Thursday, December 29, 2011

All District EdTech Day

While we've done lots of professional development over the past couple of years on integrating technology in curriculum, we are just so excited about our upcoming all-district educational technology professional development day! It's the first time since I've been here that we've brought teachers from all over the district together to work with technology together. From 8:00 to 4:00 at the high school on January 4, 2012, we will be working with all of our district teachers to both learn more about various educational technologies for use by students in the classroom, but also to work collaboratively with other teachers and AEA experts on educational technology projects that will be implemented in classrooms across the district this spring.


Almost all of our teachers from all over the district are doing very creative things with technology for learning in their classrooms. The next step then is to expand the educational technology knowledge of all our teachers by giving them the opportunity to work together and learn from one another. Those who use Skype can help others use Skype. Those who use their SMARTBoards as student centers in their classroom can show others what that looks like. Those with classroom websites that students access regularly will help others create or expand their own classroom websites. Some will create classroom projects based on curriculum that will have students creating websites or presentations of various kinds themselves.


Take a look at the schedule:

Educational Technology Professional Development January 4 Schedule

While teachers may choose to work on their classroom websites or blogs, or decide to create a Moodle online component to their curriculum, or learn to use the SMARTBoard better, the ultimate focus of the professional development is how to help students use technology to learn. It's easy to use technology tools to teach like we've always taught. It takes a lot more time and effort to put the technologies in the hands of the students and let them become co-directors of their learning. We have spent a great deal of time and money on equipping the district with lots of different technologies for student use, and we want to give teachers more skills and knowledge to use technologies with students in ways they maybe never even thought about before.

Thanks so much to our teachers and AEA representatives who have agreed to facilitate this day of learning!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Teachers helping teachers

I've always maintained that a technology department can provide equipment, and they can provide educational technology professional development. However, when it comes right down to it, only teachers can take the ball and run when it comes to becoming comfortable with using technology in the classroom day to day.

I am so happy that a group of teachers chose to work together to get their classroom web sites in order last summer. I am so happy that a current group of teachers is working together after school hours to get their classroom blogs current and useful to their students and families. I am so happy technology teachers are collaborating with content teachers to make sure students are learning the tech skills they need to use technology for content learning.

We have an all district educational technology professional development day coming up in January, and although we have a couple of outside experts coming in to help us, for which we are very thankful, the most important people of all are those teachers in the district who have agreed to go the extra mile and to do the extra work to share their educational technology expertise with their peers. I have never asked for help from a teacher when I have not either received a positive response or a referrel to someone else who could be of more help. Never.

It's not easy to find the time to use new technologies, but our teachers are dedicated to going the extra mile. I am so proud of our teachers!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

As a people we have a tendency to focus on things that don't measure up or things that we don't have. Today I want us to be mindful of the things we have to be thankful for:

  1. Our students: Unique individuals with hopes and dreams and plans for the future that we as an educational institution can assist on that journey.
  2. Our staff: Dedicated professionals who are willing to do whatever it takes to help students learn.
  3. Our community:  People who realize the importance of education to the future of our world and who take an active interest in our schools and work very hard to help with the education of our students.
  4. Our technology: Technology available for student learning that has more than doubled in the past four years. Technology that allows our students to collaborate, communicate, create, problem-solve, think critically, and manage information. Technology that allows us to expand educational opportunities outside the four walls of our district buildings.
We as a school are so lucky to have the resources and support that we have to effectively educate each young person of our community and "to provide opportunities for each individual to develop the ability and the desire to become a confident, competent and responsible contributor to our society."

I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving with time to reflect on just how blessed we in the Storm Lake Community School District are.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Tablets for Education

Dear Apple--Don't make your devices, services, and apps so proprietary.

Dear Android Developers--Always allow us to set Internet proxies, so we can run the tablets through our Internet filters.

Thank you!

