Sunday, May 31, 2009

Diigo group on the Iowa Core Curriculum

Russ Goerend has set up a Diigo group on the Iowa Core Curriculum, located here. This is a good way to share resources and thoughts about the Iowa Core. Halfway down the screen, you'll see an orange rectangle to click to join the group.

For those that haven't used Diigo before, it's a social bookmarking and annotation tool (an enhanced Delicious). Here's an overview.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Determining the Purpose Before Integrating Technology

As we mentioned yesterday, you must start with the purposes of your curriculum in mind before integrating technology. By "purposes", I mean the necessities that go way beyond the specific outcomes or benchmarks of a particular lesson. Think bigger picture: what are you trying to do to enhance learning and build the complete student? Or in the case of this discussion, what is your purpose for using technology?

Not all purposes are geared towards technology. Consider enhancing logic and reasoning. Or building self-worth. Could a lesson involving technology also help with those purposes? Yes. But those would be tangential benefits. And, could a purpose be reached without using technology? Again, yes.

Therefore, keep in mind the 12 purposes listed below are a list that make it easier to see where you would integrate technology into your curriculum. They are not an all-encompassing list of what is important in education, nor do they mandate using a computer to achieve them.

Writing Literacy - One of the 5 literacies listed in the Iowa Core, writing can be greatly enhanced via technology, as tech gives students the ability to write more, share with larger audiences, and receive more feedback during the process.

Visual Literacy - Another of the 5 literacies, it is important for educators to know how much today's student thinks and understands with visual images. Tools that provide visual images in conjunction with concepts help firm learning and build on student schemas.

Oral (and Aural) Communication - Two more of the literacies are speaking and listening. Much like written literacy, technology can enhance the way we speak and listen by giving us a multitude of different media and audiences for which to communicate. And, they give students a chance to dissect their own communication skills, which is near impossible to do in a live setting.

Collaboration - The Iowa Core emphasizes that 21st century teaching and learning is a collaborative process. Several tools give more sophisticated collaboration forums, allowing it to happen at a distance in both space and time, and giving everyone access to the same workspace. Try having 4 students write an essay with one piece of notebook paper and see how "collaborative" the process is.

Networking - Using the modern day learning theory of Connectivism, as Alan November mentions, a major part of teacher's work in the future will be networking them with people outside the classroom, school, community, and country. Technology gives teachers the tools to connect students with millions of other teachers and colleagues that are out there.

Data Collection and Interpretation - An absolutely critical purpose of education, students need to understand how to access data in different ways. Be it temperature probes, digital cameras, heart-rate monitors, spreadsheets, or more, through technology there are ways to access the variety of data out there, for each content area. And, giving students access to collection of data is a pre-requisite to having them interpret it.

Critical Research - Much like data, the process of finding and analyzing information is paramount in this age. Tools that help students filter the process of finding information, as well as knowledge of how to critically judge information are vital.

Formative Assessment - A key component of the Iowa Core, so many tools out there now can give a teacher a better glimpse of what the student has learned, what they are ready to learn, and what they are struggling with. Be it diagnostic assessments or tools as simple as Clickers or PollDaddy, the teacher can differentiate, remediate, or eliminate content and be much more systematic about their instruction.

Graphical Representations - Given the body of research that indicates humans think in graphical representations, there is a mismatch of best practice and instruction if a teacher does not use those in the classroom. This is a somewhat of a catch-all category, as the charting, mapping, and drawing tools out there actually have a variety of different uses. But it all starts with a teacher focusing on the purpose: I need to better utilize graphical representations in my classroom.

Presentation - Don't let the name fool you, this purpose is not just about Power Point. Rather, it is the process of sharing one's learning with someone else. Which, makes this a category that includes technology you'd see in many other categories, be it an Inspiration chart, a word processed essay, or a spoken voicethread. Still, even if you ended with the same tool, the key is to know what your purpose is.

Organization - Probably the primary use of technology among adults is to help organize our lives. Why is it a forgotten purpose in education? When given a project to do, students need to find ways of organizing the task to make it do-able. And more and more, there are a variety of tools that can help them with that process.

Enhanced Opportunity to Learn - One important component of the Iowa Core that isn't discussed is the need to extend learning beyond the time and space confines of the classroom. Portal and content management technology allows learning to happen during study hall, lunchtime, or after hours.

I find this list makes sense to educators. They can look at this and agree that A) all of these things are valuable, B) all of these things are enhanced with technology, even if I don't currently know the tools, and C) all of these things have bearing in my class. I should be enhancing all of these. But at the very least, I can see 1-2 immediate ones that, with some direct focus and planning, will make my classroom more effective.

