Sunday, January 27, 2013

Happy Birthday iPad!

Do you remember January 27, 2010? I do. The famous keynote when Jobs announced the iPad. I felt like it was the device that schools had been waiting for. It was not a cheap netbook. Or a heavy, clunky tablet computer. It was an honest-to-God "magical" and "revolutionary" device. 

It is incredible to me when I think how much this device has afforded us in teaching and learning. The iPad breaks down barriers that blocked technophobe teachers from truly integrating tech into their classrooms. There is something so friendly about the iPad. The touch capabilities build an intimate relationship between the user and the device. Somehow, a lot of the fear is taken away. I have seen teachers pick up this device and with little instruction, begin using it right away as opposed to the introduction of a laptop. 

Children take to it right away. They seem to have a natural understanding of navigation and gestures. iPads have become so commonplace today that I think we forget what it was like pre-iPad. The ease, portability, speed, freedom and almost unlimited potential of this device are outstanding. Jobs was right, the iPad is magical and revolutionary. It has and will continue to shape teaching, learning, publishing, creating, and communication in ways we cannot even fathom yet.

Now, teachers send photos or videos home every day to parents. Students of all ages create stories, individually or collaboratively, with ease and share them with each other, parents or around the world. Whether it's Book Creator, iMovie, Puppet Pals or any of the dozens of apps available, our students and teachers are creating and stretching beyond the boundaries of their classrooms. 

As our school begins to weigh the best way to address the digital book market, it is incredibly exciting to see how books are developing in ways we never considered to address all types of learners. Accessibility is only part of the wonderful developments that are available now. Teachers have the ability to create their own textbooks, thanks to iBooks Authoring tool. The rich media embedded in books brings learning to life in ways that I thought were only possible in futuristic movies. The future is here now and it is a very exciting one. Thanks, Steve. 

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Innovation day is Coming!

February 15th our campus will experience something new. While we have had PD days where Teachers teach Teachers, this year our focus will be completely on sharing best technological best practices. We are calling it Innovation Day after finishing our school wide read, Tony Wagner's book,  Creating Innovators. We are kicking off the day with the super wonderful Silvia Tolisano, aka @langwitches, as our keynote speaker and then breaking into our smaller presentation sessions. Many faculty have already signed up to present with topics ranging from Pinterest to iMovie to Voice Thread to iPhone photography. There are quite a few sessions on digital storytelling and blogging and even a session on musical technology. I love seeing the list grow each day. I love it even more when it is about something I haven't even heard about. 

I am incredibly proud of our faculty who are willing to take a risk and as Silvia likes to say, "amplify" their learning. They rock. Really. Boy, I better get busy and figure out what I'm going to present!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Smelling the Book


     I still have my old library card from when I was in 4th grade. I remember the excitement of going to the library and being surrounded by so many stories, so much knowledge. I love to read. I can easily get lost in a book, it doesn’t matter whether it’s fiction, nonfiction or even the yellow pages (which fascinate me endlessly but that’s another whole blog). I love the smell of old books, the feel of the thicker paper, such a pleasure to turn. I love buying used books and discovering small notes in the margin. Will my children continue to know this pleasure? Will their children even have public libraries?

     All this thinking about books has generated lots of thoughts about digital literacy and digital fluency. How has technology, especially ereaders, iPads, and audiobooks changed the art of reading? The art of making meaning? Will we have libraries in ten years? Will borrowing a book mean something else entirely?

     My thoughts and consequent searching brought me to an article about how schools in Calgary are adopting electronic textbooks. It's an interesting article and several quotes from Jean Ludlam, the Manager for Children, Teens and Families at the Calgary Public Library hit home for me. She was referring earlier in the article to the digital divide but then said there is another divide too:

     "The other divide is with children and the difficulty they have deciphering and discriminating between information." 

     In this age of cut and paste and searchable texts, it is all too easy to not truly read the material, to not make the meaning. I do love the ease of downloading and reading books on my iPad. I love how easy it is to highlight, to make notes, to share those notes, and to find a particular quote quickly and easily but when it become that easy, do our students lose the ability to truly locate information, to sift through it all for the value? 

