July 14, 2006

Writing Goals

OK, so writing measurable goals does not appear to be one of my natural talents. Operating at this level of detail is a bit frustrating for me, but it was an excellent exercise in understanding how important data is in writing goals. Finding data that is easy to collect is often not very easy. I liked the idea of having quick web based response tools after completing an assignment or meeting a certain goal.

Approaches to Technology Prof. Dev.

We talked today about Hughes article about connecting technology learning to professional knowledge. This resonated with me. As a tech teacher who works with teachers to tie computer skills in with classroom content, I have a lot of discussions with teachers about what computers can do to help students learn more, easier, deeper, differently. Many discussions involve encouraging teachers to make those connections.

I did struggle a bit with the notion of using many technologies. Not because I disagree with this idea, but because it seems dichotomous to what was discussed earlier this morning with ideaviruses. This morning we talked about finding the tipping point and getting ideas to spread. The Godin article seemed to suggest that focusing on one idea was better. hmmm!

I enjoyed the presentation on students helping teachers. Empowering for students and teachers.

July 12, 2006

Reflections - Wednesday's class

Today we used the Jonassen concept of MindTools and Hughes RAT framework to assess the integration level of a lesson. It was interesting conversation. As an elementary school teacher, I do have some Replacement lessons. These tend to be prerequisite skills that deal with lower level skills but that are necessary for us to get to the higher level skills. What I am recongnizing more and more is the need to see how the replacement type lessons have to lead to something Amplifying or Transformational. In many cases this happens. I might start with teaching draw/paint tools to make a picture that connects to a language arts lesson. This is replacement since the students could have drawn the picture on paper. However, they need these basic draw/paint tool skills (and time to practice them) so that as the year goes on we can use those tools when we create non-linear slideshows, or design their own street map, or use more powerful tools that manipulate the images (for example, symmetry tools or rotate or tessellate). This is a conversation that I will continue to have with myself as well as the teachers in my building.

July 11, 2006

Tuesday's Class

Today we looked at State and National Tech Plans. The State plans were studied by Zhao. In his article he talked about 4 dimensions-Technology, student, teacher, educational goals. In reading about these four dimensions, we found these main ideas:
• Technology- associated as deus ex machina, political document, discussed as utopian, ignores issues of ethics, social, and education
• Student- focused on technology’s ability to improve test scores, state that students become active, social learners simply by the presence of computers, no mention of how teaching and learning must change, individual-based instruction
• Teacher- categorized as gatekeeper, only one categorized as designer, focus on technology not on teacher, teacher acts as a filter, talk about teacher training needs to be a priority, should not be short term
• Educational Goals- focus on economic progress for the future, prepare for the workplace, no focus on equity issues
• Plans need to shift from political rhetoric to functional guides for success which include the resources to make them come true.

Next we looked at the National Educational Technology Plan for 2004. Below are the seven major goals of the plan.
• Seven Major Action Steps and Recommendations
• 1. Strengthen Leadership
• 2. Consider Innovative Budgeting
• 3. Improve Teacher Training
• 4. Support E-Learning and Virtual Schools
• 5. Encourage Broadband Access
• 6. Move Toward Digital Content
• 7. Integrate Data Systems

These seemed to be solid goals with many good examples of how states and districts are meeting them. What is missing are the resources to accomplish these goals. I would like to see the State Plans build upon this document to create some guidelines on how districts can meet these goals.

Tuesday's Class

This was a good exercise in thinking about the value of technology and its integration. The concept of Mindtools by Jonassen was helpful. I am a strong believer in using technology as a tool for creating, organizing, and communicating. In all these areas, the student is making a product, often one that ties in to the real world application of tools and concepts.

It was interesting how the different groups took such different approaches to assessing the the technology integration of the lessons. All were useful tools. Of course, it is important not to be overly judgmental about the use of technology. We will not jump right to transformation in every lesson. So it is important not to consider lessons in the other areas as failures. However, we could look at ways to move the lessons into the transformation area.

July 10, 2006

Monday's Class - Technology Planning

The discussion today centered around how broad a technology plan should be. The tech directors tended to be concerned that tech plans are becoming too broad, focusing too much on what to do with the technology. Others seemed to believe that prof. dev., integration, and vision were essential parts of the plan. I feel very strongly that tech people and education people need to work more and more in concert to help each other. Tech people need to provide information about what technology is out there and where we are headed with tech tools. Educators need to be involved, providing information about what is being taught and what students need to be able to do. If we remove one group from this equation, the remaining plan is incomplete.

Monday's Class - Tech integration examples

This morning we went from station to station checking out lessons that use technology as a tool for learning a variety of concepts. Some of the tools were familiar. I have used Inspiration, Kidspiration, Powerpoint, EZediaMX, and a few others. The lessons were interesting and did a good job of using the technology to deepen the students' understanding of a concept. For example, the Inspiration lesson was a French vocabulary lesson. It used the concept map to connect French vocabulary words with pictures. It also allowed students to connect words. I would like to see it go to the next step which is to turn the graphic organizer into an outline and use it to publish the outline in Word. Then students could write sentences using the French words. I was impressed with some other tools. I was familiar with Geometer's Sketchpad and Arcview but had little experience using them. These are powerful tools that allow students to see data and math concepts in very visual ways while also connecting information visually. In Arcview we compared the largest cities today to the largest cities 50 years ago. It was amazing that the 10 largest cities have changed so dramatically. We very visually observed that the largest populations shifted from Europe and the U.S. to South America and Asia. What a great tool for students to observe data. More later... It is lunch time.

