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10 tech tools that will make you a super teacher!

Superman

Just kidding.

Because there are no tech tools that will make us super teachers. Pencils didn’t make us super teachers. Textbooks didn’t make us super teachers. Chalkboards and whiteboards and overhead projectors didn’t make us super teachers. VCR and LaserDisc and DVD players didn’t make us super teachers. Why should we expect computers and apps and online tools to do so?

Want to be a super teacher? Change what you do with students.

  • Do a learning audit. See how often students in your classroom spend time on lower-level thinking tasks (factual recall and procedural regurgitation) and instead create more opportunities for students to engage in tasks of greater cognitive complexity (creativity, critical thinking, problem-solving, effective communication and collaboration, intercultural fluency, etc.). Find ways for students to live more often on the upper levels of Bloom’s taxonomy (or Webb’s Depth of Knowledge wheel) than the lower ones.
     
  • Do an agency audit. See how often your classroom is teacher-directed versus student-directed. Find ways to enable greater student agency, voice, and choice. Create opportunities for students to have more ownership and control of what, how, when, where, who with, and why they learn.
     
  • Do an authenticity audit. See how often students in your classroom do isolated, siloed academic work. Ask students how often they struggle to find meaning and relevance in what you ask them to do. Create more opportunities for students to engage with and contribute to relevant local, national, and international interdisciplinary communities. Foster environments in which students can do more authentic, applied, real world work in context. Help students become more connected so that they can begin to create active networks with individuals and organizations for mutual benefit.

There isn’t – and never will be – a set of tech tools that will make us super teachers. We need to stop looking for them and look inward instead.

P.S. Want to be a super teacher? We have a (re)design protocol for you.

Image credit: Superman, Dayna

Good luck with that

The benefits of active learning

Science summer camp 2011

In an article lamenting the reduction in kindergarten of teacher autonomy and child-directed activities, Washington Post columnist Valerie Strauss quoted early childhood development expert Nancy Carlsson-Paige:

We have decades of research in child development and neuroscience that tell us that young children learn actively – they have to move, use their senses, get their hands on things, interact with other kids and teachers, create, invent. But in this twisted time, young children starting public pre-K at the age of 4 are expected to learn through “rigorous instruction.”

Strauss noted in her article that researcher R. Clarke Fowler found that 

about half the teachers who responded said their [Massachusetts] districts had adopted scripted programs in math and writing – and 60 percent in phonics and spelling – which reduce a teacher’s autonomy in instruction. Seventy-four percent of teachers from high-SES districts and 64 percent from low-SES districts reported their schools had cut the amount of time scheduled for child-directed activities in recent years. 

Given what we know about teacher retention and/or the cognitive development of young children, this is incredibly dismaying (and not limited to Massachusetts). It also seems to be a harsh indictment of school leaders’ inability to enact research-based (or even common sense) best practices.

Of course the benefits of active learning are apparent beyond the kindergarten sector. For instance, the Hewlett Foundation and the American Institutes for Research have been studying ‘deeper learning schools’ in project- and inquiry-based learning networks such as High Tech High, the New Tech Network, Big Picture Learning, and the EL Schools. That research indicates that students in these schools generally have higher scores on both traditional state tests and international assessments. They also tend to report greater collaboration skills, greater feelings of belongingness, higher levels of academic engagement, greater motivation to learn, and higher levels of self-efficacy. They also are more likely to graduate high school on time, are more likely to enroll in 4-year colleges and universities (particularly true for 9th grade low achievers), and persist and graduate from college at higher rates. In other words, compared to more traditional schools, these schools ROCK IT on many of the outcomes that we say that we are trying to achieve for our students. Plus there’s a ton of research confirming the power of project-based learning, inquiry-based learning, student agency, and so on.

Unsurprisingly, these findings hold true at the university level as well. For example, when MIT changed its freshman physics class from a model of hundreds of students listening passively to lectures in an auditorium to a model of smaller, interactive classes that emphasized hands-on, collaborative learning, it found that attendance increased and that the failure rate dropped more than 50 percent. Research has shown that “most students learn fundamental concepts more successfully, and are better able to apply them, through interactive, collaborative, student-centered learning.” Similarly, the 10 or so universities participating in the Student Engagement in Mathematics through an Institutional Network for Active Learning (SEMINAL) project have begun to initiate active learning methods and collaborative problem-solving into their math courses. They are seeing increases in average test scores, decreases in students earning less than a C, and numerous other benefits. These postsecondary examples confirm research by the National Academy of Sciences that students in active learning environments are “33 percent less likely to fail in undergraduate science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) courses.”

It’s pretty clear that active learning techniques seem to have multiple payoffs compared to more traditional instructional methods. The question isn’t whether active learning techniques work. The question is why we’re not doing more of them given the rich research supporting their effectiveness.

Image credit: 2011 Science Summer Camp 138, thewomensmuseum

The real reason we ban cell phones

Marc Prensky said:

Let’s admit that the real reason we ban cell phones is that, given the opportunity to use them, students would “vote with their attention,” just as adults “vote with their feet” by leaving the room when a presentation is not compelling. Why shouldn’t our students have the same option with their education when educators fail to deliver compelling content?

via Listen to the Natives

Not sure I buy into the idea that educators should be ‘delivering content,’ no matter how compelling! But I like the quote. Anyone else besides me want to admit that if you had mobile phones and social media when you were a kid, you would have tried to escape your boring classrooms too?

We can mandate their attendance but it’s nearly impossible to mandate their attention.

Why are we teaching the stuff we’re teaching?

