It’s the Little Things

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This has been a great summer. I spent a good deal of it enjoying #lakelife in Michigan. Anyone who’s been in the classroom knows that teachers don’t turn their brains off when school is out. I mean, our brains might shut down from sheer exhaustion but once we’ve recovered, most of us are busy catching up on things that we couldn’t do during the school year. For me, it was reading and learning about new technology tools. I also spent quite a bit of time in my #happyplace, sketchnoting the book Innovator’s Mindset. I’m working on my last one which is perfect since school starts in two weeks.

What was reinforced to me from the book is that we need to get outside of our comfort zone if we want to grow…to be innovative. Comfort is nice. After all, who doesn’t love snuggling up by a fire with a good book on a cold day?

This summer, though, I was introduced to several really cool new technology tools…one of which is featured in the image above – Momentum. As a Mac user, I used to swear by Safari; but Chrome has continued to impress me with their features…and the Momentum extension takes the cake! Thank you Caitlin McLemore (@EdTechCaitlin)! Who doesn’t love opening up a new tab and being personally greeted? Momentum also allows users to type in one focus for the day – essentially a goal, a To Do. What I like is that it only allows users to type one thing at a time so there’s not the ability to create a monster list and then feel defeated at the end of the day when there are so many unchecked boxes. Am I the only one with this problem? With Momentum, I type in one focus, do it, check it off, and then I’m on to a new one. Being that it’s summer, sometimes my focus is a little less taxing (see the image at the top). However today, I’ve already completed one focus (Review RefWorks – I know, exciting, right? But I’m back in grad school…) and I’m now onto my second one (Finish blog post). I like that because I’m only allowed to set one focus at a time, it helps me to not multi-task.

The next awesome technology tool is Grammarly. I heard about this tool from Beth Holland (@brholland) when she presented to the #JHUEdD16 cohort of doctoral students at Johns Hopkins University. I’d like to think that I’m pretty good at spelling and grammar but who couldn’t use a little bit of extra help? Grammarly can be added as an extension for both Chrome and Safari. The benefit of adding Grammarly is that it will give options for grammar and spelling as one types online. For example, Grammarly has already given me three suggestions for revision as I type this blog – I accepted two of the three so far. But you can also download Grammarly as a desktop app which will come in handy as I write and write and write in the pursuit of my doctorate. I’ve already tinkered around with the desktop app using my Classroom Expectations for my students…and yes, there were corrections to be made. #sigh

It’s the little things that make the true difference and in the case of technology, these two tools have already made their impact…I mean, I’m already at #9 (see list below). When it came to these two tools: I skipped #1-8. I’m already there. I’m all in. I mean, seriously, how did I live without these two tools?

I know that several districts are already back in session. But I’ve checked off my focus in Momentum and now I’m off to have lunch with my girlfriends from work because we don’t have to be back until August 30th…Happy summer to all!

 

#InnovatorsMindset – Pedagogy

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Those thinking about or new to using technology in the classroom may be under the impression that technology is the magic potion that is going to radically change student engagement and achievement in the classroom. That is a huge misconception. Technology in and of itself is not the magic potion. If teachers simply hand students a mobile device without changing the task, it’s no better than using the more affordable alternatives – pencil and paper. In fact, the technology tool (in this case) becomes no better than a $1000 pencil.

What needs to change is the task itself. And this is where pedagogy comes in.

Dr. Ruben Puentedura is credited with defining how technology can transform learning tasks through the use of the SAMR model. John Spencer sums it up quite nicely:

Now let me be clear. There is nothing wrong with tasks at the Substitution level. After all, teachers and students need to start somewhere. But if that is all that is done…then the technology tool becomes an expensive alternative to paper and pencil. Those of us in the educational field know that money doesn’t grow on trees (remember when we used to have department budgets?) so the thought of spending vast amounts of money on technology only to have it being solely used at the lowest level of SAMR is a travesty.

But in order for teachers to understand the need to change the learning task, they first have to understand the pedagogy behind the meaningful integration of technology in the classroom. This is where the TPACK model comes in. Candace M does a great job summing up TPACK in 2 minutes.

So you see, teachers have (or should have) the content portion down pat. And some may even have differing levels of technology prowess. But without understanding the pedagogy, the learning tasks associated with technology will have little to no connection to authentic learning. And now we’re back to the $1000 electronic pencil analogy.

