Saturday, December 20, 2014

I'm No Bo: On Striving, Humility, and Democracy

By now Bo Pelini and his rants are public knowledge. The thing that struck me the most about his complaints was the idea that he did not know the expectations every year. I just happen to work for the same institution. I get paid much less and interview a lot less. I am not sure how I would fair under public scrutiny but I do know something about being judged annually by "higher ups".

I often do not agree with my "higher ups" but I do know that we have a shared goal of improving the lives of Nebraskans starting with our students and expanding beyond it. So while we may not agree on the how we can agree on the what and judge our efforts based on outcomes. The bottom line is that every year I need to strive to be better. After reflecting on what I need to improve I make a plan to pay attention and improve a few aspects of my work, be it teaching, research, or service. I do not need someone to tell me that I am not perfect (though many are happy to point it out) I know what I do well and what I do not.

In the last three semesters I have worked hard on building a classroom community through integrating democratic practices. The idea was to present a learning environment that would model a possible educational model that is different from the one my pre-service teachers see enacted in schools. Every semester I have been just a bit better about building a classroom community allowing students to participate in decision making including classroom rules, grading and participation.

Am I there? NO. My students are still struggling to see how these practices can be translated into classroom practice BUT I can say without any doubt that I am a better teacher than I ever was. I can say that my students know more of what they need to teach reading and writing in the 21st century. The community we built in the classroom was built on shared goals, shared responsibility and an understanding that we are in this together. So if I had to have a goodbye speech to my students it would be about their potential to change the world not how the world is against them (or me).

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Why my new Apple TV will not matter (much) for learning and Why it will!

I caved in and got an Apple TV. I spent a few minutes setting it up and enjoyed the way all my work looked on the large screen. And then I had to remind myself that while it is slick and easy to use it will not matter much for learning.

Where it doesn't matter- Learning happens with student devices handled individually or in small groups. It is the active interaction that really pushes students forward (and engages them). The question is: is it a teaching technology or a learning technology? Apple TV falls much more in the teaching than learning. Teaching is important you might say. True, but we've focused on teaching for a few thousand years, time to focus on learning.

Why it will matter- As a teaching device the Apple TV will allow me to share presentations, websites and media from anywhere in the room. This allows me the flexibility to move around, interact with students while giving all students access to what I am looking at. This improved mobility and ease of operation will make me a more effective teacher. One that has to spend less time on tech and more on students. The sharing extends to my students they can share their thinking with the rest of the class using their own devices- a way to teach and learn t the same time.

Don't get me wrong, I love my Apple TV and will use anytime I can BUT I will remind myself constantly that real change will come from individual learning devices not the fancy teaching ones.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Five ways that edchats are more than just coffee with Colleagues

A few weeks ago I shared my journey into educational research and technology with first year doctoral students. I was invited by Ali Moeller (or here) a great colleague and an even better friend to talk about researcher identity and I chose to tell my personal journey. Towards the end of my talk I mentioned #nebedchat and #edcamp as exciting examples of the way teachers are using social media to develop, support, and grow.

Ali asked one of those questions/comments that stimulate my thinking and push me to define what it is I am thinking. The comment was: "we used to go out for a coffee and talk about our work. How is this different?". The indication was that it is not very new- and not very special. The comment has pushed to try and explore why I find edchats so great despite my everyday conversations with teachers and colleagues. The need for such a connection is important for three groups: teachers who teach in remote rural schools, teachers who are the only ones at their school to teach that topic (business, German etc.), teachers in schools without a supportive climate.

1. Twitter chats have a moderator and a topic. Casual conversations are less professional and often less supportive. Twitter chats, especially well moderated ones, have a direction and a s result enrich our thinking faster.
2. Twitter chats help rural teachers connect with like minded educators. Small schools often have excellent personal relationships but it is less likely you will find others interested in what occupies your mind at the moment. Teachers have different professional trajectories and finding an affinity group can be affirming and sometimes life changing.
3. Teachers in some schools can feel very isolated. The daily pressures of assessments, (sometimes) toxic administration, and collaborative styles of peers can make some teachers feel very isolated. Reaching out on twitter can provide an outlet and a receptive group of colleagues. It may very well be that we will find that edchats can increase teacher retention.
4. New ideas. The wide  local, national and international reach of the different chats really enhances the strategies, apps, and instructional ideas that we have. It is the ultimate self guided professional development.
5. Respect and crowdsourcing. Twitter chats are affirming because they are democratic, anyone can participate, post, and discuss. The ideas that float to the top are ones other find useful or enlightening and are highlighted through retweets and likes.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Four things we should do using Technology in Education to come to terms with Privilege

By User:Sargoth (Own work) [Public domain]
It is impossible to avoid thinking about Ferguson these days. But I approach the topic with great trepidation. I am not offering solutions nor explanations just some thoughts about what can be different using the affordances of technology and the power of teaching.