Sarah

Monday, October 31, 2011

English Language Learners include More than Students

Mrs. Darla Coyle teaches at the Middle School. Most of you probably already know that, but did you know that she is not only teaching middle school students but also some of their parents? Currently, there are "25 parents committed to attending our adult class once a week with an additional 15 parents on a waiting list," according to Mrs. Coyle. Just like the middle school students she teaches, these parents use Rosetta Stone software to help develop their English language skills. The new version of Rosetta Stone allows users "to speak into the microphone and the program will evaluate the level of correct pronunciation they use and correct their pronunciation." There are also lots of activities that help develop English by "clicking and typing answers."

In addition to teaching both students and their parents English language skills, Mrs. Coyle is also teaching them computer skills. She states that many of the students and parents have never used a computer before. Therefore, these ELL classes also provide the opportunity to pass on such basic computer skills as turning the computer on and off, developing mouse control, accessing the Internet, speaking into the microphone, and so on. These skills will certainly serve the parents well in a workforce that is becoming more and more technology dependent.

We know that one of the most important things we can do in education today is to involve parents in their students' education. When we can go even further and educate the parents themselves, we are advancing the skill sets of whole families!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Skype Brings Governor to Storm Lake High School

On Thursday, October 27, Mr. Jason Stoltzfus' Government students will be Skyping with Governor Terry Branstad. The topic of discussion will be the governor's blueprint for improving Iowa education. Information about this plan can be accessed at the following website:

Branstad-Reynolds administration’s blueprint unveils vision for Iowa’s education remodel

Mr. Stoltzfus and the students have submitted questions to the governor's office but will also have an opportunity to ask questions that come to mind during the session.


For those of you who are unfamiliar with Skype, it is a free product that allows you to video conference through the Internet with people in different locations. Governor Branstad will be able to see and hear the students here, while they will be able to see and hear him. This is such a wonderful way for our students to use technology to learn about something that will impact them directly. Other departments in our district have used Skype successfully to check out the weather in other parts of the country, to hear from educational experts from distant places, to conduct interviews, and to collaborate with students in other classrooms. It is a good EdTech tool to have in one's toolbox.

It's also a great way to stay in contact with relatives who are far away!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

ITEC has me Pumped!

I had the privilege of attending the annual Iowa Technology and Education Conference on Monday and Tuesday this week and came back with so many good ideas and even more motivation to continue to push for an educational environment where students are at the center of their own learning. For too many years we've continued with the sage on a stage model of teaching where the teacher attempts to pour knowledge from her brain into her students' brains, where a teacher uses technology to present while students watch. While there are times this can be an effective way of teaching, it's become far less viable. The reason for this is that information is available to all of us all the time from the Internet. I want to find the area of a rectangle? I can look it up in a matter of seconds. I wonder where the Middle East is? Bingo, the map appears. What does the Periodic Table look like now? Googled and done!

Teachers must make a transition and become partners in the learning process. They must teach students where information is, how to evaluate its effectiveness, how to organize it and understand it. Teachers must give students the chance to learn about their world through authentic learning situations, situations in which the students are doing the creating. Write a novel. Compose a song. Solve a community problem. Draw up the plans for a house. Make a strategic plan for the US in Libya. Do you see how these projects can teach math and science and writing skills and presentation methods and history? Furthermore, students must be working together. Not only should they be collaborating with their peers in their classrooms, but they should be collaborating with students in classrooms across the world. They should be collaborating with experts on the topics they are learning. They should be learning to problem-solve with all the resources that are out there, resources that are as close as the Internet connected devices we put in their hands.


This new paradigm of teaching and learning is hard for some to grasp and hard for some to accept. I have a hard time with the excuses, though. As you all know, I'm not some young pup fresh out of college, a digital native who grew up connected. I'm a middle aged teacher who saw the value of technology for learning a long time ago and who has made every professional decision over the past fifteen years to become both a technology hardware/network expert and also an educational technology leader. It is my passion! I watch my own children look up words they don't know with the click of a button as they read books. I see them refer to maps about regions of the world they hear about in the news or read about in a novel. I see them talk to cousins clear across the nation. I see them work on their projects and create presentations about issues they care about. I see them share their knowledge with their peers across town. Let me go even further. I see my almost eighty year old father access his medical records online. I see him look up legal precedents from law libraries online. I watch him file his briefs online. I see him receive emails from and send emails to his clients.