    I remember this great scene in Desk Set when Katherine Hepburn and her librarian crew outsmarted the brand new computer research system installed by Spencer Tracy because they used their brains to problem solve and not technology. Yet toward the end of the movie, when a particularly perplexing question is posed to Hepburn and her crew, it's the technology that finds the answer. The moral of course is to find the balance, but if someday we no longer have those reference books, if they go the way of encyclopedias, will our students be capable of locating the right information? Or will it be all too easy to take the information at face value because it is in electronic form?
     Better language needs to be developed around what it means to simply Google things and what it means use a credible resource that is available online, she said. And kids browse Google differently than when they once perused a textbook, she believes.
     “It isn’t that tactile experience,” Ludlam said. “I wonder how that works in our brains if you can’t see it and hold it and touch it.”
     Will we forget what reading a book means? Will we forget the way books feel and smell?

     Will it matter? 

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

ISTE Envy and Sir Ken Robinson

ISTE Crowd Waiting Impatiently to Get Into Keynote

I admit it. I am pea green with envy. ISTE envy is tough to bear but as I read through the multiple Twitter posts, blogs, Edmodo group work, Google+ postings and various backchannel conversations, I really do feel like I'm getting the best compilation of the sessions possible. What I cannot do is listen in and partake in all the face-to-face conversations brewing. The excitement is palpable. I cheered for the @edubros when Robinson gave them a shout out. The #iste12 feed was feverish (and trending). Imagine if just a small portion of this excitement is what our students felt all day at school?

I was amused by the complaints that poured into the Twitter feed when it became obvious that Sir Ken Robinson's presentation was only a small portion of the keynote as a multitude of speakers came out to push their message--sometimes thought provoking and sometimes a straight out commercial--and I thought to myself that this is probably what many of our students feel like during the day. The want the good stuff, they want to be challenged, to be excited about possibilities, to feel a connection, to feel an a-ha, in short, they want to learn

How can we capture that excitement, create that buzz, push the stream of learning? I think Sir Ken hit it on the head when he spoke about the huge error we created with NCLB and that education has become a morass of mass standardization. What we really need he said is to personalize learning.

"The problem is the whole process of education is being based on an impersonal approach and a suffocating culture of standardization." 

How do we personalize learning? We get to know our students. Robinson described great teaching as an art form, an intuitive approach based on the happy marriage of a teacher knowing the material, and knowing the students, and understanding the necessary chemistry that must occur for learning to take place. I agree. Great teachers are great artists. They hear a rhythm in their heads, they know when to step in and when to stand back, how to paint a picture with words, diagrams, and other tools so that students can see, they know how to encourage risk and foster resiliency, they know how to instill pride, and they know how to bring out the best in their students because they are learners too. 

ISTE attendees were ready to break down the doors to get into the keynote because they could not wait to learn from Sir Ken Robinson. They knew that this keynote would provide inspiration and the anticipation was high. Just the tweets in the hour before the keynote ran to over 26 pages! Can you imagine having that level of anticipation among your students?

We need to have our students that eager to get into our classrooms . . . to want to share what they learned with their friends and family, to count the minutes until the next class not out of dread, but out of sheer anticipation for the fun and challenge that awaits them.

Let's not suffocate them. Let's get engaged ourselves so that we may engage our students. 

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Game Change Leadership

I watched the HBO "docudrama", Game Change, last night. The production portrays Sarah Palin as a charismatic leader who is seemingly clueless about foreign policy, national policy and geography. While the campaign staff is impressed with her amazing ability to connect with people, she doesn't seem to have the necessary credentials to lead the country. The campaign manager and his staff try to bring her up to speed by supplying her with canned responses to areas where she may lack the necessary knowledge and experience to answer a question. Whether it is true or not, we all know of leaders who are charismatic yet seem to demonstrate scant understanding of their field and you wonder, how did these people rise to the top?