And, that's where we start. With understanding and agreement of this list. Once we say "I need to better graphical representations" and we find the specific lesson which is our greatest need, we'll find the best fit of technology to use. And, we won't waste a teacher's time learning how to blog if that isn't the best fit of technology. This is the way to conduct focus technology professional development in your school.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Technology Professional Development: Do This, Not This

Perhaps the quickest way to improve your professional development is a simple change in sequence.

Consider 3 attributes: 1) learning how to use the technology, or the tool, 2) finding your overall purpose in your unit, and 3) looking for the specific place in the curriculum where to integrate technology.

"Specific Place" would be the outcome, say learning about double-digit multiplication or the effects of the Civil War. The "Purpose" would be the broader aspects of the Iowa Core, such as enhancing written literacy or developing collaboration. Not all "purposes" would lend themselves to technology integration, but there are quite a few universal ones, applicable for every classroom, that do. We'll analyze those purposes tomorrow.

With those 3 attributes, most technology professional development follows this sequence:We start with "This is what a blog is", or "Here's how to operate the new Elmo we got". We probably make a mention of "a blog will help create collaboration" or "a blog is a 21st century way to develop writing skills", and then it is up to the teacher to look at their curricular objectives and "fit" the technology in.

Another typical sequence is:
where the deeper purpose drops out altogether. "Here's podcasting, now go use it in your classroom", without nay discussion as to why you'd use it.

No matter the sequence, whatever you start with (whatever is furthest left) will receive the most attention, and then it will diminish as you progress to the right. In other words, if it starts with the tool in the professional development sequence, it will be all about the tool in the classroom. And, that's not what you want.

Shifting the sequence puts the focus where it needs to be:Start by having the discussions about what we need to do more of, what we need to emphasize, in our classrooms. And, this will be different for different teachers, where in physical education there might be a need to analyze your personal fitness data, in social studies, it might be to utilize visual literacy for meaning.

Then, go to the curriculum. "I teach a unit on cultural awareness, and given that students are visual learners in today's world more and more, I need to incorporate better visual literacy elements during my unit." Find the specific places to target.

Then find the tool. Here's where the tech integrationist can come in and work 1:1 or 1:small group and help them find the tool that is specific to their curricular need.

There are tell-tale signs if you are doing this effectively or not. If you are saying comments like "How can you use blogging in your classroom?", you are starting with the tool. Your focus is on the tool.

Moreover, there should always be the option of "no technology" if the sequence is set up well. In the last sequence, after analyzing the overall purpose and the specific place in the curriculum, you might conclude that the best tool in this case is plain old paper and pencil, or maybe dramatic theater, or a kinesthetic activity. "No technology" is never an option with the poor sequences.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Teaching as Coaching - Find Your Passion

Nancy Lockett from AEA 267, as strong an advocate of performance assessment as there is, uses the analogy of teaching as coaching. When we teach, much like when we coach, we can only prepare ahead of time for the students chance to perform. When they perform, they are on their own. It is that way for a classroom come test, speech, or project; it is that way for their future.

So what makes a good teacher? One aspect rarely mentioned is passion. The realization that your time is limited, and the demanding that you will get your very best out of your students.

There are two video clips that I cannot watch without tearing up a bit. One is the "O Captain! My Captain!" scene from Dead Poet's Society. The other is a bit more obscure, one I've labeled the "Death Crawl" scene from a movie entitled Facing the Giants. It is a low budget movie which advocates spiritual renewal (it takes place at a parochial school).

A little background on the clip, the football team is struggling and expectations are low on the team. You can see the interaction between the coach and his underachieving star player, Brock. And most of all, you can see the passion. This teacher won't allow their students to fail.

Is there this type of passion in your classroom?

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Role of Media Specialists

I give you the following paradox, presented in advice given to a district going through budget cuts:

"What would be one of the first places we should look to cut from our staff?"

"The media specialist."

"Is there something wrong with the individual?"

"No, not at all!"

"So, a media specialist isn't critical for a school?"

"On the contrary, a media specialist is very critical!"

That dialogue doesn't seem to make any sense at first blush, but there is a lot of truth to that statement for many districts. The truth resides not in that somehow media specialists aren't important. It lies in the fact that the way schools are using media specialists is grossly inefficient.

Let's back up for a second. There has been quite a bit of debate around the blogosphere recently regarding the role of media specialists in 21st century schools. Most of the discussion is geared around how media specialists who are not adopting technology knowledge and specialty are becoming irrelevant to a school district.

