that some of the students we serve need accommodation.
I knew a man from Michigan who described how some students can’t wait to get their new textbooks in the Fall. They savor the smell of the newness and enjoy the pictures and the feel of flipping through the pages. These students are awaiting their learning journey and are pleased that they have that book as their guide.
Let’s not forget that many of our students will be going to college, many of our students will be taking standardized tests including the ACT. If we just turn full control of their learning over to them will we truly be helping them reach their dreams?
* Photo: https://www.flickr.com/photos/dheuts/3811537169/in/photolist-6NP8d6-aT9to6-9K3BPW-2PgAx-97oiDM-aRxNm-fo562E-HdurS-aibaen-7Nbvbk-afoNiM-KLWAb-maAU6-amWKZg-6buevW-6GjMcy-amWKYM-amWKX6-7acJMF-8DFBf3-MLnGM-9TvtEQ-abK4Bq-dGa2xi-2U9nA-bF4Yf7-6Knypk-hss2M-61kymQ-f4HeM7-9ZVvhF-z8GaE-7p6YV5-88og6h-r7w3U-2qKgwi-9uv3gC-mcp7h-5AkV94-4vaZnL-4eXcGM-73sutS-6ae621-9qjvX5-7XKTn8-dtroJc-59THhy-7BAEiV-5RzRtp-7JKRHh

More doing, Less lecture

 2015 - 2After sitting through a day of being lectured to about not lecturing (do as I say), I found it quite fitting that I picked up a book this morning from my shelf and happened to open to a chapter titled No More Lectures. I was also paging through my Evernote files today and my eyes were drawn to this quote from the book,
From the Campfire to the Holodeck: Creating Engaging and Powerful 21st Century Learning Environments by David Thornburg “As long as teaching is dominated by the presentation of material (including that in textbook form), we risk perpetuating wrong approaches to open-ended challenges.” And I don’t believe in coincedences.
I believe that classrooms need to be learner focused places where students can’t wait to get to, but I hear too many of the following phrases;
     “We’ve always done it this way.”
     “I’ve covered it but they didn’t listen.”
     “There’s no way my kids can do that.”
I also see too many people keeping what they do inside their classrooms, using prescribed curricula, and working with little support and no evidence of networking with others. The teachers who fail to meet students where they’re at using the tools that kids use are becoming fewer in education but they still carry weight in their buildings.
My vision for education hinges upon a student centered classroom. One where students have voice and choice. Many of my colleagues would not even think of taking a class period every now and then to just talk with their students. Informal chats in class and online can lead to deeper learning for teachers and a more supportive student body.
I want my kids to be curious problem solvers, critical thinkers and creators not just consumers of factual information and in order to do this they need to have time to reflect, but it takes time to reflect on learning. Why is it that we always come up against time as a constraint to education? Many teachers run out of time in class, so they assign more work to fill up any free time students might have after school (I’m not a fan of homework)! Of course, these are probably the same teachers who lament the fact that our teens don’t get enough sleep on one hand and on the other hand will not be willing to start school a couple hours later in the day.
I’m a fanboy of using portfolios (I need to work this into my own repertoire), blogging, and social media as ways for students to connect with experts, reflect on learning, and sharing with the world their successes and struggles.
Just the other day, Dr. Justin Tarte tweeted the following, You wouldn’t go to a hospital that looked the same as it did 50 years ago, so why do we allow this with our schools? What does this quote from Dr. Tarte have to do with less lecture? Well, I swear that I have desks in my classroom that are at least that old. I’ll admit that I’m overweight, but there are kids bigger than me and I get pinched in some of the furniture I have. But even more than seating and lecture as a primary mode of instruction is the question, why are we teaching the content that we teach? Who decided that the subjects we teach our students are necessary for their future success as learners, leaders, and adults in our society? Personally, I think we need to re-think education.
 2015 - 1
What are your thoughts?

Gifts, Resolutions, and Wishes*

Picture of students learning.

My students learning

This year has been the best year for me both personally and professionally. Now don’t get me wrong, there were some very challenging obstacles along the way but those will always serve as a reminder that in the end perseverance and faith in God will win the day, er I mean year.

I started 2014 by making the decision to quit a teaching position in North Carolina. I could no longer live a 20 hour drive away from my family nor could I work in a school system where the idea of putting students first was a foreign concept. The administrative support was inconsistent and at times down right missing. For example, testing results were of the utmost importance but on the days of testing there was no one around to distribute supplies or tests or even directions!

