A pervasive thought I have is the balance of technology and pedagogy. In my PLN I follow a variety of educators who are noted for their technology prowess. These folks use Web 2.0, iOS and Android apps to help students learn and have created PD for other teachers to learn how to use a variety of apps and websites. Efforts such as these help everyone to learn - educators and students.
Within the technology integration model, pedagogy is fundamental. Knowing about apps and websites is great and I curate many #edtech resources using Learni.st so I can share my findings. Yet, the focal point is instruction answering this key question - How will an educator engage students in deep learning while infusing technology? Learning is not about the tech, apps, or websites but about viable teaching methods. As much as I want educators to use technology, it has its place. It may or may not fit into a particular learning experience. Weighing the pros and cons of tech to the essential standards and learning targets is the first step in deciding when to integrate and when not to. Just because the tech is available doesn't mean it should be used.
Late this year, 2013, I attended a three day conference sponsored by Solution Tree titled PLC at Work led by Rick and Rebecca DuFour and Robert Eaker. Along with a host of other presenters, this institute was the best onsite learning experience I have had in quite some time so much so that I have read four books to help me better understand how the PLC process creates a deep culture of learning.
The books I've read are:
- The Will to Lead, The Skill to Teach by Dr. Anthony Muhammad and Sharroky Hollie
- Transforming School Culture: How to Overcome Staff Division by Dr. Anthony Muhammad
- Cultures Built to Last: Systemic PLCs at Work by Richard DuFour and Michael Fullan
- Stratosphere by Michael Fullan
If schools are to prepare students for the future (vision statement of the Brecksville-Broadview Heights Schools) then a different culture needs to exist in schools. There are various views about why schools exist. The only reason a school exists is to create deep and engaging learning experiences. Students come with a curiosity to learn and it is up to the educators, administrators, parents, and board of education to push a single agenda - learning.
Developing a positive school culture focused on learning takes time. Some will resist, others will waffle, and some will jump in with both feet. Action is key to creating a high powered PLC that focuses on learning.
As a result of this experience I have committed myself to being a positive force and leader in the schools where I work. A passion, a fire has been lit that wants to come out and share with the educators I work with. PLCs may seem like a fad or a product but the entire concept is really about a shift in culture. The shift focuses entirely on learning and the need for teachers to collaborate to meet the learning needs of students.
Clarity preceeds competence. This phrase was repeated over and over again. Educators have to be clear on four things:
- What do we want students to learn (i.e. essential standards and learning targets)?
- How will we know if they have learned it (i.e. formative and summative assessment)?
- What will we do about some students who have not learned it (i.e. RTI and differentiation)?
- What will we do about students who have learned it (i.e. extension and enrichment)?
Clarity preceeds competence. Educators have to be clear on the learning culture. If there is cultural ambiguity individuals fall back on tradition.
Some students just don't care, so break tradition
This is a scary statement. Educators may take offense to this because what they teach is the most important to them. Yet, every teacher will state that some students just don't care about their class and rightly so.
I've learned that every student focuses on their needs and what they want to learn. They do not come to the classroom with the same intensity. Some gravitate towards different contents while others gravitate to no content area but have diverse interests in other areas. In other words, some students just do not care about a class or classes because it is not their passion.
The question is what to do about it. Using the differentiation buzzword, educators will need to find a real world link to capture the students who are not engaged in their class. Tradition has to be broken allowing students a wide berth to learn the content in their way while demonstrating mastery. It is scary and teachers will admit to this. Breaking tradition is difficult but it can mean a renewed sense of purpose for you and your students.
In the technology class I teach students have license to learn what they choose while the tech skills I are infused. They are mystified when I say they can learn what they want because the others teachers always dictate content. When students have leeway to create their own learning using technology they own the content and the skills.
Making a PLN is a long term investment
PLN - personal learning network - is a long term investment for me and the people I'm connected to. Making it takes time, patience, persistence, and energy. Investing in tweets, social media, curating, and blogging takes constant effort and vigilance, but the payoff is tremendous.