Darren Draper sums it up by saying that "21st century library - technology = 15th century library (- all the monks)". The collection of a bunch of print books is not crucial to a school now, and Draper (as well as several commentors) argues that if your media specialist is not a specialist in technology, they serve no purpose. That statement is beginning to look like a harsh reality, as the more I talk to administrators who are hiring, technology expertise is now tops on their list.

But, even a harsher stand would be to say libraries themselves should be eliminated. Doug Johnson addresses the question of what purpose do libraries serve in our schools, as some critics see that information is often a click away on the internet. Wouldn't a couple of computer labs serve the school better than the shelves of occasionaly perused books?

I certainly have my own thoughts on these two debates, as I can't imagine a learning environment without a hub of information discovery like a library, but I equally could not justify having a media specialist that was not a building leader in technology. However, I feel there is a debate that is missing from all of this. One where, even if a media specialist is savvy with technology, they still might not be a crucial asset to a school.

The question that's missing is whether a district regards the media specialist as a "resource" or a "curriculum supervisor". If it is only as a resource (and sadly, I would say that's the way it is in a majority of Iowa's schools), that resource can be reproduced in many different ways that doesn't require the cost burden of a paid position.

But, it shouldn't be that way. Instead of "helping students find books" and "helping teachers find websites", the media specialist should be developing the comprehensive media literacy (and in many smaller districts, the infotech literacy) curriculum. They should be a curricular leader, looking at the big picture of student achievement in media literacy. They should be looking at "what gets taught where" within the scope and sequence, overseeing building-wide professional development around media literacy, and supervising the assessment of the curriculum to determine if what they are doing is working. They should be the driving force behind cross-curricular units that meld media with core content, team-teaching during key lessons.

I would also argue that the media specialist should be a key figure on the schoolwide reading committee, doing those above tasks with reading literacy in addition to media literacy. If a media specialist is more concerned with what a student is reading than they are how well they are reading, then we're missing the boat.

Now, none of this is to say it is the media specialist's fault if they aren't in a position of leadership. There are many factors that have played into the setup of media specialist as resource only, and many of those are beyond the specialist's control. But regardless, the curriculum supervising tasks are often then left to teachers, which ties down their time to do other things. When that happens, much like technology integration, media literacy results in an add-on program, not an integrated one.

That's not the way it should be. But if it is, I can see why schools cut specialist positions at the building and go through the charade of assigning one specialist for all the media centers in a district.

Friday, May 22, 2009

5 Characteristics of Effective Instruction

In addition to the 5 content areas in the Iowa Core, the Iowa Department of Education has identified 5 characteristics of effective instruction, or in other words, "what good teaching looks like." So not only will Iowa's high schools develop implementation plans for the content next year, they will also conduct a self-study to determine which characteristics need attention and put forward a professional development plan to improve in that area(s).

From the DE, here are the descriptions of the 5 characteristics:

Teaching for Understanding is leading students (to engage in a variety of thought-provoking activities such as explaining, finding evidence in examples, generalizing, connecting, applying, making analogies, and representing the topic in new ways. Teachers assist students in making connections between prior and new knowledge to develop deep conceptual and procedural knowledge. Teachers who teach for understanding 1) make learning a long-term, thinking-centered process, 2) provide for rich ongoing assessment, 3) support learning with powerful representations, 4) pay heed to developmental factors, 5) induct students into the discipline, and 6) teach for transfer.

Formative assessment is a process used by teachers and students as part of instruction that provides feedback to adjust ongoing teaching and learning to improve students’ achievement of core content. As assessment FOR learning, formative assessment practices provide students with clear learning targets, examples and models of strong and weak work, regular descriptive feedback, and the ability to self-assess, track learning, and set goals. (Adapted from Council of
Chief State School Officers, FAST SCASS).

A rigorous curriculum is one that is complex, provocative, and personally or emotionally challenging. A relevant curriculum requires students to use knowledge to solve complex, real-world problems, and to create works to use in real world situations. Rigor and relevance is represented by challenging content that is significant to a topic, includes authentic work, and the application of knowledge and skills to complex problems. It also entails the use of prior knowledge, the development of in-depth understanding, and the ability to develop and express ideas and findings through elaborated communication. The content is not just interesting to students, but involves particular intellectual challenges. When students successfully meet these challenges, their new learning will have meaning and value in contexts outside of the classroom.

Teaching for Learner Differences requires teachers to understand essential concepts and skills, to identify the contributing factors affecting the desired outcome, and to utilize a variety of methods to teach and reinforce the desired concepts and skills. It includes providing access to the general education curriculum for all students. Teaching for Learner Differences can best be accomplished by engaging in a process which has teachers using student and instructional assessment data to make sound instructional decisions to meet the needs of individual students.