1. Let's not let the moment slip away- once in a while a moment emerges that is an opportunity to discuss equity be it poverty, privilege, race or sexual orientation. Katrina was such a moment but soon national attention drifted away and it was no longer attended to. My lesson from Katrina is to discuss it with my students here and now, leverage the event as it unfolds. The beauty of technology here is in the ability to access events, media, and opinion. As future teachers my students need to learn to pay attention, process, and find ways to integrate meaningful learning about social topics as they arise.

2. Let's be critical. Once students start exploring an event they can explore different narratives, consider point of view and learn to be critical. They can use this critical stance to take a look at their immediate environment and then follow up with action.

3. Let's teach technologies allows everyone to tell their story. Social media tools allows multiple stories to come out and prevents any one channel from telling a unified simple story (that is never true). Encourage your students to use social media to increase the impact of stories that matter to them, encourage them to create their own digital stories.

4. Let's act. With our students we need to make a difference in the real world using physical actions. Then let's document the action and make sure that it has a digital echo as well. For example we are building a family literacy program that builds on family strengths rejecting a deficit stance.

Let's not let this opportunity to discuss things that matter deeply slip away!

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Coaching, a Professional Development Lesson from Sports

Ann Donovan WNBA Coach- LA Storm
Coaches are key. This is definitely true in professional sports. Despite the fact that everyone playing is spectacularly talented in their own right, they need guidance, an outside eye and direction. This is what coaches bring in- a game plan, a training regime and vision.

Many of the school districts I work with are using technology coaches as a transitional strategy in a move to one to one device integration. They do that for budgetary reasons and I understand that BUT change is slow (4-7 years) according to research. If we withdraw the support it is not likely to be as excellent.

Why a coach? A coach can get to know everyone, their capacities, and motivations. Coaches can help professionals get to the peek of their performance be it financial physical or in our case educational. If professional sports teams need coaches schools should not be abashed about using them.

My small tiny message here is that maybe we should think about coaches as a permanent part of school improvement and technology integration. In a perpetual cycle of development and adaptation we need someone who can guide, maintain a wider vision and push individuals to perform. Some of that role may be in the building administrator but not all for example this research from ASCD. For coaching to work we know that we need it to be in a low stakes non-evaluative environment that helps all teachers to grow.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Bob Calfee- A Mentor

Robert Calfee 1933-2014
Bob died last night. Bob was my mentor, the kind that sticks in your head long after you moved out of state. I remember the first time Bob spoke inside my head. It was 1999 my first AERA in New Orleans. I went to a session about early reading acquisition. Mid presentation by one of the leading researchers in the field I heard Bob's voice and unique cadence "It's articulation stupid".

Bob has taught me to think about variance, his metaphor of variance as a sausage still lives whenever I teach a methods class. Probably more than anything else Bob showed me how you can manage multiple projects and ideas by switching mindset. I remember watching Bob make the switch. Our meeting time was 30 minutes and when the time was up Bob simply moved to the next thing. We were still there in his office finishing the last details but he has already moved on.

I never accounted really for just how much I've learned from Bob, his analytic approach, his passion, his ever present mentorship.
A colleague just wrote me a note saying we should have our mentors forever. My first thought was, we will.

Finally I remember Bob giving me and Sarah money for dinner at the Mission Inn on our anniversary in those day of graduate school poverty. I would say rest in peace, but that too was not Bob's way.
He voice will always be with me.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Five ways that setting the bar too high can be a bad thing

A district I work with has been focusing on literacy especially reading in the last few years. In multiple ways the district keeps redefining what are can be accepted as grade level achievement. In essence they keep raising the bar. As I was reviewing some of the data fro the district it was clear that teachers across the district are struggling to help their students reach the new criteria bu are slowly making significant strides in their efforts. This is the dream of all those interested in education - successfully raising outcomes by increasing the expectations. It's hard to argue against success but I am going to do it anyway. I am not against raising the bar I just want everyone who goes down that road to be aware of the impact beyond that specific area.

1. Discouraging struggling students. Students who are already behind and struggle with the material as it is are even less likely to meet increased demands. The target seems even farther for them which as they become aware of the demands may actually discourage them from trying harder.

2. No teacher flexible time. If teachers are focusing on new and more challenging goals they will take any available time to make their students are making progress in that area. They will used the most comfortable "surefire" methods. That seems great except that it will prevent teacher from trying new things, whether supported by research or not. Teachers know that when you first try new things you waste time learning new ideas and finding "your groove" often it leads to a temporary drop in results. In a high expectation, high stakes environment they are much less likely to try new things.

3. Other subjects get "cannibalized". If you set a high bar in one area, say reading, teachers and administrators will cannibalize instructional time. They do not do away with other subjects they just give them less favorable times. For example unit studies tend to be pushed to the end of the day when kids are most restless and where the time spillover of the day is most felt. Officially science might have 25 minutes daily but in reality it is 15-18 minutes of actual instructional time. That may not sound like a big difference but over time we are losing a third of the instructional time.