But I recently came across a term that is making me think more about how I structure learning tasks for my students and PD for my teachers: pedagogical content knowledge (PCK). In the book How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School: Expanded Edition, pedagogical content knowledge is defined as “knowledge about how to teach in particular disciplines” (p. 167). In other words, it’s not enough to know the content, teachers must educate themselves on how to teach that specific content. The discipline of history needs to be taught differently than the discipline of math. In fact, the National Research Council states “expert teachers are sensitive to those aspects of the discipline that are especially hard or easy for new students to master” (p. 166). Take the discipline of history, for example. History is more than a mere list of names, dates, and places. Shocking, I know. Good history teachers will help students develop skills to critically read and interpret primary and secondary sources, corroborate evidence, as well as understand the problematic nature of historical interpretation (National Research Council, 2000).

So on top of clearly articulating the pedagogy behind meaningful integration of technology to teachers who attend my PD sessions, I also need to keep in mind the reading, writing, and thinking skills of how students should approach the study of history in my own classroom as well as how teachers should approach lesson and task design in their history classrooms.

And since I’m a serial book reader, I get all excited when topics of my books come together. Having finished The Innovator’s Mindset earlier this month, I’m stoked that the book How People Learn is helping me to make more sense in how to design meaningful learning opportunities for students. The sketchnotes below is my reflection on Chapter 9 from the #InnovatorsMindset book.
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Resources:

#InnovatorsMindset Part 4 

“Nothing stops an organization faster than people who believe that the way you worked yesterday is the best way to work tomorrow.” — Jon Madonna

My quest to sketchnote each chapter as a reflection of Couros’ book The Innovator’s Mindset continues…

Chapter 6 focused on discerning the difference between engagement and empowerment. Truth be told, empowerment wasn’t high up on my radar because I was one of those teachers who focused more on the engagement side of learning. Oh, but I’ve had tons of conversations with my #PLN about teaching skills versus content and I understand the important role that both play in student learning. But what stood out to me from this section is the importance…no, the imperativeness (I hope that’s a word) of empowering my students to truly take charge of their learning. It’s not enough to introduce them to the tools and the content, but rather I need to make sure that each child that walks through my door understands that they have the power of choice. In my department, student choice is actually part of our classroom expectations. And we don’t merely pay lip service to the term either. Using a revised version of Marzano’s learning scales, we’ve broken down the standards by skills: Level 3 – describe/define, Level 4 – analyze, Level 5 – synthesize/evaluate/create. Students choose their level of learning for each unit and complete tasks, assignments, and activities for that level. But what I see that we need to do better is give students choice in what they want to study. Sure, we have standards that students will be tested on (district benchmarks, anyone?) but why not give students the power to choose which aspect of the content they would like to explore further? Because we use Haiku Learning for our classes, we could easily create a place for students to curate their learning. In fact, Flipbook is something that we tried last year at the 7th grade level and we (the teachers) loved it! Actually, our students really enjoyed it as well because they could see the Flipboard magazines from the other World History classes and comment/like what they saw. Hmmmm, and the wheels are turning in my head…

Now because I’m about ready to start my doctorate…and because I’m a HUGE geek when it comes to schooling, I’ve already started to read two of the books for this upcoming semester (I know, I know. Please don’t judge me).

What I found interesting is that Couros isn’t just taking about pie-in-the-sky learning experiences for students; what he’s proposing is supported by research. While Couros (2015) states that “it is imperative that we teach learners how to be self-directed and guide their own learning, rather than rely on others to simply engage them” (p. 1368 eBook), the National Research Council (2000) explains the importance of active learning, “New developments in the science of learning also emphasize the importance of helping people take control of their own learning. Since understanding is viewed as important, people must learn to recognize when they understand and when they need more information” (p. 12). Sounds a lot like empowering students is important in order for them to become self-regulated learners.

But it’s not enough to simply talk theory and what if’s. In order to truly make a difference, Couros next focuses on shared vision-making. What the admins want is nice. What the teachers want is nice. What the students want is nice. But without coming together and creating a shared vision about what learning should look like, everyone is really just out for themselves. It’s not easy bringing many stakeholders together for shared vision-making, but it’s one that is absolutely necessary. And I think that schools (mine included) may need to go back to the drawing board or stay at the drawing board until a shared-vision is created and accepted by all.

Reference:

National Research Council (2000). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school: Expanded edition. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi:10.17226/9853