In my efforts to develop a PLN I joined a variety of digital spaces to connect with other educators. My reasoning for joining so many came down to a simple question - How will I know if this community will support my learning? I do not participate in all of the online communities but do recommend some:
- Educator's PLN
- Classroom 2.0
- Google +
- Flipped Classroom
Flipped Learning has little to do with video
I read Flip Your Classroom: Reach Every Student by Aaron Sams and Jonathan Bergmann. It was a short read but an important one.
Educators know tech is important to students today. Even my five and three year old know how easy it is to access what they want in a few taps or clicks. Aaron and Jonathan leveraged technology with a pedagogical underpinning. These men were not after technology integration but deep learning and engaged students who demonstrated learning mastery in their science classes.
Flipped learning has little to do with video, podcasts, computers, or tablets. It focuses squarely on learning and help every student achieve mastery no matter how long it takes. By shifting the lecture outside of classroom time they gained quality with every student every day. They knew the progress of each student, the struggles, and the success. Flipping allowed them to truly differentiate and enrich every student at his or her particular level.
Many assume flipping is all about video and tech and having kids watch a lecture and take notes outside of classroom time. In reality it has little to do with that. Flipping is about mastery learning and meeting the learning needs of every student.
Developing real and relevant PD is difficult
Part of my job is to provide technology PD to educators in my district. I have thought long and hard about how to deliver and what to use as a basis for learning.
In response to this I created PD titled Qademy and used Schoology to deliver instruction. Teaching Digital Natives by Marc Prensky was the required reading and I based the class on the principles in this book. This is the class description:
Qademy is a course specifically designed to teach you how to integrate technology focusing on pedagogy, leadership, and technology.
To make the work real and relevant teachers based all of their work on their needs. Contrived learning was not the norm.
Educators were challenged because the assignments were open ended, lacked explicit instructions, and caused them to think outside the box. They often asked what to do or how to do it meaning they wanted to know exactly what to do to get the assignment done. I wouldn't tell them of course as that would defeat the purpose of them owning the work. One participant said, "You make my brain hurt." I took that as a compliment.
This small shift pushed educators to think differently about teaching and learning. Students can do more than we think, and allowing them to do the work is more important than telling them every little thing to do.
Publications abound about PD. Much of what I read says that PD, as it is articulated and given today, does not address the learning needs of educators. Either it is too general with little application or is mandated from the top-down. As educators choose their learning experiences they do so to further their understanding of various topics. The question I have is, "How do provide choice, make it powerful, real, and relevant easily applied within the classroom?"
Here are other pertinent questions:
- What is the best way to credit teachers for their work?
- Is it important to create portable certificates or badges?
- Should badges be leveled in a coursework series?
- How many hours represent a badge?
- Do the hours spent learning correlate to graduate credit?
With that question in mind I had to decide what to use to curate Web content. I ultimately decided on Pearltrees. This tool makes webs of information. The easiest way to create pearls and add them to a tree is to use the Chrome Pearler extension.
I am responsible for giving technology PD to educators. Earlier in this post I focus on pedagogy so I approach teacher learning from this point of view first.
NextGen PD utilizes good pedagogical and assessment practices. Formative measures inform me of progress - who is having trouble and who is not. Rubrics describe learning according to level of mastery. Levels of mastery include novice, emerging, skilled, and advanced. Educators work in small groups and individually. Flipped learning principles are used to introduce a concept or a certain technology. It is is easy to use an LMS to deliver instructions, assignments, comments, updates, grades, and more. Teachers use creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, and communication to solve real classroom and world issues.
Learning is setup as a series. Each series has a variety of topics and different levels, or depths, of learning. This model presents educators with choice, and choice is essential to owning learning. Educators may choose to more about one topic and less about another because of interest. As students are not always interested in content so too are teachers. Choice allows teachers to maximize their learning.
As teachers choose their learning series and depth of learning, badges are given to credit the work of educators using Mozilla's Open Badges framework. Educators keep their badges in Mozilla's Backpack. Open Badges allows teachers to display their learning on websites, blogs, and other online communities. Badges can be added to resumes and CV's. The Open Badges framework bakes badges with proof of learning. This provides proof of learning and portability not available before. Prior to the concept of badging the primary way of proving learning was through a certificate, printed or digital, or transcripts. Badges allow educators to promote, prove, and share their learning in multiple ways.