Sunday, June 26, 2016

Writing Tech into Grants? You must read this first!

In the last week, I have been on a panel for a federal grant. I cannot and will not reveal details but I do want to share some advice. In simple terms, grant proposals are supposed to address a pressing need and suggest that there are enough planned supports that would make said action succeed.

The proposals I have been reading have done an admirable job convincing me of their capacity to do everything they said. Except integrate technology. So here are some general rules:

1. Someone needs to manage devices. If you aim to purchase student or even teacher devices, you must show that you have a system that can distribute, manage the devices, provide basic support, and maintain when needed.

2. Technology is not magic (on its own). If you buy new  technology teachers and students have to be educated about its use and supported through modeling, coaching and on-going Professional Development.

3. If technology is a major part of your grant make sure that you hire or show that you have leaders who are well versed in technology integration. In the grant proposals I have been reading, all project directors were content and school experts but nowhere did they show evidence that their professional developers knew much about technology integration.

4. Have a theory of action of why technology will make a difference. Just buying teacher devices, for example, will  NOT automatically improve student achievement. It may, but as the grant writer, you should make the connection obvious.

In short, please treat technology like you would every other aspect of the grant. Technology can be magic but ONLY if you have all the conditions to ensure success.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Are We Ready for Cyborg Ed?

Knee Replacement Vimeo
 I have been recovering from ACL surgery in the last two weeks. As I move (with difficulty) about, many passers-by notice my condition and share their own experiences. As a result, I am much more aware of the number of people who have had knee replacement surgery. The anecdotal information is informative but I was looking for a sense of the data on a US wide perspectives. Over a million operations of knee and hip replacements are conducted annually according to the CDC. If I add pacemakers, stents, and even selective plastic surgery the trend is clear. We are becoming what science fiction used to call cyborgs, a combination of man and machine. It improves our quality of life and increases our life expectancy.

Prosthesis Legs
I believe that mobile technology in the form of phones and tablets is very similar. We always have it with us and we communicate with it constantly. In fact, we have come to rely on digital tools as a way to store information (phone numbers, email addresses, calendar etc) and provide access to information that in the past needed to be looked up laboriously or just memorized. The fact is that we are becoming cyborgs not just in limbs but in our mind as well. I know some lament this development, hey I am not completely sure I like it at times. But, like it or not, it is happening. The question is, what does it mean and are we ready for it?

In the book we are currently writing, called Mind, Models, and Mentors, my colleagues (Brooks and Sayood) and I had a long discussion about the way the internet changes education. If we are truly becoming cyborgs then education has to adjust. The key is moving away from knowledge accumulation and memorization to problem-solving and searching.

"While memory remains important, it is clear that technologies (language, writing system, printing press, Internet) change the demands on human memory. What was essential a thousand years ago in order to discuss a text effectively (memory of the whole text) is potentially less critical now when we can easily refer back to texts in paper or digitally. This does not mean that students are learning (memorizing) less; instead it means that they need to memorize a different subset of knowledge linked to more complex operations and procedures." (excerpt from Brooks, Sayood, and Trainin, 2016)

I do not believe that there should be no content knowledge. The most needed tasks and information should be available in long-term memory and immediately accessible. The rest... should be accessed through search. This change is guided by three interlocking facts:
1. We have devices that allow us to be constantly connected. They are fast and comprehensive.
2. Modern knowledge is too extensive for anyone to know it all in detail.
3. Knowledge is developing and updating at increasing speeds. It makes what your Dr. learned in med school 10 years ago is now potentially obsolete or even dangerous.

As a result, the skills that our students need are the skills of searching and evaluating the quality of information available, problem-solving and self-regulation of our memory to make sure that we remember is accurate and still relevant.

The term cyborg has always been a negative one. Reality around us shows that we are becoming cyborgs, mechanically, and cognitively. This is our evolution and we must make sure that we adjust our schools to fit reality.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

It's Time to Decide What's Next in Ed

Stanley Howe CC License
Over the last decade, education has developed a dual personality. One is the high stakes assessment driven culture that focuses on a narrow top-down curricular vision. It is a vestige of the 20th-century vision for education. It is organized, clear in its means and outcomes. The yardsticks are set, and we are all measured against them. After trying this way for the better part of 20 years, we can say a few things. The first is that the accountability put in place helped shine a light on educational inequities that were sometimes hidden by local reporting practices. Accountability done well showed clearly the "achievement gap" and its relationship to income and other inequalities. However, the neo-liberal expectation that exposing certain inequalities will lead to a self-correcting system through a system of rewards and punishments has failed miserably.

At the same time, educators have realized that the post-industrial economy presents new challenges and need a decidedly different educational output. The vision was not necessarily new (Dewey was right) but it was now deemed necessary not just by humanist but also by business leaders. The call for education that is creative, problem-solving oriented, and includes soft skills is now coming from all sides. The problem is that we cannot do both at the same time. At least not well.