4. New areas get no time whatsoever. You want to add future oriented skills like entrepreneurship? Coding? creativity? Engineering? It will not happen during school!

5. New pressures affect teachers in low performing schools disproportionately. If teachers give up on reaching standards with students at-risk they will move to other schools or leave the profession altogether. This is not because they are giving up on students but instead giving up on pleasing a system that seems hell bent on making sure they will fail even if students reach a grade-level standard.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Five Ways My Kids are Growing in a Different World

Some people always call for back to basics. Decoding memorizing facts and old technologies (for example cursive writing). As the day No Child Left Behind predicted will be the day of 100% of students at grade level have come and gone we are left to wonder if the effort was the right one. We cannot deny, however, that kids today are growing up in a world that is changing while their progress is still measured in very old ways.

Watching my kids and students in elementary schools I can immediately see the transformation:
1. They judge the environment by access to wireless bandwidth. My son was asked (10) what was his favorite place for vacation. He answered: "Israel" (we spent a month there this summer). "Why Israel?"I asked. "They have the best internet connection..."

2. Information and entertainment are on demand. One day my 8 year old Itai came back and saw his brother (10) watching an epic episode of Phineas & Ferb. "Are you watching TV?" he said incredelously. The answer was of course, no, it was Netflix. Kids are used to able to access information and entertainment on demand- as they need it and at a touch of a button. They are information privileged but that demands a whole new way to be in the world.

3. They are global. Kids play games with players look at websites from all around the world. They use social media of different kinds with kids next door (sometimes in the next seat) to those across the globe.

4. Their lives are often defined by information overload and not information scarcity. The new information age is not actually more about abundance than scarcity making the old economic rules less successful in describing reality.

5. Reading and writing are no longer limited to print on page. There are rich multi modal compositions that are accessible to all kids (in connected societies).

These differences make growing up today very different than any other period in history and requires us to reconsider many aspects of modern education. Not because it has failed but because using old ways of thinking will privilege the few that already have full access to this new world.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

A Note from the Minecraft Underground- Expertise, Mining and Music

  by  Andrew Beeston 
We had the TechEDGE 12 conference on campus two weeks ago. Rick Marlatt presented about Minecraft. He was excited about the presentation but I was secretly worried that very few will come to his presentation. Most of the participants teach or plan to teach in Elementary schools and I was not sure they will be excited about minecraft. Well I was utterly wrong. The session was full of faculty current and future teachers.

In conversations with my students afterwards I got the gist. For example M said "students talk about Minecraft all the time I have to at least find out what it is. They take turns reading the few Minecraft books we have".

Ann Brown called young students universal novices, at the same time we all strive for competency usually stemming from our areas of expertise be it football, brain science, or Harry Potter trivia. Minecraft provides a niche of expertise. Compared to most adults even fairly beginning Minecrafters have expertise. Minecraft has a rich vocabulary that includes complex words like bedrock, obsidian, and creepers to name a few. Jargon flies whenever students get together. And practice, practice, practice, hours of effort go into it.

This is very similar to what happens to students as they learn to play an instrument. They practice, get better, and with others get a sense of growing expertise. At the same time they watch others play with new eyes and new understanding. Slowly they learn new vocabulary and can communicate in ways that others not privee to this domain will not understand. Finally they get the experience of "being in the orchestra" a sense of collborating and sharing with your peers sensing a whole greater than the sum.

The worlds with their unique construction and opportunities allow students to become experts and learn not just about skill and  citizenship but also about what it feels like being an expert.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Game based Mechanics at School

Last week I went with my kids to their school's "fun night". The fun centers around a fair like set of activities that generates funds for the school. My kids love the little games and winning all the nearly worthless little prizes and punches on their cards. This time the organizers decided to simplify things by taking the stuff and punches out of the activities.

I was watching my son Oren walk around trying to decide what to play. "Why don't you play this one?" (pointing to bean bag target game) I asked. He looked at me and said "You can't win anything so what's the point?". The organizers have definitely simplified the organization of the fair but they completely missed the game mechanics. To keep humans motivated and in this case creating enjoyment the game has to have a point. The point can be a prize, points, a leaderboard or boasting rights but it has to have a point.

I think this is the point that people miss when we talk about how our understanding of games can inform education. It is not about making educational games. Instead it is about importing the idea of feedback and rewarding incremental progress. Education has always been very good about long term rewards- semester and course grades, GPA and even entry to college. We are considerably less adept at rewarding incremental progress and specific achievements. The only example that I can think of in recent years is the work in RtI (Response to Intervention) on reading fluency. In it students receive weekly probes and chart their progress. This has worked almost too well encouraging students (and teachers) to focus on rate too much. This however highlights the enormous promise in using feedback on incremental achievement progress. Badging anyone?

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Cognitive Flexibility, and Devices in 1:1 Environments

This week I visited a new 1:1 integration at a local school site with some of my colleagues. The site chose a "convertible" laptop that claims to be a laptop AND a tablet. It really isn't, it is more like a laptop with a touch screen but that is not the point I would like to make here.