In Student-centered Classrooms, students construct their own knowledge based on experiential, holistic, authentic, and challenging experiences. Teachers take the skills, knowledge, and concepts that the curriculum requires and connect them to students’ experiences, interests, and environment. They provide opportunities for students to communicate their understandings, reasoning, solutions, and connections. Teachers encourage students to reflect on their own
thinking and learning. Curriculum and assessments are centered on meaningful performances in real-world contexts. Classroom learning experiences are intentionally designed for collaboration.

One of the tasks of the Department of Education's Iowa Core lead team, as well as its network of trainers for each AEA, is to develop training on these 5 characteristics, starting in the 2010-2011 school year for schools. One exciting aspect of this is both the DE's and the AEA's desire to make some of that training available in a range of flexible online formats, such as ongoing online courses, online communities, and self-paced online modules.

What's important to note is that, while these 5 characteristics are essential to a successful school, they are not necessarily mutually exclusive of each other. There will be elements of each that overlap. Even more important, they don't necessarily replace the initiatives that Iowa schools are already working on. An initiative like Authentic Intellectual Work, for example, makes heavy use of a rigorous/relevant curriculum, formative assessment, and a student-centered classroom, while including elements from the other two as well. Therefore, schools will need to look for the match in what they are currently doing with the 5 characteristics, and then be cognizant of what they are not addressing from each.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Authentic Audiences for Visual Arts

One of the most unfair struggles I see in education is the struggle that visual arts teachers have to show relevance of their curriculum. Not that they should have a struggle, mind you; both creativity and visual literacy are essential skills for today's learner, and its hard to find a subject area that better directs both. But as the art teachers I've known in past districts will attest, visual art is marginalized for not being "core content", seen as a luxury, and one of the easiest targets for program cuts in poor budgets.

Unfortunately, I don't see the Iowa Core helping this in any way. Progressive schools should see that "viewing" is now one of the 5 literacies, and that the visual arts classroom is the perfect place to delve deep into that content. Moreover, visual arts teachers should be schoolwide leaders at how to infuse creativity across the curriculum, and how to ensure that the school graduates creative students.

Visual arts, I feel has it even harder than even drama, vocal music, or band music. Those three, while still facing the "why do students need that?" criticism, have the advantage of concerts and plays. Productions not only make fierce advocates from arts supporters, but also a general positive feeling from an otherwise disinterested community member. At Grinnell, we had many in the community who would oppose any cuts whatsoever to music and drama because they enjoyed tremendously the musical and the spring concerts.

It's this notion of an authentic audience that is tremendously essential for the arts, and visual arts teachers have learned this as well. Schools are getting better (and more prominent) display cases. Teachers are using websites such as Flickr or Artsonia to give their students a bigger audience. They are connecting with local artists, community colleges, the chamber of commerce, any community group they can to try to get their students' work displayed.

And note to principals, your art teachers are good at this. Real good. An example of an art teacher I knew, who was working with her students on graphical design. The class was creating visual brochures, using both Photoshop as well as (at the time) Microsoft Word (they have since upgraded to InDesign). And, she was talented at getting the students to learn the finer details of graphical design.

Then came the hubbub of the Rigor/Relevance quadrant, and not just the "higher-order thinking" axis, but also the relevance axis, which moves from knowledge of just "art for art sake" to "how art applies in math and science" to "how can I use my art skills to handle this task I've never seen before".
The teacher was inspired; this gave her a new look on her assignment. She visited with the local chamber of commerce, who connected her with several small businesses in town that had advertising "divisions" (or a person who spent some time out of their day on this). Then, she contacted those businesses, who in return, provided a one-page summary of a brochure that they would like to see... no images or specifics like "needs to have a blue banner", but rather interpretive, like "needs to show we're part of the community", or "that we're trustworthy".

The students then selected which tasks they would work on, and the teacher worked with the student to do their best, incorporating the elements of art they had discussed prior, and helping them think meta-cognitively about how they would complete this task.

What was best, of course, was that the businesses came in and gave the students feedback on what they liked about their work. These were authentic audiences that students were working with. They took much more care and pride in their work. And when one business was so impressed that they paid the student $500 to use that brochure with the logo the student developed, you can imagine the students' attitude towards their own art skills. They were very earnest in wanting to develop them, immediately.