It started me thinking about educational leadership. How many Principals or Head of Schools truly can not only talk the talk, but walk the walk? I have been fortunate to always work with leaders whose depth and breadth of experience and knowledge make their schools shine (my current school is a great example of this strong leadership). While one could contend that charisma is a necessary component of leadership, I would argue that knowledge, expertise, emotional intelligence, understanding of school mission and vision are of even greater value. The ability to understand how to bring a community together and lift everyone's performance is the magical stuff that I look for in a leader. Judging by low performance we have across the nation in education, perhaps we have set the bar too low. How many of our educational leaders have actually taught? How many of them continue to push themselves to grow professionally? How many of them can greet their students by name at the door? We seem to rate our educational leaders based on their school's achievement level in standardized test scores and college acceptances [or dropout rate depending on your educational environment]. Perhaps it is the way we assess and reward our educational leaders that put so many schools at risk through poor leadership?

Why don't we measure an educational leader's ability to:
  • create a culture of professional learning and collaboration among faculty and staff?
  • increase student, parent, alumni and faculty satisfaction in all facets of school life?
  • demonstrate a consistent personal professional growth?
  • ensure opportunities for all types of learners?
  • demonstrate an understanding of programs and alternative assessments that truly promote critical thinking?
  •  convey a deep understanding of curriculum, learning styles and best practices?
  • demonstrate a deep knowledge of his or her community?

If we agree that focusing on the wrong way to assess student success is how we are failing our children, then we need leaders who are knowledgeable, passionate, experienced and who are capable of steering their schools in the right direction for the betterment of all students. We need leaders who know their students, teachers and parents; who know what is going on in every area of school life because they are out there making those connections; and who are not afraid to drive change where needed. We need leaders who have more to offer than charisma.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Sweet Spot: Building the Right Technology Curriculum

" . . . and the pitcher throws and your looking for that pill and suddenly there is nothing else in the ballpark you and it and sometimes when your feeling right and there is a groove there and the bat just eases into it and meets that ball. When the bat meets that ball you can feel that ball just give and you know it is going to go a long way. Damn, if you don't feel like your going to live forever." - John Cusack as Buck Weaver in Eight Men Out (1988)

We (administrators, a diverse group of faculty and our wonderful librarians) are searching for our "sweet spot" in technology integration. According to Wikipedia,  "A sweet spot is a place, often numerical as opposed to physical, where a combination of factors results in a maximum response for a given amount of effort." We are hoping to dig deep and work toward finding that just right combination of learning supported, infused, enriched or extended by technology. While we realize that this is not a static target but constantly moving, we are working towards creating an environment where as many of those sweet spots can exist.

On our PD day January 2nd, we will being the exciting task of creating anew a technology curriculum (preK-12) for our school. In preparation for this task, I've gathered resources (outside of our own curriculum maps, academic goals, and strategic management plan) to both provoke new perspectives and to ensure that we truly consider what would be the best sweet spot for us. By sweet spot, I mean that wonderful area where preparation, training, knowledge, and talent meet to enable both students and teachers to consistently connect with learning with depth and joy. Creating that sweet spot means we need to have the necessary tools, a deep understanding of pedagogy,  enough professional development, and a supportive community of learners to foster  that sweet spot.

The resources I've gathered fall into three categories:
  1. 21st Century Learning/Learners
  2. Innovation Trends
  3. ICT Integration Protocols

21st Century Learning & Learners:

ICT Integration Protocols: 

Educational Origami:

  • What are your schools identified ICT objectives and goals?
  • Are these goals administratively focused or educationally focused?
  • Where does your school want to be ICT wise in 1 year, 5 years or 10 years?
  • What level of consultation and buy in did key groups have, namely students, staff, the community?
  • How are these goals integrated into your budgeting and curriculum planning?
  • How are these goals supported by professional development for staff?
  • How are these goals resourced?
  • How are these goals implemented in the school, departments/faculties and the classroom?
  • Do you have peer review of your curriculum, subject, unit plans and of teaching practice? Is this collegial support or appraisal?
  • In Industry implementation of a new product and the training of staff are usually dollar for dollar. What is your ratio of ICT investments to training investment?
  • What revision and review process do you have in place for your ICT goals, investment and training? To what degree are your students, community and staff involved in these reviews?
  • To what level is the implementation of ICT into teaching and learning mandated? Is there any mechanism for checking or accountability?
  • What accountability is in place for technologies put into the classroom to ensure they are utilised?
  • What decision making process is involved in setting student and staff access and administrative rights to computers, networks and the internet? Who established your policy, your board, the principal or the technician(s)/support staff? What are the rationale for this decision - technical, administrative and educational? Who and how is this reviewed?
  • Are your pedagogies reflective of 21st Century teaching and learning? 
 Edutopia:  [one of the best compilation of resources on this area}