In the course of discussion about the use of the devices I pointed out that some of the advantages of the laptop, stability and a keyboard, are also its limitations that truely limit mobility.

Justin then raised the idea of having a diversty of devices in the classroom. To be honest I have been so fixated on the idea of 1:1 with the same device that I have not really thought of the potential benefits of different devices that answer very differnt needs.

Don Leu repeatedly observed that the only constant in this area is that it keeps changing. As Kristin Javorsky and I presented recently in a Reading Teacher article the key to teach students to deal with the ever changing environment is to teach cognitive flexibility. Then why not do that with choice of device? The late Steve Jobs repeatedly made comparisons between vehicle and device diversity- fit the tool to the job. That can and probably should start in school, where else can you learn to be flexible, experiment and learn to match the tool to the task?

Education is about differentiation we can do that with devices as well.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Coaching Tech Integration in Elementary Schools- Second Year

Dr. Laurie Friedrich (newly minted) and I are back to Rousseau elementary coaching teachers in technology integration. This is one of the most productive ways we can explore working with teachers.

In many ways it is the ultimate low stakes environment. We use our own time and teachers have volunteered their plan time. We pose no demands we just ask, encourage, and explore dimensions of technology integration as we go.

As we work with each grade level team we fit our suggestions and ideas to the style of the team. Each team is different in their goals, the way they interact and where they are on technology integration. What is clear is that now in our second year each team has ideas and internal leadership. They are building on the work done last year and cautiously expanding their integration. The biggest obstacle right now is lack of access to devices that students can actually use individually or in small groups.

I am most excited about the potential for integration in the Arts as it will play out in the Music and Visual Arts rooms. There much promise there, but it is a promise that can be realized only with enough devices so students have access.

As we move forward the low stakes coaching model seems to be a success. Though I might add that the gentle but solid support by administration is an important component as well. In the next few weeks we will start an expanded model in some new schools and so test the boundaries of such a model.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Four things your students can learn from watching Minecraft videos

My two youngest kids have been playing minecraft for quite a long time. For those who are not familiar with minecraft think of a game platform with lego like blocks of many kinds that allows you to create or explore worlds created by others.

This summer, however, my kids got hooked on YouTube videos documenting the adventures of of others online. An example can be the Dumb and Dumber videos for an example click on the pic to the right. 

In the beginning I thought this was just a way to pass the time when they did not have access to Netflix or were not allowed to play (we have restriction on play time). Soon I found out that they sometimes prefer to watch the videos over other shows. This is something that is hard for me to understand. I like playing games but watching somebody else do it? That's something you do when you run out of quarters...

The phenomenon intrigued me. Why watch someone else play? Well I started with the obvious and asked my kids what they liked about it. Their answer was simple, we just like it. When I watched carefully I discovered a few ways that the videos afforded a great learning opportunity.

1. The video makers usually play in pairs or even three and a majority of the video centers around their collaboration. This model of collaboration has actually helped my kids learn to collaborate while playing and I even hear them produce a banter similar to the ones online.

2. In the videos that are usually in survival mode and require the players to solve many challenges. Since audio is a huge part of the attraction they actually produce something akin to a think aloud while engaged in problem solving. This model helps viewers get a window into complex problem solving.

3. Following different videos and finding new ones are part of information literacy skills that my kids who usually spend very little time on YouTube developed rather quickly.

4. The videos often share the creativity of the creators by sharing approaches ideas and actions. They provide a great model of divergent thinking and the joy of creation.

In short the videos provide a model for engagement with 21st century skills. As adults struggle to provide relevant 21st century models finding worthy individuals willing to share what and how they engage in creative activities provides exceptional learning opportunities.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Motivation to Innovate- or five reasons to risk failure

The lens I most often use to view motivation is Bandura's concept of self efficacy. The idea is that we are more likely to succeed when we believe we can be successful. There is quite a bit of empirical work supporting this construct. More than that self efficacy is the best motivational predictor of academic success.

Recently, however, I've had read personal narratives of failure from teachers who are innovating in their classroom and school. The thing that immediately emerged is that self-efficacy cannot be the prime motivator because they actually do NOT always think they will be successful. Often they actually say "I don't know if it's going to work". In my work on democratic education I actually said "I don't even know what it looks like but I think it is important to do."

So what are some ways to think about the motivation to innovate despite the high probability of failure:

1. Value- while self-efficacy is important we also have to consider the value of our actions. If the value is high enough we may be able to consider failure and the potential personal fallout from it.
2. Long term success- while we may not believe that we have it figured out right now we have a belief in our ability to work it out through trial and error. This is closely connected to the idea of grit or stick-with-it-ness/stick-to-it-ness recently highlighted.
3. Self delusion- you can have self-efficacy that is completely unjustified. Sometimes it is better to believe that you are going to be successful despite best evidence to the contrary.
4. Identity- when individuals assume the identity of an innovator (or even entrepreneur) makes self efficacy for a specific action less important than your sense of competence as an innovator. You believe not that you can do the next step but in your ability to overcome the odds and problem solve.
5. A community of innovators. The knowledge that peers around you will support your efforts, share your experiences and appreciate your willingness to dare.