July 9, 2006

National Ed Tech Plan

I am very excited that our federal government is making the call for schools to be transformed through technology. This is a giant step towards making districts, politicians, parents, students, and teachers take notice. The examples given for ways that technology can transform the way we do things is a good list: accessing primary sources, multimedia, simulations, interactive software, tracking student achievement and adjusting instruction more effectively. I agree with all of those ideas. But comparing NCLB to putting a man on the moon. Where is the support and teamwork that went into that challenge? NASA has access to the best and brightest in science. We do not. The government spared no expense in making the journey to the moon. Not so in education. NASA was not "held accountable" through testing that limited its ability to take risks, be innovative, and accomplish greatness. This was a poor analogy in my opinion.

The part about virtual schools was interesting. I liked the idea that students might only take 1-2 courses virtually that are not offered at schools, but what about taking parts of courses virtually to allow for more flexiblity in the school day. This already takes place in countries like Singapore, where students are given virtual assignments during certain weeks throughout the school year to free teachers up for professional development and committee work.

The action steps were also good. I especially like the concept of moving toward digital content. We started doing this at the school I worked at in CT in the 90's. We used WebWhacker to "whack" websites with appropriate content for science and social studies. Teachers were able to use internet content in their classrooms despite not being online, but more importantly, we could easily update the content as information changed. Textbook companies seem to finally be getting on board with this as well, offering digital content either through CD-Rom or subscription based websites that either replace or enhance textbooks.

Understanding NCLB

I was glad to see that NCLB addresses the issue of using technology to enhance education. The article raises many good points. First it sets 3 good goals for education. Who can argue with the goals of improving academic achievement, ensuring technology literacy, and encouraging tech integration. I especially liked that it calls for accessibility for all learners regardless of background. I agree with the call to improve parent involvement through access to data. (I am concerned that many districts focus on this and consider this tech integration by itself, but that is a different topic.) What is not addressed here is how NCLB in many ways is the key barrier to many of these goals. By creating high stakes tests that place so much attention on basic skills (not that I am arguing with the importance of reading and math, just how we get there) we force schools to take fewer risks and try fewer innovations. As I stated in an earlier blog, the only districts who would dare try new innovative strategies are the ones who are failing by a large gap. They can not pass using existing strategies and must try new things. However, districts who are close to passing or passing will be forced to continue doing what they are doing so as not to mess up a "good" thing. Furthermore, with so much focus on basic skills, where is the time to explore new 21st century skills? I guess the difference is in the word "enhance". Do we want to enhance education or transform education? Do we want to do what we have always done, only better, or do we want to teach new skills and ideas that will make us innovative, creative problem solvers.

Taylor - A Nine Step Program for Professional Development

This article gave me some good information. I would have liked more detail about a few aspects of the program, but a few things jumped out at me. We use the ISTE Standards so I think that is a good place to start. I like that the Integration Workshop is long enough to do some real in depth study, not just a half day information slingshot with no time to reflect or create. The posting of materials is great. I have been suggesting this for the last three districts I have worked in: an online sharing space for integration units or projects created. I also like the administration workshop. Administrators need to be vested in this program and knowledgable of the opportunities. It is also important to acknowledge that administrators have unique challenges in creating effective professional development. Perhaps the best part of the program is the sharing and evaluation pieces at the end. To come back together to discuss the successes and failures, missed opportunities and unexpected outcomes, is a key aspect to good reflective growth. Too often we don't allow time for this and teachers' growth stagnates.

What is missing is the ongoing growth that is necessary in this area. If these teachers and administrators take what they have learned back to their staff and pass it on as is so often expected of cadre groups, the ceiling is set too low. Opportunities for growth must continue beyond this. Specific skill sets for teachers of specific subjects must be addressed. New kinds of learning must be addressed. More opportunity for reflection must be provided. This is a good start, but can not be the finish line.

Hughes draft - How to become a Tech Integrationist

This was a lot to chew on. In many ways, I am still chewing, grappling with the differences between the different types of knowledge. What I think I took away from this is the importance of moving toward uses of technology that focus on both the effective use of the technology as well as the significant improvement in the content taught. The examples of the spreadsheet and Geometer's Sketchpad improved the students' understanding of the content, whether math or social studies in these cases, while also deepening their understanding of how tools like spreadsheet and Geometer's Sketchpad can help them manipulate data, solve problems, and communicate results. While this is a challenge, to design lessons with TPCK, it is a direction that we clearly must go, for many reasons. These are the deepest kind of learning for our students while also being efficient. We don't have to teach geometry separately from the technology tool.