This is the world we live in! The Internet is how business is done. It is a spectacular place to learn. It is doing our students no favors to "protect" them from this treasure trove of knowledge. We must teach them responsible and productive ways of using the Internet.

I am so proud of how far we've come in the Storm Lake Schools. Our teachers are working very hard to integrate technology into learning, but there is such an urgency to keep moving forward and not to get complacent. Purchasing devices is easy, but it's not the hardware. It's funny how we can argue over that when the real conversation should be how can we use the hardware to learn. It's the conversation of how we can involve our students in their own learning. It's the conversation about the connectedness the world has never seen before. It is so exciting!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

RIP, Steve Jobs

"Here's to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes...the ones who see things differently -- they're not fond of rules...You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can't do is ignore them because they change things...they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do."--Steve Jobs

www.apple.com

May we never overlook the genius in each and every one of our students.

Students Use Tech to Learn

I had a teacher in my office a couple days ago wondering how to share his PowerPoint presentations with students in a better way than just standing in front of the class and delivering or just passing around a USB drive. He has a classroom website, so the solution was to load the presentations in Google Docs, share them out, and then link them to his website. It made it so easy for students to access the PowerPoint tutorials, for independent use in the classroom, as well as for access from home for those who have Internet access.

I had a conversation yesterday with the second year teacher that I mentor about the web sites that his eighth grade students are making. He's hoping that by the time they are through, they will be a kind of portfolio for them. We also visited about how he makes sure that students know that when they use technology to present to a group, there are choices, including PowerPoint, Google presentation, and Prezi. He knows that it's usually wrong to assign a student a particular tech product when the product is merely a tool for learning.

I worked with a science teacher a few days ago as he got students logged into our Google Apps domain, so they could collaborate on Google Docs.

I met with a group of staff members at the elementary school yesterday to visit about their plans for reinforcing and expanding the learning of their teachers when it comes to the technologies they have available in their building for student use. Their focus on blogging as a way for students to improve their writing is exciting. The options it opens up for collaboration and learning outside the walls of the classroom is remarkable. The fact that they shared their student technology use with the parents who came to parent night last night makes my heart sing!

I saw a trouble ticket for one of my techs go by asking for access to Rosetta Stone in a different lab than where the students are currently using it, because it would be more convenient for the adult learners that are coming into the building after hours.

When I requested that teachers send me some examples of student use of technology in their classrooms, one PLC shared their Google spreadsheet with me, where they personally track their student technology use!

I will be sharing more specifics of student technology use as teachers send me their reports. I'm just so proud of the work our teachers are doing with technology. There's no doubt that our teachers are taking very seriously the use of technology to increase student learning.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Is it really free?

I just spent the last three hours getting two "free" computers loaded up with software that will work with our domain in our classrooms. That software will cost over $100. Despite the fact that the computers are brand new, they have only the typical specs of today's netbooks, even though they are full size computers. Let's just say, in my humble opinion: "Free is not always free, and free is not always worth it."

The key, I think, is minimum specs and to standardize, standardize, standardize. I always ask what do you want to do with the equipment and do we already have something that will do that?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Technology for Learning