 The Plan:

 My plan is for us to discuss our dream graduate profile, work which we began in our Academic Council, and then build backward from there using Understanding by Design principles. Basically, if we know where we want to be, then we work backwards from there to build the road to get to the destination. In what ways can educational technology help all our students get there? We are going to meet first as a group and then split into three teams based on ISTE standards: Team 1: Creativity & Innovation, Team 2: Communication & Collaboration,  Team 3: Research & Information Fluency [combined with] Critical Thinking, Problem Solving & Decision Making and the last two standards (Digital Citizenship and Technology Operations and Concepts) will be examined by the core group of technology integration team. It is my hope that by dividing the work into teams with us coming together to report on our progress and to continue to draft and present our findings, we will create a living document, adaptable to change, reflective of our philosophy, and firmly focused on providing the best learning opportunities for our students. Hmmm, it seems suitable to close with another one of my favorite baseball quotes:
Dr. Archibald "Moonlight" Graham: That's what I wish for. Chance to squint at a sky so blue that it hurts your eyes just to look at it. To feel the tingling in your arm as you connect with the ball. To run the bases - stretch a double into a triple, and flop face-first into third, wrap your arms around the bag. That's my wish, Ray Kinsella. That's my wish. And is there enough magic out there in the moonlight to make this dream come true?  [Field of Dreams].
I think there's enough magic out there. I'll keep you posted :)

Monday, December 19, 2011

Dear Blog, Have You Missed Me?

I love Top Chef. While I realize the producers amp up the drama to increase viewership, I still admire the ability of the chefs to take all their hard won knowledge (whether garnered through professional school or on-the-job training) and apply it to new situations.  Cooking is a wonderful blend of art, intuition, and science [just like teaching]. It's the ability to use heightened senses and a knowledgeable palate to create a dish worth drooling over. I deeply admire the chef who can maintain dishes cooking on four different burners, continue prepping food, and toss off bon mots to his or her competitors. You know when Padma, the host of the show, comes in that some new challenge awaits the chefs. "Hello, chefs." She will slyly smile and then tell them they have to cook with one hand, or blindfolded, or swap dishes mid-cooking with another chef. I see this happen often to teachers and administrators. "Oh, by the way, we've just redistricted and added 200 students to your school and cut your budget by 18%, but you can still meet your educational growth target, right?" I am fortunate to be in a situation where we have been able to pilot an iPad program for our youngest learners, a teacher iPad pilot with Apple TV wireless connection, and SMART Boards for many of our middle and high school STEM teachers. Teachers are absorbing tech pd faster than I anticipated and are incorporating Twitter and blogging into the curriculum. All my problems are actually blessings but it feels a bit like Padma just came in and gave us our challenge.

When the head chef, Tom Colicchio, comes in to to check on the chefs, at least one chef invariably says, "I'm in the weeds." Tom will ask some questions, the chefs will sweat some more, maybe doubt their work. Yet, [most of the time] the chef pulls through with a magnificent dish. Who needs Tom Colicchio?  However irksome the chefs may find Tom, I think his questions inspire them to reach even higher. I sympathize as I feel like I've been in the weeds. I see daylight, sort of.  I have been prepping the framework for the creation of a new Technology Curriculum, pre-K through grade 12 [hence my absence from my blog]. My hope is that this plan will underscore our educational philosophy, reflect our understanding of digital learners, embody all the hard work we have invested in Visible Thinking, Curriculum Mapping and Differentiation, use of Social Media, and correctly anticipate where technology may lead us [Ouija board anyone?]. And oh yes, let's not create a plan that will be outdated 6 months after creation. A tall order surely but I have a hardy crew of volunteer teachers from all disciplines, and armed with the great research provided by my PLN, and our curriculum maps, I am confident that we will navigate these sometimes murky waters safely. Our school is yar, our sailors skilled, and we've packed plenty of provisions. Wait, has anyone seen the brownies? Hmmm, maybe I need Tom Colicchio after all.