That's not to say that all visual arts teachers are embracing authentic audiences in this way, but it has my experience that that group of teachers as a whole is ahead of the curve. Maybe because they have to, or maybe because of professional push. But the lesson is that this type of gathering authentic audiences for students doesn't have to stop at the arts classroom door. It can go to the math classroom as well. And principals would be wise to tap into the expertise of arts teachers in this regard.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Burning Questions a School Board Has About 1:1

I've had the opportunity to visit with a handful of board members from several school districts thinking about going to a 1:1 environment. Very similar questions that they have. Here's the list of what I've experienced, often in the order they come:

  • Let me see it work
  • How do we pay for it?
  • Why do we need 1:1 instead of just "a lot of computers"?
  • What type of additional staffing would we need?
  • What is the pros and cons of the different equipment out there (Macs, Windows, Netbooks, etc.)?
  • Show me what some lessons would look like for my own kids
  • How do we insure the computers?
  • How do we keep kids safe (even away from school)?
  • What type of training are our teachers going to need to use this effectively?
  • What free software is out there?
  • Network me with other districts doing this so that I can learn what they would have done differently

As a potential 1:1 school, this is where the lead team needs to be planning, not just for the sake of "getting it past the board", but because these are the questions the community will have. Some are obvious. But there are several things that stand out to me. They want to see it in action, and if they see it, they become believers (especially if it is with their own children). So, administrators that take board members with them to visits of other 1:1 districts are much more successful of moving forward from their own initiative.

Insurance is a critical step to cover, as are policies (which doesn't get asked about as much). But very poignant, each member I talked to asked the safety question. In fact, it was a potential deal-breaker for one district. There had to be a way to filter the internet, even at home, on the school computers. Luckily for the district, the computers were set up with two internet settings, one that worked in school, and one that worked outside of school with a proxy setting, which routed all internet requests through the school's filter before going out to the internet.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Tony Wagner in the Des Moines Register

Yesterday's Des Moines Register featured an interesting Q&A with Tony Wagner, co-director of the Change in Leadership Group at the Harvard School of Education. The piece focused on Wagner's book The Global Achievement Gap, and looked at some of his thoughts on key issues revolving around the Iowa Core Curriculum.

A quick synopsis of the book: Wagner like many others feel American schools are fundamentally set up wrong, not like they should be in the 21st century. He identifies what he refers to as '7 survival skills' that are the critical elements for student. Those are-

  • Critical thinking/Problem solving
  • Collaboration (and leading with influence)
  • Adaptability and Agility
  • Initiative and Entrepreneurship
  • Effective Communication (both oral and written)
  • Gathering and Analyzing Information
  • Curiosity and Imagination

This list, of course, looks to identify the famous 21st century skills, and you'll see a lot of overlap with lists by Angela Maiers, Stephen Downes, and the Partnership for the 21st Century Skills. He also weighs in on the core-content vs. 21st century skills debate to say that content should be secondary. In the article, Wagner mentions:

We have been focused on state standards. The problem comes with the definition of standards. What we have done is create content standards. The thinking is if students master more content, they will be better prepared for college and careers. That is fallacy.

Mastering more content doesn't equate to more competency. The research is very clear that breadth of scitentific exposure in high school does not prepare students for college. Only when you go into content in some depth do you begin to understand conceptually what science is.

What's interesting is Wagner doesn't necessarily see this to be in conflict with the Iowa Core, which identifies a core content. Partly, this is because the Iowa Core includes "21st century skills" as one of its subsets (along math, literacy, science, and social studies). But also because of the focus on instruction, not just content, that the Iowa Core has, which will get students to those 7 survival skills.

The most salient point from the article in my opinion is that we need assessments which measure those 7 items. Wagner says it thusly, "What gets tested gets taught". And since we test on lower-level comprehension and inferential type questions, that's what we end up teaching in class.

Wagner combats the notion that these skills are too fuzzy to assess. He points to the PISA and the Collegiate Learning Assessment as two assessments that do this. In this, he echoes what other local advocates for 21st century teaching and learning have mentioned, including Scott McLeod.

The article is definitely worth a read if you haven't checked it out already. In addition to discussing the necessity of 21st century skills over core content, Wagner has some discussion-starting thoughts on teacher-preparation programs, teacher evaluation, teacher salaries, and the Obama administration.

Wagner will be coming to Iowa to speak at the Polk County Convention Complex on September 16, sponsored by School Administrators of Iowa.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

More on coaching

I had mentioned the importance of the Iowa Professional Development Model with technology integration. Specifically, the need for coaching in between theory, training, implementation, and feedback.

Dr. Kevin Washburn has an excellent article on the importance of coaching worth a read, where he identifies it as the missing piece of the puzzle. In it, he articulates the reprocessing and focusing skills that people need to maximize their potential as teachers.