Things have been so busy in the Storm Lake Community School District Technology Department that I haven't blogged in two months. Wow! I think the first entry better be the upgrades we made over the summer.  
  • Brand new wireless at the High School, capable of supporting wireless devices for every student and employee in the building
  •  Four new mobile labs of thirty laptops each, two for the High School and two for the Elementary School
  • Thirteen new Smart Boards, scattered in all four district buildings, many of which include brand new short throw projectors
  • Many new document cameras
  • Several printers for those without easy access to district copiers
  • Laptops for every High School teacher and every teacher at East making meetings, professional development, and work outside the district hugely more accessible--We will be moving towards laptops for teachers in all district buildings as the teachers' work stations age out and need replaced.
  • Updates and reimages of most of our district's almost 900 computers, work which is continuing even after school has started. That's a lot of computers!
  • More wireless access at East Early Childhood and at the Middle School
  • Network setup for MAP testing, now at the High School, the Middle School, and the Elementary School
  • Several data projectors added and several replaced
  • Two iPads for use in Elementary School Special Education
There could be more. That's off the top of my head. In addition, we did extensive professional development for educational technology. Those with new Smart Boards have held several sessions, formal and informal. The Middle School brought in McCrel for technology integration training for all their teachers. The Elementary school had a learning group that worked on web sites. The High School has held a couple training sessions to help teachers make full use of their new laptops. We've continued to train teachers in the use of Google Apps, both for themselves and for their students. Today the Elementary teachers are Skyping with an AEA person who will help them with their student blogging that they are expanding this school year.


In addition, the teachers who attended several training sessions through the AEA last year to become teacher technology leaders have been leading training and helping their fellow teachers in less formal more one on one ways to integrate technology into their classrooms.

I'm sure I'm leaving things out. That's what happens when you don't blog for two months! On the other hand, I just couldn't be prouder of the work that administration, teachers, and staff are doing to make sure that our students are using technology tools for learning. It's not easy to get groups started with student email or Google Apps or working on projects online. However, as we move forward with these instructional strategies, we see students becoming better versed in logging in, where to go, what to use, and how to use it. It's great to see the collaboration between staff and students and between students themselves.

It's a great time to be a Tornado. I promise to blog more regularly!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Sportsmanship

In a softball season where victories have been measured in managing to get through all seven innings without getting 10 or 12 runned, in hitting the cutoff man, in catching the fly ball in the outfield, in a successful double play, in knocking the ball down in the infield, in pitching over and over and over again when your fielders aren't backing you up very well, or in a particularly good individual hit, it's hugely apparent how hurtful and inappropriate public fan disagreement with the umpires is. I don't care if you think a call was completely wrong. It does no one any good to berate the umpire. Hats off to the umpire who confronted the unsportsmanlike conduct of the man in the crowd last night. The truth of the matter is that umpires are a part of the game, and like the team members, are doing the best they can to be accurate. It is not the job of the fans to second guess those calls at the time they are made. It's part of the game, folks.



Hats off to Lily, Ashley, Shelby, Megan, Alanna, Alyssa, Maggie, Katie, Annabelle, Brenna, Emily, and Haylee. You girls have shown us what true sportsmanship and loyalty to one's school looks like. When we adults were teetering on the edge of calling off softball for the year, this group of mostly inexperienced girls continued to go to open gyms and let us know that they were willing to compete under the Tornado Green and White no matter what the wins and losses would look like. Hats off to your two game wins! Hats off especially, though, to your tenacity, your hard work, your undying spirit, and your love of the game. We adults could take a lesson. Good luck at Regional play this weekend!

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Last Day of 10-11 School Year

It's so hard to believe that the school year is officially over today. I guess the adage "Time flies when you're having fun" applies! What a year we've had with lots of new technology equipment, an abundance of in-house educational technology professional development, several EdTech conferences attended by lots of district teachers, and the continuation of collaboration between teachers not only within our own district but collaboration with others out of the district. It's no longer acceptable to rely on textbooks that can be outdated before they're even shipped or to continue with instructional strategies that were acceptable thirty years ago. Teachers have a responsibility to stay on the cutting edge of technologies that are available in the district and to use them effectively with their students to increase learning.