For me it comes down to "surfer attitude" (temporary name)- this is what I am calling it now. It is the deep understanding that to gain expertise you have to fail, since you are constantly pushing the envelope without quite knowing your limits or whether you can hang on. For me it is all five previous aspects wrapped into one. It is what keeps teachers innovating despite not knowing if they will be ultimately successful.

It's good to be back blogging.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Telling Stories

This week we held our annual iPads in the Classroom workshop. Laurie and I used last year's work as a foundation but added many new components. Most importantly like many other iPad academies around the nation we kept things open and let our learners guide much of the work. It is very interesting to start the week by asking everyone to set their own goals. In interesting ways we got a lot of "what do you want us to do" during the first two days. Then everyone settled into the routine and expectations and did an outstanding job learning and extending.

You can take a peek at the work we all did here.

The week of working with teachers has reinforced the ideas that have been guiding my work in the last year. Mobile devices are the perfect tool to enhance identity and literacy through shared story telling. We envision families recording oral histories, creating in vivo memories, and composing personally relevant texts. Using the affordance of the digital device itself and specific apps within it can create rich personal tapestries with fairly low user knowledge.

We now have a chance to try it out in Nebraska and perhaps within the year in a parallel project in China. I am excited!

Saturday, May 31, 2014

iPads in China- Excerpts from the Chinese media (loosely translated)

Working in China exposes the cultural differences AND the similarities of concerns. Despite all the concerns and challenges our project just won first prize in a National competition for Technology Integrated classroom. This is a great boost to our work and I am excited to continue.
I think that in the following excerpt from Chinese media in Chengdu you can see what concerns the Chinese public and how my comments are interpreted.

WCC: With the introduction of technology into traditional teaching, whiteboard, book bag, IPAD all applied to the classroom, how do you see the development proceeding? 
  Dr. Guy Trainin: Today's kids are exposed to smart phones, computers every day. Their parents and teachers are still from the 20th century. Without technology the teacher, the school can not meet the needs of 21st century child's development. So the idea of how we can use technology to help teachers to teach  21st century kids. 
  WCC: Chinese schools require the exam, how will students do on traditional exams? Do you have parental support? 
  Dr. Guy Trainin: In our classroom (with Du Yu as teacher) students have mastered more words, electronic production than other classrooms, their overall quality has improved significantly. Support from parents is not difficult to imagine, as long as parents to see the students really active and growing, parents will be supportive. 
  Today, young parents are more willing to accept new ways of education. If schools do nothing to change the direction, either to promote any new technology or method, students will not be ready to learn and work in the 21st century. Technology integration with our project TechEDGE has been practiced for several years in the United States, transfer to other countries with different national and cultural backgrounds, ideas differences, makes us need to find a new path to our ultimate goal and effect. 
Link to original story.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

iPads in Chengdu China

This spring I have sent Ji Guo to Chengdu to collaborate with the iPad classroom in a first grade.

His report seems to indicate that teachers are in the replacement and augmentation phases of technology integration. They very ably use iPad linked to projectors as agile white board applications for sharing content (through projection) and presenting.

At the same time we are seeing a few creation apps used to create videos that are then shared with peers. This is a huge development for all partners in the project. What we are having a harder time is having student discussions that include critical feedback. That said they are only first graders and they are busy creating video, writing, and sharing.

What is clearly emerging is that beyond the affordances of the specific technology, there is an overarching theme. Technology seems to create a non-trivial opportunity to transform instruction. This transformation is not just about technology integration (although it is also about that), it is about student centered, differentiated practices that focus on engagement, participation and creation. The question that still remains is what impact it will have on more traditional measures of achievement.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Technology, Creativity, and Windows of Opportunity

At another academic year's end I have much to reflect on so this post is the first of a few that will try to help me think through and share what I've been doing. Throughout my research, visits to schools and teaching I have a growing sense that we are truly at a crossroads. Technology is becoming ubiquitous and schools are embracing it. The working assumption of many early technology integration leaders was that technology will help open learning up. It will help teachers individualize instruction and students to learn independently and follow their own learning paths.
This option is still open but at the same time a second option opened. Technology in schools can be used as a top down delivery of curriculum and assessment that would stymie any creativity from teachers and as a result students. As I watch school districts I see both trends happen. Larger districts tend to be top down using technology to deliver content and increase centralized control. Smaller more agile districts tend to be more open to diverse practices. This week I visited Aurora Public Schools and saw some of that agility. Teachers were creating their own assignments, thinking through steps and allowing their students to do the same.
I believe that we have a window of opportunity, the call for 21st century skills may be enough to make sure that the top down approach does not win. For that we have to act, lead and show the options. In teacher education we must make sure that our future teachers are ready to use technology in ways that will promote creativity. We need to make sure that young teachers joining schools that are often called on to lead technology integration are ready.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

5 ideas from our NETA Panel: This is how you should teach technology in Teacher Ed

Storm over Telluride Courtesy of Jay's Thought Stream Blog
We had a great panel @NETA14. We asked our panelists to reflect on what should be part of teacher education and how we might get there.