We have tried for a while to claim that working on 21st skills will also lead to growth in test scores a-la Dr. Seuss and Jack Prelutsky (Hooray for Diffendoofer Day!). The linear nature of tests defies this logic. From an effort perspective, you get more "bang for your buck" (the buck here is time) if you focus only on tested skills than if you work on a complex wide array of outcomes many of them long term. My mentor Lee Swanson used to call it confusing the independent and dependent variables. In this case, limited measurement gives you a false sense of impact.

What I see in the field are schools trying to satisfy both personalities. Let's score high on the test with a narrow curricular vision AND be creative. The reality is that our days are too short, and both teachers and students find it very hard to pivot from a structured almost canned curriculum to creativity and soft skills and then back again.

The question is how to combine the advantages of the accountability era, namely accountability that shines a light on inequities, with 21st-century curricular goals. The answer is simple. Technology. Technology allows us to record everything students do. The need for a narrow window of time in which all students are measured on a narrow set of skills can be replaced by a flexible system that records everything that students do and tags their growing abilities. My personal work with Actively Learn is an example of how this can be achieved. But for that to work, we need to put our attention to making sure that we have the right personality.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Notes from the Field- Technology Literacy and Art- Monique's Story

Monique and I go back a long time. She is one of my favorite teachers and one of the most thoughtful educators I have had the pleasure to work with. We have not worked together for quite a while but recently she sent me a short note on her work integrating technology so here it is in her own words (I took the liberty to make small changes for clarity).

Monique writes:
Earlier in the year I tried "tech buddies" -- a sixth-grade class & teacher graciously came to my room and worked with my students (I observed) in doing a little research, and each made a field-to-table Po
wer Point-type thing.   That was great, but a one-and-done experience because I only had access to the iPads for 40 minutes every other week. And I still had those mandatory tests/quizzes to work into my scheduled time!

My latest push of myself to use technology and use it a little more creatively started with a mask-making art project and the desire to get EL (and all kids) talking more in a purposeful way. I remembered that D. (1st grade ArtsLINC teacher) had her students successfully use a program/app called Chatterpix.  I had been introduced to Chatterpix by colleagues in the Nebraska Writing Project years ago,  but it had been shelved in my subconscious until this spring.   I had been talking with D. about iPad management (cart versus a few) and wondered how she did it. She told me how she has a small set of them in her classroom all the time (I  think 6) and teaches the kids how to manage and help one another.  She encouraged me that 'for sure' my second graders could make the masks talk with Chatterpix!  Then she told me how she had them post their work in an online journal called Seesaw.  She was making a believer out of me, but... I still felt like I needed a hand, a push or a kick --so --
I invited her over to our school site to provide an afterschool PD to our volunteer "Art PLC" to instruct us just in Chatterpix and Seesaw. (it was not a course in everything iPad, just two things!) Everyone was invited.  We had half-dozen teachers and our principal even came!    She not only walked us through using the apps but talked realistically about classroom management with young primary students.  She also made me realize I could probably do it with a few iPads and not a cart-full.  

So I checked out one (1) iPad from our principal and started in!   They photographed their mask.  They wrote a script for the speech that their mask would give.  (I had given them directions /ideas based on all the pre-learning before the Mask Making.). Then they recorded it using Chatterpix and uploaded it to their individual spot in our Classroom Journal I had set up on Seesaw.  They accessed Seesaw by using a QR code created by Seesaw when I signed up.  I taught two kids and then they managed the rest of the class!   When it was recording time they gave me a signal, then I just said "quiet on the set" and my class was immediately silent!  (they knew their turn was coming!)
The way Seesaw is set up, the teacher has to approve everything before it's posted, so that came after school.  Then -- my entry into integrating Art, Writing, Speaking, and Technology was successful!!

Seesaw also lets you invite parents to view just their child's portion of our class journal, so I did that and have several parents following their student's work now!  

Beyond this original project, I had kids use just Seesaw to take photos of their art and read what they wrote using the audio recording portion several times.  I video captured them reciting a poem of their choice.  They've given oral bi-weekly book recommendations (written first like a book report) all year, so I had them take a photo of their writing and accompanying art and audio-recorded their "speech."  In all cases, they could re-do if they reviewed-listened and weren't pleased.  

Student Masks (photo by Monique)
In the middle of our second "project", I invited the principal to come and see it in action-- with the kids doing it ALL!   I wanted to thank him for finding an iPad for me (my kids) to use and have available all day, every day.  He was as jazzed as I was.  He also saw that I was able to continue with MY passion of art and literacy integration (speaking, listening, reading, writing) and add technology and parent communication.     Within a few weeks, he asked if he could bring a group of principals into my room to see it in action.   THEN a week later he brought by a School Board member!   It was very affirming.   And even an old teacher like me can do it!
So next year, I'll be starting with Seesaw in the Fall to document & share most (if not all) of our ART & literacy (and social studies & science)  projects!    I'll still hang some on the classroom wall and in the office, but this will reach the parents much more quickly and is accessible to me in places other than my classroom!
Take care!