I'll say it again, it's easy to take new technology and use it to present to one's class. What's difficult is to take new technologies and put them in the hands of students to give them control over their own learning. That's a paradigm shift for many teachers, and I'm proud to say we're getting there in our district. Bring on school year 11-12!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

God Bless the Teachers

As I think about this talented group of teachers who are retiring from SLCSD this year, I think of all the teachers I've had over the course of my life. I think of all the teachers in my extended family, both those who are still teaching and those who have also retired. What a special group of people teachers are. Underpaid, undervalued, often blamed for things beyond their control, they continue on, fearlessly knowing that what they are doing is important for individual students surely, but also for the future of our world. I am who I am today because of my teachers and so are you. Thank a teacher today!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

TED Talks Filter Bubbles

I love TED talks! The most interesting topics are discussed:

http://www.ted.com/talks

The one I listened to today concerns what Eli Pariser calls "Filter Bubbles." Did you realize that when you search for something on the web, it is personalized for you? For example, Amazon knows what you've looked at before and what you've purchased, and it shows you things that you might be interested in based on that. Facebook, Netflix, and the Huffington Post do, too. What these sites "know" about you determines what you will see when you search on them. Did you know the same goes for Google? If two of us search for the same thing on Google, using the same words, we will not get the same results. The results will be based on what Google "knows" about each of us. This is remarkable to me.

What this TED talk points out is that those who are writing the algorithms for the Internet have to reconsider these "filter bubbles" that they create for us, these personalized search results. Take a look at his TED talk. It's only nine minutes long:



The ramifications of this for education are so huge. Students searching for information but only seeing the information that agrees with things they've accessed in the past. Teachers searching for information and not digging deep enough to find what they really need. Any of us travelers looking for current news about a place but seeing a bunch of travel links.

Wow! This is one of many important concepts we owe it to our students to teach them. Who knew?

Monday, April 4, 2011

Knowledge is power

Facts:
  • The Internet is the major source of information in the 21st Century.
  • Information leads to knowledge.
  • Knowledge is power.
  • Therefore, technology integration in our classrooms is no longer optional.
Our students need us. Are we up to the challenge?

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Technology for students is not optional

How does one get across the importance of technology--for providing access to information for students--to those who still look at tech as an expensive add on? Since we all went to school, too many have the tendency to look back at their education and what it looked like and theorize that it should still work for today’s students. This is flawed reasoning. I always like the analogy that has been drawn many times before that compares modern medicine with what was done medically in the past. Would you go to a doctor who still practiced medicine like it was practiced 50 years ago, just because that medical practice produced cures back then? Of course you wouldn’t. You want your doctor to use all the advancements of modern medicine to diagnose and cure you. We owe the same to our students in classrooms.

I remember learning history from ten year old textbooks that were probably outdated the day they arrived in the classroom. I remember working from five year old workbooks that we couldn’t write in, because they had to be reused year after year. I remember typing papers with typewriters that even with the correction ribbon ended up too messy to use, requiring typing over again. I remember filing index cards of information for debate in file boxes we could hardly carry. Did I learn? You better believe it. I amassed a spectacular foundation of learning that made me an ardent (perhaps obsessive!) lifelong learner. Is it the way I want my children educated? Absolutely not. It’s not the way we do things in today's world.


The point is that information is available from the Internet now. Why would we ever think there’s an alternative to that? Sure, books are great, and I still buy books, but I would never think books could stand alone anymore. Information needs to be gathered, evaluated, analyzed, synthesized, organized, and used to create new products and new thoughts. How do we do that? We do that with technology now. A school is unfair to its students if the people in it or around it think you can learn to your highest capacity without the greatest source of information in the world today, the Internet. Individuals buying insurance, shopping for merchandise, evaluating health options, hiring employees, researching the law, finding recipes, picking cell phones, collaborating with others, working in all industries, all industries. The work place has changed. Homes have changed. Education must continue to change.