The panel quickly evolved to a group discussion that included teachers, administrators, board members and university supervisors and instructors. The feedback was fantastic and will help to go forward.
Here are some of the key ideas:

1. Its not about specific technologies, it is about affordances and pedagogies.
Everyone agreed that at the rate of change there is little value in "sticking with" one technology. Instead teaching the ideas behind what technologies afford can open up future teachers to flexibly adapt to change and keep innovating.

2. Teach Open Source mentality, teach students to be participants and contributors.
Future teachers need to learn to share their ideas learn from others and whenever possible move away from canned purchased curricula.

3. Teach flexibility- plan B. One of our panelists said: "It is my 33rd year as a teacher and I still need flexibility. We have to learn that it is ok to change, ok to learn from our students."

4. Technology needs to be in the hands of kids
Technology is transformational when students use it, when students learn, act, create. Need I say more?

5. Focus on the Why. Learn to integrate with learning in mind!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Golden Rule of Professional Development

I got an email a few days ago announcing the potential for professional development in the areas that I have some expertise in. I actually produce research in these areas and so my first reaction was complete rejection. On second thought I re-examined the invite to see what the format was. It was the classic workshop where we will be given all the wisdom collected by beings with superior intellect and secret knowledge. Then we can turn around use the secret knowledge and transform our results.

This is the model of professional development that our own research would point to being highly ineffective. On second thought I realized this is how most teachers feel when PD from the outside is brought to the school or district. The Golden Rule should apply here as in all other social interactions.

As a professional I would like to be treated with respect to my expertise and knowledge I want to part of a change process not a subject of a program. The same could be easily argued is true of teachers. Instead of coming and talking at we can come and talk with and stay awhile. This of course is a much less profitable suggestion to professional developers and harder for schools to sustain. I have erred in the past but our work in the last few years supporting technology integration in school leaves no doubt- we have to abide by:

Develop other professionals like you would like to be developed. Not as a show but as a sustained discussion.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Grappling with Democracy and Technology in Teacher Ed

I have been trying out democratic practices in my Teacher Ed class for the past semester with the help of two researchers and my students. It has been a hard journey for all of us (well for me for sure). It feels very different, and the ways I think through instructional dilemmas are very different. At the heart of the change is redefining the relationship between instructor and students. The two components that I find most appropriate right now are participation and trust, and both have been supported by technology.

When I talk about participation, most students and teachers immediately conjure in their minds an orderly class and students raising their hand and waiting patiently to speak. This does happen at times in my class but that is not what I mean here. This semester I reworked my classroom interactions so we all would have as much time as possible to process together and think through instructional dilemmas. One of the best instruments for that was opening circle. In opening circle we raise a relevant question and everyone has to participate in the discussion at least once. At the beginning of the semester I initiated the discussion and we went around in a circle. At this point in the semester the topics are student generated and at the students request we stopped going around in a circle and instead they speak when they feel ready. This made for a much richer discussion and a sense of shared ownership. I think that this practice led to a very different relationship between me and my students that in interesting ways allowed me to discuss more things I care about, and say things I have never said to my students.

Trust is the second leg. The message I am trying to send my students is one of trust- in each other in me and in their students. An illustration of the ways trust can work is in group work. In our last class period we created annual plans for teaching reading and writing. It is a hard task and many of the groups were "frozen" for awhile. After spending their last few semesters focusing on the micro aspects of teaching, I suddenly asked them to zoom out and focus on macro structures. When trying something this new trust is a concern. My students have to trust me that they can do it (it was hard for them), they also had to trust that I will not grade them harshly. This is a really important point, in difficult/unfamiliar assignments students are looking for scaffolds and fear grading. Here, there was no grading to be done but students were still concerned with my evaluation of their efforts.

So where does TECHNOLOGY come in? Many people know that I integrate technology throughout my class. They have a sense that students in my class are always on their devices. They are not. In fact I would estimate that students are about 20% of the time on their devices- viewing documents, taking quizzes, creating presentations. Most of the time is spent on discussion, group interaction, and even some lecture (gasp) time. That said, technology has a significant part in what I am able to do in participation. I use discussion board to hear questions from all students. I can then have enough time to conduct opening circle and other participatory elements. Email and other communication have been used as a backchannel to discuss ideas and concerns in ways that I have never experienced in this class. It's been a challenge and I still wonder how my students see all of this.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Scholar 2.0

Yesterday at the American Educational Research Association meeting I went to a session on the role of social media in our work as scholar (check out #AERAcademicSM). The discussants were honest and open about what they did and did not do on social media. This prompted me to think about my social media habits and the choices I make as I manage multiple identities: professional, personal, institutional.