GIFTS

Needless to say, I thankfully moved back to the Midwest. In February I was tickled pink to finally meet the person who restored my faith and vision in education, my friend and mentor Mr. Jimmy Casas, Principal at Bettendorf High School. Jimmy showed me what education, teaching, learning, and leading in the 21st Century could become. He also introduced me to a vast network of forward thinking and innovative teachers and leaders. I attended my first EdCamp and my first tweet up! I knew from the moment I met Jimmy and his crew face to face that I was in the right place working with the right people to lead educational change.

I attended the Illinois Computing Educators (ICE) convention even paying extra to sit in on sessions lead by Steve Dembo, Dave Burgess, and Molly Schroeder. At that same convention I got to meet and spend time with Paul Solarz, Joy Kirr, Josh Stumpenhorst, Garnet Hillman and George Couros. I was so inspired by all these people that I knew I had to become an active participant in the educational change conversation by creating presentations for other teachers.

RESOLUTIONS

In March I dove deeper into my studies in educational technology and assessing for deep understanding. I also began substitute teaching and vigorously searching for teaching jobs focused in the Midwest but more specifically the state of Iowa. I needed to be near the core groups of leaders and teachers that had so touched my life.

I indeed began presenting at the Iowa 1:1 Institute, then at EdCampTC, I also had a proposal to present accepted for the International Society for Technology Education (ISTE) conference but due to financial concerns I had to withdraw my presentation. However, I was fortunate enough to attend the Technology Integration Conference (TIC) in Dubuque, IA where I met keynote speakers Richard Byrne (Free Tech 4 Teachers) and Lisa Johnson (Tech Chef 4 U). I also attended one day of the Games Learning Society Conference at the University of Wisconsin Madison.

WISHES

I wanted to teach and learn in an educational community in a face to face setting (I wanted a teaching job badly). In May I got the call from the big leagues. I had my best interview ever at Iowa City Regina Jr/Sr High School. The day following the interview I received two phone calls. The first call came from a principal in Minnesota with news that they selected another candidate I was both disappointed yet also relieved. It was a very strange mixture of feelings. Within two hours of that call I was again on the phone with principal Glenn Plummer from IC Regina who offered me a teaching job which I readily accepted.

The irony in this tale is that Regina was the only Catholic school I had applied to and I was enjoying the time I was spending as a substitute teacher at a Catholic high school in La Crosse, WI. I truly believe that God had/has a plan for me. I was hired to be a religion teacher and I had been searching decades for ways that I could become more involved in the church that I loved and called home. I am absolutely certain that God has planted me in Iowa City, near my core professional learning network, in a school looking for ways to serve the needs of its students better so that I may grow to my full potential as a teacher, learner, and change agent.

The future is potential filled as are the communities I serve. Have a happy new year friends. May you live long . . . . and grow where you’re planted 8-)

*P.S. I “borrowed” the title for this post from Barb Gilman @BarbInNebraska

Student Voice and Choice: The Future is Now

Just out of curiosity, how do we move to prepare for the future in education while leaving many schools behind where those who are preparing for the future are at?
Dr_Who_(316350537)
Ever since I personally tried to catch up with where the movers and shakers of the edtech community are at I have oftentimes felt that I have been riding on the shirt tails of educational reform. I have tried to keep up to date with the research and trends in education by reading blog posts, attending conferences, creating a stellar PLN and engaging with colleagues via Twitter, Voxer, Flipboard, and other social media sources, but I always feel like I am behind everyone else.
Now, I’m not talking about “keeping up with the Jones’s” by having the newest technology, I am talking about knowing what is right for my students and being able to put what is right into action. Things such as getting rid of desks and putting in comfortable seating, making my classroom more inviting and collaborative, and getting my students connected with a global audience. A student first mindset is essential in moving education forward.
What about all the things students need to know so that they can move on to upper level courses? Should student voice and choice lead education or do we as teachers know that there are certain things that kids need to know, just because?
I would like to know how you plan for the future while trying to catch up with the now? How do you plan your professional development? Should students really have choice and voice or do we as teachers know them well enough to decide for them?
Flying Tardis

“Dr Who (316350537)” by aussiegall from sydney, Australia – Dr WhoUploaded by russavia. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Dr_Who_(316350537).jpg#mediaviewer/File:Dr_Who_(316350537).jpg