Because we can never have enough basketball coaching analogies, I'll share one of my favorite points in his passage:

A coach helps transform thinking to reality. Let’s move to the gym for a moment. Imagine a basketball coach who meets with the team once at the beginning of the season for a day-long seminar held in the school library. After that, the players are on their own to achieve excellence throughout the season. How successful would this approach be? Not very. The team needs the coach nearby to help them implement the vision and ideas on the court. (Even professional basketball teams need coaches.) Similarly, the coach in the classroom helps the teacher experience success with a new initiative.

Definitely worth a read!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Marzano on Homework

Robert Marzano is a firm advocate for the efficacy of homework in school. In chapter 3 of his book The Art & Science of Teaching, he cites several research studies that have determine homework to be one of the most effective practices for teaching.

There are some interesting criticisms of that research, as it is often difficult to determine whether "homework" means "homework assigned" or "homework completed", as well as the longitudinal length (is this an ongoing assignment stretched over many days like Grant Wiggins would suggest is most effective) and the nature of homework (is it reading? worksheets? exercises? high-order? low-order?)

Still, the research suggest that there is a positive correlation between homework and achievement at the secondary grades (0.25), but a very slight negative correlation at the elementary grades (-0.04). And, you can see that this troubles Marzano and other researchers, as they followed it up with additional studies to nuance what homework means.

Actually, Marzano and I are not that far apart on homework, even though I'm more adamant about major changes in homework policies for elementary grades and the types of homework given to secondary. What is very poignant are his list of conclusions he draws about homework.

  • Homework should be structured to ensure high completion. If it's too long or difficult for students to finish, what's the point?
  • While there's no magic amount, there is a law of diminishing returns with the amount of homework. Adding more will not result in more achievement. It should be limited.
  • It needs to have a well-articulated legitimate purpose. As he states, "homework assigned for punishment or to demonstrate to the public that a school is a serious place of study is not very defensible".
  • In the same vein, it should relate directly to learning goals.
  • It should be designed so students can do it on their own. (Which reinforces the idea that homework is not for learning, it is for practice).
  • This means parents shouldn't be required to do the homework for their kids. The school should have an articulated policy of parents' relationship to homework. Involved, yes. Responsible for, no.

Monday, May 11, 2009

California Initiates Digital-Textbook Drive

Governor Schwarzenegger has asked his state director of education to create digital textbooks for math and science, available by fall. If successful, the California digital textbook could open up millions of dollars statewide that districts would have otherwise spent on paper textbooks, money that can be spent on extra teachers, training, and equipment.

More importantly, digital textbooks are an impetus for a digital classroom, with every student having a computer. That digital information can not only be accessed easier than a book with digital search capabilities, but it can stay current, allow for several approaches in teaching without creating more clutter, and best of all, gives students content they can more easily use in their own work.

While the official website doesn't allude to any, there is some pushback from more than just textbook companies. Some teachers are skeptical of the rigor that these materials might have, as well as the cohesiveness and the ability to address their state standards. Such skepticism is to be expected, as traditional textbooks are a comfort for some teachers. Unfortunately, any criticism distributed here can equally apply to textbook companies. Perhaps the chief concern for California is how will they get students the computerized access, which are necessary for the textbooks to work?

Developing a digital textbook alternative is exactly where Iowa should be looking. It would be excellent to accompany rolling out the Iowa Core--a digital textbook that articulates how it addresses the Core's critical concepts. Moreover, it would be more than lipservice to how serious the state is about adopting "21st century education". And, it could be an economic savior to many districts feeling the crunch... that is, if they have the computers for it.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Wikis on the way out?

Interesting conversation after the internal training on wikis I conducted this week. One faculty member in the agency's lunchroom mentioned she liked the possibilities working with wikis provided and thought we should do the training for another group of faculty members next. This drew a reaction from one of the would-be-affected faculty members, who said "Wikis? Those are on the way out."

This intrigued me, primarily because I think there is a kernel of truth in what she said. Not that the tool itself is not useful anymore. But there are other factors that draw this reaction from people.

1. Google Docs has had much more appeal than wikis in the groups that I have trained them for both (probably about a 75%-25% split). Even though their word processing capabilities are very similar--and that's what those unfamiliar with both are looking at, as opposed to spreadsheet or presentation capabilities--Google Docs comes with more apparent structure to it. Wiki allows people to build their own. And they don't want to build their own. Plus, there is the moniker Google that gets people excited.

2. I find for people who aren't natural play-around-and-figure-it-out folk, which is a large portion of people, they have had bad experiences with a wiki. Mainly someone has created a wiki and added them as a collaborator, and not knowing what to look for or how to operate the program, they get discouraged by it.