The participants admitted that with time there convergence between the different identities and the management forces you to choose the one major stream. I think the most common identity management were (1) non engagement (for me its tumblr) and (2) using facebook as a family and friends platform distinct from other more professional platforms.

Everyone admitted that social media tools were great for a variety of uses. The first and maybe most important was communicating with various audiences. Communication in social media was bi-directional in many ways not all of them robust (being liked is great but how much substance is behind it?). On the research side online communities can help recruit participants for studies and disseminate results back to them. Working with young children this is not something I do but I can see the potential especially when you are working with marginalized populations that are not easily accessible.

I have been struggling with these concepts myself as this blog has evolved. The blog has started as a blog that shares the results of the work on arts integration. With time the blog has morphed to conform my new interests: teacher education and technology integration. I found myself thinking, I want to write about... but it doesn't really fit the title or the original intent. On the other hand I do not want to manage multiple blogs either. At this point my blog it is just a reflection of my overall professional identity.

I am also attaching a map of my social media presence. Icons are related to the relative volume on the channels but I intend on adding layers with data in the near future. Mind you this does not include our parallel work in Chinese Social Media.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Six Ideas for EdCamp

So Enjoyed myself immensely at EdCampOmaha. At the same time my brain could not stop thinking about ways we could make it better. These are ideas and not critiques nor do I think I have a monopoly over these ideas in fact I will not be surprised if I learned that some have already been tried and may have even failed. I will not be able to sleep if I did not share them so here goes.
1. Newbie sessions. I noticed that most of the presenters/ session orgizers were veterans. There is nothing wrong with that but I wonder if allocating a room or a time slot that has to be reserved for first time session leaders will encourage others to dare and cross the threshold from attendee to session leader.
2. Requests online. Google employees have an online discussion page with voting to suggest topics for their weekly meetings. We can use a similar approach in which everyone interested in coming can suggest topics or vote on existing ones. This way people can have an idea of what attendees have on their mind.
3. Planning session. How about giving some morning time to plan joint sessions by people who have never before worked together and give those sessions their own time slot/ room. This can encourage new and wonderful sessions.
4. Going to scale- I would just love a district that does a professional development day like that. Ah to dream.
5. Un-poster session- most of the conferences I go to have poster sessions. These are some of my favorite since you can stop at one idea and have a long discussion. In an un-poster session paper and markers are provided and many presenters draw/ write a few key ideas from their practice or experience. Everyone else walks around and interacts.
6. EdCamp is right now mostly about technology (though @mrbalcom gamification session was decidedly low tech). Could we think of ways to bring in art, music or engineering?

Now that I shared I would like to repeat that I loved EdCamp and would come again no matter what the format. Keep it going...

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Five things I Learned at EdCampOmaha

I just came back from EdCampOmaha and I am still
 processing. EdCamp is an unconference without a program, fees or a hierarchy. You just show up, offer a session and join others. The experience was immersive, so much enthusiasm passion and powerful learning moments that you cannot but feel hopeful about education teachers and the future. Teachers came from as far as Minnesota and Oklahoma but also Iowa, Kansas, and Missouri.

The energy was undeniable and I wish every one of my students was there to experience it. So here are five things I learned or relearned:

1. Democracy in professional development works, to a degree. In EdCamp sessions are arranged on the fly and teachers choose by title. In essence anyone can create a session that anyone can attend. Participation is key. The afternoon crowd also showed that people vote with their feet and choose to come back in smaller numbers.

2. Gamification can be effective without technology. And easier to implement in some ways. Physical badges, leaderboards and other ideas can put a spin on tedious tasks. Thank you Nate Balcom. The session has renewed my interest in gamifying a portion of my classes.

3. It is fun to be a learner and just enjoy. Its been awhile since I've been to a PD conference just to learn and not be in charge, worry about details or prep another presentation. I've been doing so many TechEDGE conferences and presenting in others that I forgot the joy of just being open to new ideas.

4. Some people are so impacted by circumstance and professional isolation that they find it hard to open up to other possibilities. In a few of the conversations I had it became clear that professional isolation in some schools created an environment in which educators find it hard to innovate. They want to, and I guess they came to edcamp to get energized but the isolation was so severe that they actually sucked the energy out of discussions. My heart went out to them.

5. Teachers are focusing on student creation. Student creation is a literacy multiplier and some teachers have figured it out. The teachers I talked with (especially from Bellvue) were on fire saying: "I have been one to one iPads since January, it has transformed my teaching. I cannot go back!" Thank you Brent for an exceptional opportunity.

Great learning with great colleagues! I do have some ideas and concerns but those will come at another post.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Five ways to jump start your tech integration

Warning: this post was written in a moment of professional frustration and fully reflects the way I feel a good part of the time. So, be forewarned!

Lately I have had the sense that some of the groups around me are standing still. The official reason is that we are waiting for infrastructure/ resources to come. Then and only then will we be able to move forward on technology projects, literacy projects, after school ideas just about anything that would change the educational needle. Wait? Really? I would argue that we needed jlots of cars driving here and there cars before we actually invested in roads.