We would never put our students behind the wheel of a car without teaching them behind the wheel of a car. Why would we ever think it’s OK to educate without putting the source of information in the hands of our students and teaching them to use it wisely? Technology will never replace teachers. Never. I believe that adamantly, and I’ve posted about it before. However, that doesn’t make technology optional. From PreK through advanced degrees, technology in the hands of students is imperative. We need people and connected technology, and we better continue to figure out how to make that happen financially in our schools.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Temptations of the Internet: Personal Responsibility

Have you ever stood behind a room full of teachers or administrators at meetings or professional development? What do you see on their computer screens? Let’s see—Email to keep track of what’s going on at work; Twitter to provide a back channel for communicating with others near and far; web sites that are the topic of the gathering and web sites that clearly aren’t; calendars to see what’s coming up tomorrow; blogs of favorite authors; consumer retail sites, and that’s just to name a few distractions. Add to that the cell phones, and the neighbor we’re chatting with, and it’s a wonder that we ever hear a word that’s said on the topic of the gathering or accomplish the tasks at hand. Are we surprised that we see the same thing in our classrooms, and by the way, what is the solution?

The truth of the matter is that we can only focus on one thing at a time. While we can cruise between lots of tasks in tiny bursts of concentration, we truly can’t be processing two thoughts on two different topics at the same time. How many times have you heard what a moderator said, taken off on that tangent in some way on your laptop (or on some other completely off task tangent) and then had to ask for the next part of the presentation to be repeated? I’ve never been to a gathering of professionals where this didn’t happen, and many times it’s me who got lost by my wandering fingers on the keyboard or phone.

I know what the canned responses are:

“Whose fault is it if students are running around on Facebook when they should be on task in the classroom?”

“Chat should be open for back channel conversations, and students who are engaged won’t talk about anything but the current topic."

“Stand and deliver presentations deserve the lack of engagement.”

“Find something students care about, and they’ll pay attention.”

“Show students how the topic applies to them in real life, and they won’t even think of socializing with their peers.”

Are you serious? Do you really believe that students, young and old, can use their interpretation of the quality of the class or meeting as their cop out for not paying attention? Who’s to judge that quality? I have one daughter who hates small group work. I have a son who would rather shovel snow than listen to a lecture. I have another daughter who thinks online classes are the best way to learn and another daughter who can’t stand not having other people physically present when learning. Do we really think that depending on each student's learning style or preference, an excuse can be made for not paying attention?

The truth of the matter is that despite the best intentions of presenters or moderators, whether with lessons for classrooms of students, or with PD or meetings for teachers and administrators, the temptations for participants’ forging ahead on their own, whether on or off topic, is enormous. We pick and choose what we care about, and we focus on what our priorities are at the time. In so doing, the entire purpose of the class or the gathering can be lost. Whose fault is that?

I’m going to go out on a limb here, and assert that the locus of control does not rest with the teacher or moderator alone, although they certainly share responsibility. The responsibility also has to lie with those who came to the class or session. Just because laptops or cell phones present huge temptations to wander off mentally, we owe it to ourselves and our peers to stay on task. I don’t care if the class or session isn’t perfect. I don’t care if there’s too much stand and deliver. I don’t care if the small group work seems ill defined. I don’t even care if someone is waiting for an important email to arrive. There comes a point when one has to take responsibility for his/her own learning. Students, young and old, who don’t are cheating themselves and their cohorts. Surely part of our job as educators, in addition to creating the best learning tasks we can, is to clearly define our behavioral expectations in our classrooms or meeting rooms, and surely our job as students is to follow the rules, pay attention, and learn. No excuses.

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Platform Wars

I don’t understand why conversations about technology for education so often digress into conversations about platform. The decision for my school district to standardize with PCs several years ago was a financial decision based on the belief that we could offer quality technology for learning, and for working, with PCs at a significantly lower cost than we could with Macs. It was a financial decision based on the reality that a technology department can be much more productive if they focus on one platform with as few different hardware parts and operating system versions as possible. It was an educational decision based on the belief that we are deluding ourselves if we think we are teaching today’s students specific hardware and software for use in their future jobs. Technology changes too fast for that. In addition, in a world where most of what we do on computers is web-based, PC or Mac becomes largely irrelevant.