3. We often make the mistake that just because wikis are easy to make, that people will a) come to it, and b) contribute to it. Neither are the case. If we build it, they won't necessarily come. Or contribute. Many people are not yet "jump in and contribute blindly" people when they aren't part of the community. And wikis do not scream "come look at me" like other slick-looking websites out there.

At Heartland, I know that we have a wiki on the Iowa Core and 21st Century Skills. And a Web 2.0 wiki. And an iPod in the classroom wiki. And a cell phone in the classroom wiki. And a gaming in the classroom wiki. And a technology in science wiki. And a technology in social studies wiki. And a training wiki. Or two. And that's missing some, and in addition to databases in Google Docs and other places.

I think all the content on those wikis is valuable and well-gathered, but its easy to see that people are becoming over-wikified. The reality is that building a wiki is easy for someone to create the content. But getting it to the point where people regularly visit and freely contribute is a high art that isn't often seen.

4. In the previous case, all those wikis were "information dissemination" varieties. Where I have seen wikis be more effective is as a defined small group's forum for collaboration. We use a wiki for our statewide online council, mainly for posting agenda notes and giving updates on the different projects we are working on. The members of the committee know that the wiki is where we will share this information, and even though I wouldn't say anybody in particular is thrilled about visiting the wiki, it does its job.

This is an important distinction I've discovered that I need to mention during wiki trainings. It has great potential as a collaborative tool. But in reality, how you use it will determine your satisfaction with it. If you use it as the collaborative meeting place for a set group of people, your likelihood for success goes up. If you use it as information dissemination, know up front you will have to spend a good effort marketing the wiki and ensuring the community that they can contribute. In this case, wikis are not "quick".

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The 21st Century Student

Bill Ferriter at the Tempered Radical has a vignette on the "Elusive 21st Century Student", describing a student that, given a topic like all other students, still pushes himself past the regular curriculum and chooses for himself a venue that's both challenging and authentic. A good illustration of the student we seek to develop in our classrooms.

However, there is an even better nugget in Gilbert Halcrow's comment for the post:

Are not these attributes more to do with an individuals desire to understand, communicate and to collectively solve problems? Hasn’t the problem really been that the ‘production line model’ of education did not serve those strong and natural desires in young people?

Technology is like the archaeologist’s tools (sometimes sable brush, sometime dynamite) removing the dirt to rediscover an ancient masterpiece.

Any discussion about the 21st Learner should focused on what the masterpiece might look like; rather than the tools used to clean the centuries away.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Final Cut Pro and Independent Film Making

Last week, I got to use Apple's Final Cut Pro for the first time in my life. As a former publications teacher who has taught through every iteration of iMovie since its inception, it was as though I had just seen the inception of the automobile and instantly understood how inadequate my horse and buggy were.

Final Cut Pro and its ability to do everything of professional quality, be it wireframe animation, multi-camera editing, or advanced color and sound correction, is very awe inspiring. It is a professional tool, the tool of choice for Dreamworks, the USA network, and probably over half of the rest of Hollywood.

The problem is, it is too good. It is so powerful that it is too powerful for education. Now, there are a few schools in the Heartland area that use it, and there are some more considering using it, but that is an outer elective, way on the periphery of the Iowa Core.

Filmmaking in general draws the ire of Core Knowledge proponents as something that uselessly detracts from learning content. I disagree of course; filmmaking allows for an artful blending of dialogue, composition, and drama into something meaningful. It is the modern-day narration, as our society doesn't sit still for good old fashion campfire stories or novels anymore. It is one of the most intensive forms of creation that students can partake in.

But, it does take time. A lot of time. Requiring a lot of patience and a lot of background knowledge about drama, cinematography, photo composition, and more. iMovie, with its premade templates and simplified structure, cuts through a lot of that, getting students from the content knowledge to the finished product quicker. Unfortunately, the type of specified knowledge Final Cut Pro requires extra time for is not of a greater use. They are only skills a relative few professionals at movie studios and TV stations need, and those skills will be taught in college anyways. The time to learn Final Cut Pro, while undeniably fascinating, is a waste.

Or, so I thought. That thought just got blown out of the water after I saw the independent fan film The Hunt For Gollum. The 34-minute film tells a parallel story to the Lord of the Rings, coming from the appendix material. It features about 150 amateur actors with unbelievable costuming, scenery, musical score, special effects, and film editing. The production is beyond excellent for an amateru production. And it exists only because a fan wanted it to.

With the advent of Youtube (which has produced more content in 6 months than ABC, CBS, and NBC have in the last 60 years), there is a built-in audience for amateur filmmakers. And if you are good... really good, there is now an upper level of online films made by amateurs. With Final Cut Pro, every person has the tools... it only takes the know-how.