In working with younger students, I see that they are able to develop their understanding much more quickly when I am able to do this. The difficulty comes from time and ability of our staffs to develop these kinds of lessons. How do we move our staffs towards this kind of understanding? I often feel like we are on this slow continuum, yet we need a revolution to take place in which all staff members instantly transform into this new type of teacher. In my last blog I seemed to contradit this when I said that I often tell teachers that they have the most important tools when they understand the content and how to organize student learning. I believe that, but I am sometimes impatient for teachers to make the leap and learn how to use the tools effectively.

Hughes - Tech Learning Principles

I like this article a lot, not just because it happens to be written by the professor :) I spend a great deal of time working with teachers convincing them that they do not need to be techies to be integrationists. They always talk about how technology just isn't their thing or how they don't know enough. While this may be true to an extent, I have long been explaining that most of what students need from their teachers is the content and direction.

I have worked with many teachers to connect technology learning to what they are teaching. When teachers learn that they can collect data about temperature or monarch butterfly migration with the ease of a few mouse clicks, they realize quickly that the power of technology is organizational rather than technical. Finding the resources, framing the project to focus students' time and energy, and clearly defining the expectations are far greater technology skills than knowing how to create macros in Excel. Not that I don't believe in technical skill acquisition as well, I do, but I believe that it comes with need. For example, when a teacher learns that the data they need can be accessed from the internet, they need a way to organize it. Now they are ready to learn spreadsheeting because it is connected to a project that has meaning to them.

The other key element of this article to me was the two factors that explain why teachers still feel ill prepared to use technology tools for teaching of content. The first factor about school leaders not providing a clear vision is a huge piece to me. We have recently allocated a large sum of money for technology in our district. Despite constant clamoring from educators to first define how the technology would be used in classrooms before deciding what tools to buy, the administration went ahead with their "plan". When educators vocalized a need to prioritize support by providing prof. development and resource people, the administration prioritized hardware. As this hardware is placed in classrooms throughout the district, our teachers will be ill prepared to use it because no one has defined how to use them and for what purpose. Those who do use the hardware will be groping in the dark.

McGrath - Equity Revisited

I am a big proponent of project-based learning. I always feel that students are the most connected to their learning in situations where they are working toward a clear goal or product. I also feel that rubrics and authentic assessments seem to have the most impact for students. They pay closer attention to the result than when it is just a letter grade that doesn't hold a lot of information for them.

This notion of 21st century skills is an interesting one. I believe that the new skills of the future are different than the traditional skills we have been teaching. I agree with the skills laid out by McGrath. I think that many educators and administrators are fearful to make the leap to a new set of standards or skills. What if they are wrong? What if the public doesn't understand? What if it has catastrophic effects on high stakes tests? I actually think that failing schools are going to be the proving grounds of these new skills. What do they have to lose? They are already failing. Successful schools (based on testing and public perception) feel that they don't need to change. Why change a good thing. Until they see themselves as failing, they will not be willing to make the leap to a new curriculum.

That being said, there are pockets of successful project based learning and 21st century skill instruction in many school districts. The key is moving toward all classrooms all the time.

As for the idea that PBL challenges all kids to achieve at a high level, I agree with this to a degree. Projects are easily adapted so that kids of different abilities or skill sets can complete the assignment to their best ability. However, while the assignments are easy to adapt, the challenge is still learning the abilities of the students. While PBL is motivating, not all students are self-motivated, even in the best of circumstances. With students being more self directed, the teacher must monitor carefully to ensure that students are working to their potential.

July 7, 2006

Tapscott - Digital Divide

Another interesting article. I have had many discussions with a colleague about this issue of Net Neutrality. I take issue with the argument that the TV and automobile are examples of access without government control. What is the FCC and where would the automobile be without laws controlling speeds, licensure, emissions, etc... Even the discussion of alternative fuels is an example of the need for someone (whether or not it should be the government is open for debate) to regulate how we use these tools. As for the internet, the open market has created amazing results, but also many tangled problems. For example, unfettered access to inappropriate material, spam, child safety, non-universal access to increasingly essential information. For example, as the percentage of people who access information, products, and communication from the internet increases, the access to outdated forms of access are going to start shrinking. Look at 35mm film as an example. People without access (and more importantly the skills to access effectively) will be left out of society in a way that far exceeds those people who don't own a television. It is one thing to be the only person who didn't watch Seinfeld. It is altogether another thing to not have access to current data. In Freakanomics, the author talks about how the internet has provided power to people through information. People without access will be disempowered.

Jonassen - Mind Tools

I found this very interesting. Partly because I use many of the tools talked about in this article, but also because I have recently read other articles which touch on this same topic. One stated that spreadsheet and database skills are among the most deeply analytical skills we can teach and should be taught much more extensively in school. I agree with that. I am also a huge proponent of the concept mapping software like Inspiration, SparkSpace, CMAP, and others. The projects which I have done with students in which they use software to create their own project, rather than simply walking through my directions step by step, have offered the most opportunity for learning as students are much more vested in opportunities to control their final product.

There is so much in this article, I don't know where to start or stop. Microworlds is a tool that we have been on the fence about. I would like to purchase it because I see it as a powerful tool with many applications. Also, it ties in to the edpa5309 discussion on gaming. Microworlds is a great introduction into designing games.