I can honestly say if someone asked me which platform I wanted for my work computer, I would respond, “I want the newest, most powerful computer you have to offer. I don’t care what the platform is.” I guess that’s why I find the often warring PC versus Mac camps perplexing. I’ve worked with both over the years, and I think they’re both great.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Course Content is only the Beginning

I’ve been thinking a lot about education lately. While I get entrenched in technology and its value for education, I also think about what was the most valuable to me when I was a student. I have strong opinions about that.  Here’s what I know for sure:

1.       Music taught me to think in a different language. It taught me to collaborate with others. It taught me the value of working hard to accomplish a goal. It taught me that progress isn’t always apparent until you look back. It taught me to tune into my heart. It taught me to get up in front of an audience and share my talents.

2.       Debate taught me to gather information, to evaluate, to synthesize, and to organize that information to build opinions based on facts. It taught me to see both sides of an issue and realize there can be merits both ways. It taught me to collaborate. It taught me to disagree without being disagreeable. It taught me to share. It gave me the confidence to speak in public.

3.       Literature taught me to feel. It taught me to look at the big picture. It taught me that writing can be therapeutic. It taught me that humans are humans, and when it comes right down to it, we have more in common than we have differences. It taught me that if one has a book, one never has to feel alone.

4.       Sports taught me that competition can be entertaining. It taught me sportsmanship. It taught me to deal with both the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. I was a fan. Had I been an athlete as my children have been, it would have taught me in addition to the above, teamwork, the value of hard work, the importance of physical fitness.

5.       Relationships with my teachers taught me self-confidence. It taught me that there are lots of people out there who care whether I succeed or fail and who will help me on that journey if I only ask.

6.       Leadership opportunities in school taught me to work for consensus. It taught me to build others up to motivate them long term rather than to rule with the threat of sanctions, which only works in the short run.

All these things taught me problem-solving skills. They taught me to create. They taught me to collaborate. They taught me to take charge when others are thirsting for leadership and to follow when what’s needed is someone to get the work done. They taught me to set goals, and they gave me the self-confidence to work towards those goals even when there are significant setbacks that require a change of course.

Yes, reading, math, and science are important. Yes, I did very well on standardized tests when I was a student. Yet, I have no doubt in my own mind that the importance of even these subjects is not in the answers one gives on some standardized test. I’ve no doubt that I would do very poorly on that same test today, but that’s because the tests don’t measure what’s important. The value in those subjects over time is the same as the value in what I’ve listed above. The value is in the skills for thinking and learning and working with others that those subjects offer.

Let us not get so caught up in standards and assessments and data that we lose sight of the other things we learn in school. It’s true, that “smart” students could run through the information in courses in a tenth of the time we offer courses in now, and they could perform very well on the standardized tests, but what else in education would they be missing? Sometimes the time spent is an important variable, because it isn’t just the “information” one is learning. It’s so much more.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Student-Centered Learning is not Teacher-less Learning

There’s a lot of discussion out there about what 21st Century education should look like, and I’ve been a part of those conversations many times over the past fifteen years. I could rattle off the perils of continuing with education that was designed for the Industrial Age. I could recite the importance of scope and sequence, of differentiated instruction, of instructional strategies infused with technology, and of standards-based curriculum. I would be the first to advocate for student-centered classrooms. I would sing the praises of collaboration and project-based learning and of moving learning outside the four walls. I would talk about the possibilities that technology offers to education to improve student learning. I would explain the importance of students creating. I would talk about the massive amount of information available on the Internet and the need for our students to learn to manage, analyze, synthesize, and organize that information.

Yet, while all these things are important, and all these things must be hashed out and incorporated into a viable model of 21st Century learning, we must be very careful not to lose sight of the importance of the teacher. In my opinion, the teacher is the most important ingredient in the classroom, no questions asked. The teacher develops relationships with both students and their families. The teacher recognizes the needs of the individual students and makes sure those needs—social, instructional, physical, etc.—are being met. The teacher chooses what instructional strategies to use in the classroom based on the makeup of the class and what tools are available. The teacher disciplines with love. The teacher accepts the fact that student achievement rests heavily on the shoulders of the school and knows that the excuse that students and families aren’t meeting us halfway is irrelevant. The teacher puts in the hours necessary to get the job done. The teacher motivates students to work hard and to do their very best.