Some people might say (and rightfully so) aren't we already there? Don't we know we need roads? Yes we do. Everyone in education, k12 and higher, is talking about technology, devices, mobility, Open educational resources. Talking yes. But at my little corner of the world, it seems like talking into the wind.

A large district I work with is moving ahead with technology, what you ask? student management system will come first. Why? I am pretty sure that student learning was not a top priority. My campus at a top 50 public university still does not a universal device requirement and many of its faculty completely ignore the connected world our students live.

My graduate students wonder. What can schools, teachers do? I argue that all they can is DO. Don't wait for a campus or district wide policy change or infrastructure. Just do, infrastructure will follow behind trying to catch up. Does it make the going more difficult? Yes. It can get frustrating sometimes just downright discouraging. But the alternative is to fail our students and in my case my students future students impacts that will last a long time. Time to stop kicking the can down the road and just do. For me it all starts with people skills.

1. Be passionate- people may disagree with you but when you are passionate people accept it as a genuine effort and are more likely to rethink their position. If they do not at least they know exactly where you stand and are unlikely to stand in your way. This leads to everything else. To be truly passionate you will have to pour time and energy, you cannot be passionate about something 3 hours a week- commit.

2. Link with likeminded people- they may be everywhere, they may not in you field even, but they are out there looking for people to talk to. Find them it'll keep you going when you hit walls of resistance.

3. Find a sponsor- there is someone higher ranking than you in your organization that will give you some support as long as they risk very little. Find them and make them con-conspirators. When you have something to show their support will increase until the impact start reaching others. You want to be the teacher/ faculty that gets mentioned when people discuss innovation, passion, and creativity.

4. Communicate- write, blog, perform, present. Start with 3 people or two (I presented to 5 just). Its a great way to find likeminded people, and to convince those on the fence.

5. Find the ones who are on the fence- everywhere I go I find people on the fence, just waiting for someone to come and pull them into action. Be that person!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

EdTech and Gender in 4 Scenes

This post started out as a post about getting large systems to move forward with EdTech and notions of frontier. The more I thought about it the more my examples seemed to be about gender roles as much as about technology. I think this much less true in higher ed than k12 but still. You may disagree, even then the post might illuminate something.

1. All of my students have tablets (it is a requirement) and most have an iPad or iPad mini. In a conversation one of my students confided that her dad hates the iPad. I smiled and said: "let me guess, he loves tinkering and hates the fact that you do not need him to conduct maintenance and problem solve your computer problems." She paused, thought about it and admitted: "yep that's pretty much it".

2. In a work with a specific district the school technology guy refused to get iPads for the teachers. He was an old army guy (I can relate) used to the age where we could fix anything with pliers, a screwdriver and a few components he rebelled against the blackbox. His main defense was "how will we change the batteries once they start running out?" Once again it was an issue of control of a male "techie" over mostly female staff. By the way there was a lot less patronizing over the high school staff in the same school with many more male teachers.

3. Two weeks back I was in Western Nebraska participating in the ESU 13 MidWinter Conference. We had two great sessions with teachers (60 in one session and over 100 in the second). A few kindergarten teachers complained that they have yet to receive the iPads because the technology person at the district will not release the iPads until they take a class and a test. They were frustrated as was I. I've seen 3 year olds and cats manage the iPad effectively- a course?

4. A large district I work with bought i devices, but gave the elementary teachers (predominantly women) sets of predefined apps and no passwords. The devices were updated 1-2 times a year. Again, the same women we trust with 16-30 of our children (a woman's role) cannot be trusted with technology and access to a password or just the freedom to create their own.

Each one of these scenes on its own is just a tiny sliver of reality but taken together we start seeing a whole picture. I am not "blaming" anyone I just think that we have persisted with stereotypes and attitudes that go unexamined. Why do teachers need to pass a "test" or a "cours" to use a device meant to be used out of the box? Mainly because we want to "protect" the womenfolk from their own foley. Some of it is based on previous experience. Elementary teachers (again mostly but not exclusively women) disliked using computers that required constant tinkering and time wasting on just getting things to work. They needed machines that worked and for that they needed techies (mostly menfolk). Now with new devices that do not require support it is the techies that resist because these new devices make their role as gate keepers and winners of admiration less somehow.

Because as we all know the role of the tech experts is actually much greater than ever, security, network, wireless and privacy are all necessary, crucial to the operation of any school system. But that puts the techies away from the teacher and her gratitude. Teachers as a result developed a dislike of technology and its many obstacles. How many passwords will you try before you give up on that Youtube video?

Technology in it's modern transparency is part of literacy. Devices let us express ourselves and experience others in a multitude of ways that are crucial for raising this next generation- remembering that the kindergarteners of today will graduate college (or the open-badge factory) in 2030. As a result we cannot heap obstacles in their way we should be opening doors to seamless technologies and let everyone- EVERYONE- play.