The revelation to me is that filmmaking, something I loved as a teacher but always had a hard time justifying, becomes more justified, just as singing in choir. We don't have students sing in choir because we are aiming all choir members to become recording artists. We do so because it is artful, creative, and leads to free-time exploration. My church has several such artists who share their gifts each Sunday, while maintaining work as accountants and nurses during the week.

Filmmaking, through the advent of technology, now allows people to explore as well. It sparks from their passion. Just like the Lord of the Ring fans who created this, there are hundreds of other stories with devoted fans who can make fan movies, giving their life passion.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Five Frequent Problems with Technology Professional Development

We wrapped up our curriculum network's 08-09 school year on Friday. One of the aims of the curriculum network this year was to introduce different web 2.0 tools to the curriculum directors for awareness. So, we showcased blogging, Delicious, Google Docs, Moodle, podcasting, wikis, Skype, RSS, and Twitter... one for each month, 30-minutes a time.

Of course, if the aim is only awareness, that is fine. If the aim is to make a difference in schools, or to lead to deep understanding, this is not best practice. And, this unfortunately is what happens in schools sometimes, when they are focusing on technology integration.

So, perhaps the best thing we did all year was our "putting it all together" framework.
As you can see, this framework helps put the tools in the context of a professional development plan. We talked about two concepts during the year, PLNs and the Digital Curriculum, and the framework helps separate the two.

But what was most important was the 5 common pitfalls that schools do when implementing technology professional development.

1. Not focusing (and finding clarity) on the white. Its not about the tool, its about the end outcome. And if districts don't start with the outcome and the common pedagogy (the white sections above), technology integration won't make a difference in your school.

2. Lacking SMART outcomes. SMART goals are ones that are specific, measurable, attainable, results-based, and time-bound. Having teachers learn about blogging is not a smart goal. Even having them use blogging in the classroom is not a smart goal. The outcome needs to be a transformation in what truly matters, student achievement. And too often, technology professional development is not done to achieve a specific, measurable result in student achievement to measure its efficacy.

3. Overdoing the gray. Much like I said above, if we fall in the trap of trying to do all the tools for all the teachers, nothing will be done. Norwalk, with all its focus on technology integration, focuses on one tool... Moodle. And, that's enough.

4. Not moving past modeling. When it comes to the actual steps of the plan, the Iowa Professional Development Model, built on the work of Joyce and Showers, has to be followed. And too often, technology professional development is only modeling. Teachers are expected to practice the technology on their own instead of during professional development time, and with other responsibilities, that becomes lost.

Not only does the faculty need to start with the overall knowledge first (in this case, answer the question "how is teaching and learning different in the 21st century?"), and follow up modeling with practice, but also build in time for administration to observe the practice, and for teachers to get and give feedback on how it is working.

Joyce & Showers describe this as the importance of coaching, and while it has big implications in all professional development, it is sorely underutilized in technology. How well is a teacher "coached" through using a new tool? Aren't they usually shown the tool and expected to use it (or not)? And, this will lead to better instruction?
5. Forgetting about the black. Of course, I remind our schools to not forget, they aren't alone. We can help our schools understand this process, ask good questions to seek clarity, set good outcomes, and put in place quality steps. But really, the biggest problem is schools not seeking actual data to show whether technology integration is effective.

And, this is the greatest de-legitimization to technology professional development out there. If we go through the motions and put time and effort into the practice, but then we have no data to show whether it is truly working or not, then we are fooling ourselves. We have to show that it works, or we have to stop doing it. And yes, the "I can feel the difference technology makes in my class" anecdotal data are nice, but that doesn't cut it; giving students candy will change the engagement level in your room, but it won't have an affect on student achievement.

But, it is equally foolish to only use ITBS data, when your desired outcome is not measured by that, such as a growth in creativity, collaboration, authentic learning, problem-solving, and relevance. We have to gather better data, through good walkthrough observations, student surveys and feedback, better performance assessment and rubrics.

Packaging these 5 common pitfalls together with the framework made a lot of sense to people. And as I joked with them, after a year of me showing them tool after tool, they probably thought it was about time!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Twitter at the Heartland Curriculum Network

From 10:30-11:30 at today's meeting of the Heartland Curriculum Network, I'll be working with 30+ curriculum directors from Iowa school districts looking at using Twitter. An overview of what what Twitter offers:

My after-20-days-of-using-it reaction to Twitter
School public relations twittering
Twittering in the classroom
The bigger picture: a PLN

Be sure to say hello to us by giving a tweet to me (@eabbey)!