If teachers weren’t the most important ingredient, all kids who have access to libraries would check out books and learn on their own. All students who have access to the Internet would find the important information and learn on their own. Every informed parent would offer educational tools to their students and sit back and watch the learning take place. Obviously, access to books and the Internet are important. Obviously, dedicated, well-informed parents are important. And, the truth is, many students are learning a great deal on their own, but the question is, "Are our students learning everything they need to know?" And, if our students aren't learning everything they need to know on their own, which I absolutely believe, the teacher becomes the most important variable in the learning equation.

The caution that I offer is this: While we must give our students laptops to make sure they have the tools necessary to access and use information, while we must buy programs that offer credit recovery, while we must offer courses long distance through the Internet, while we must make use of iPods and cell phones in the classroom, . . . we must not expect that these things alone will improve student achievement. It’s the teachers in the classrooms who make the difference. I received my Master’s Degree in Educational Technology in a totally online program from Boise State University. It was an excellent program. It offered current information about education. It was focused entirely on project-based learning. It required thoughtful discussion and collaboration among classmates and instructors. It provided educational tools for our classrooms and schools. What it also offered, though, was a cadre of teachers, who, although long distance, took the time to develop relationship, who monitored student progress, who communicated with students regularly, who stayed current with instructional strategies, and who took charge of knowing what information was out there and regularly led us to excellent sources of information. The importance of this is no different than if I had worked on my degree face-to-face in a classroom.

I worry that with our emphasis on new ways of educating that we will lose sight of the importance of teachers. If just providing the information was enough, we wouldn’t need schools at all in this day and age. What we all know, though, is that we all have books on the shelf we haven’t found time to read, and courses we took that we didn’t put much effort into, and resources we’ve heard about on the Internet that we haven’t researched fully. What we already know is that great teachers help us to read those books, give our best in classes, and find and analyze the information available on the Internet. Good teachers give us the time to experiment, to create, to collaborate, and to find our passion. It isn’t enough to give the tools, offer the course, or talk about student-centered learning. Student-centered does not mean teacher-less.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Laptops for Teachers

We have got to get our teachers laptops and teach them the basic skills of how to use them both on and off campus. Hurriedly handing them a student laptop from a mobile lab is not the solution.

Yesterday I was at an educational technology training session with a group of our SLCSD teachers. This training session continues today and into four more days throughout this winter and spring. Since teachers don't have laptops, they needed to borrow student configured laptops. Therefore, there are proxies set up in the Internet settings for filtered Internet access. There are in house DNS settings that work only at school. There are profile settings that preclude the ability of a teacher to log in for the very first time off campus. Oh, and how about the laptops with Deep Freeze which keeps computers clean for student use at school but reeks havoc on a teacher trying to use a laptop at an adult teacher level away from school? The only thing that saved this group of teachers was that the high school tech and I were with them for training and could troubleshoot what was going on. Is it a problem with the configuration of the laptops? Absolutely not. There is a standard for shared student laptops that have network access and file storage space at school that works very well for student use in house.On the other hand, laptops configured for teachers would be completely different.

For teachers to attend training, for teachers to attend meetings, for teachers to work in groups in various locations both at school and away from school, for teachers to conveniently work from home, teachers need laptops! It is a professional necessity.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

This is a test blog post from my mobile phone. Gotta love technology!

I've Moved My Blog

In the interests of getting all my things in the Google domain for the school, and in the attempt to model how to do it for our teachers, I'm moving my blog. Of course, moving isn't really possible, so here's a link to my blog posts from before:

Previous Blog Posts

Hopefully, I can get my postings done weekly, so that I soon have quite a list of them right here on this site.