Will Richardson said:

More than, what, 90% of what we currently teach and talk about … is quickly forgotten once the next topic in the pacing guide comes up. Climate change, literacy, fake news, #metoo, what it means to be a citizen in a democracy, racism, income gaps, privacy, future jobs, AI, cryptocurrency… We can make that list of things that really matter today (or probably will matter in the future) a mile long.

And after we do, we have to own up to the fact that, by and large, even though we know that’s the stuff of modern life, we in schools say to kids “Good luck with all of that. Hope you figure it all out. We can’t really deal with that stuff because we have to teach you Geometry, which, btw, we know most of you will NEVER use, but hey, it’s in the curriculum and we’ve been teaching it forever.”

This is one of the many existential questions we need to be grappling with: Why are we teaching the stuff we’re teaching?

via the Change.School community

New Year Leadership Challenge 2: Curiosity

Question Mark Cookies

[Instead of just challenge-based learning, how about challenge-based leadership?]

Sir Ken Robinson said in Creative Schools:

Human achievement in every field is driven by the desire to explore, to test and prod, to see what happens, to question how things work, and to wonder why and ask, what if?

Young children have a ready appetite to explore whatever draws their interest. When their curiosity is engaged, they will learn for themselves, from each other, and from any source they can lay their hands on. Knowing how to nurture and guide students’ curiosity is the gift of all great teachers. They do that by encouraging students to investigate and inquire for themselves, by posing questions rather than only giving answers, and by challenging them to push their thinking deeper by looking further. (p. 135)

Others have noted the power of students’ asking their own questions – not just answering those of others – and using those inquiries to drive meaningful learning:

When students know how to ask their own questions, they take greater ownership of their learning, deepen comprehension, and make new connections and discoveries on their own. However, this skill is rarely, if ever, deliberately taught to students from kindergarten through high school. Typically, questions are seen as the province of teachers, who spend years figuring out how to craft questions and fine-tune them to stimulate students’ curiosity or engage them more effectively. We have found that teaching students to ask their own questions can accomplish these same goals while teaching a critical lifelong skill. (Rothstein, D., & Santana, L. (2011). Harvard Education Letter, 27(5))

Unfortunately, as Postman and Weingartner noted long ago in Teaching as a Subversive Activity:

What students do in the classroom is what they learn (as Dewey would say) . . . Now, what is it that students do in the classroom? Well, mostly, they sit and listen to the teacher. . . . Mostly, they are required to remember. . . . It is practically unheard of for students to play any role in determining what problems are worth studying or what procedures of inquiry ought to be used. . . . Here is the point: Once you have learned how to ask questions – relevant and appropriate and substantial questions – you have learned how to learn and no one can keep you from learning whatever you want or need to know . . . [However,] what students are restricted to (solely and even vengefully) is the process of memorizing . . . somebody else’s answers to somebody else’s questions. It is staggering to consider the implications of this fact. The most important intellectual ability man has yet developed – the art and science of asking questions – is not taught in school! Moreover, it is not “taught” in the most devastating way possible: by arranging the environment so that significant question asking is not valued. It is doubtful if you can think of many schools that include question-asking, or methods of inquiry, as part of their curriculum. 

New Year Leadership Challenge 2: Curiosity

What could you do as a school leader to hack at some new possibilities for curiosity- and inquiry-driven student learning…

  • in the next two weeks?
  • in a one- or two-month spring pilot?
  • in full-force implementation next school year?

[HINT: think some students, not all; some teachers, not all; some blocks of time, not all; some locations, not all; etc.]

New Year Leadership Challenge 1: Same-age grouping

Bluegrass Stockyards

[Instead of just challenge-based learning, how about challenge-based leadership?]

Sir Ken Robinson said in Creative Schools:

The principle of linearity works well for manufacturing; it doesn’t for people. Educating children by age group assumes that the most important thing they have in common is their date of manufacture. In practice, different students learn at different rates in different disciplines. A child with natural ability in one area may struggle in another. One may be equal to older children in some activities and behind younger ones in others. We don’t apply this batching principle outside of schools. We don’t keep all the ten-year-olds away from the nine-year-olds, in separate facilities. This form of segregation mainly happens in schools. (p. 37)

New Year Leadership Challenge 1: Same-age grouping

What could you do as a school leader to hack at the deficiencies of same-age grouping…

  • in the next two weeks?
  • in a one- or two-month spring pilot?
  • in full-force implementation next school year?

[HINT: think some students, not all; some teachers, not all; some blocks of time, not all; some locations, not all; etc.]

Image credit: Bluegrass Stockyards gates, pens, and corrals in black and white; Anthony

Transmit, regurgitate. Transmit, regurgitate. Transmit, regurgitate…

Radio tower

The teacher transmits information to the student.

The textbook transmits information to the student.

The online tutorial or learning software or YouTube video transmits information to the student.

  

The student’s role is to be the recipient of what is transmitted.

The student’s role is to regurgitate what was transmitted with enough fidelity that the teacher or software system can check off that the student ‘knows’ it.

The student’s role is to be obedient and compliant.

 

It doesn’t matter if what is transmitted and regurgitated is of interest to the student. 

It doesn’t matter if what is transmitted and regurgitated is meaningful or relevant to the student.

It doesn’t matter if what is transmitted and regurgitated can be found with a quick Google or Siri search.

It doesn’t matter if what is transmitted and regurgitated can’t be applied beyond the narrowly-conscribed classroom setting.

It doesn’t matter if what is transmitted and regurgitated is forgotten by the student just a few weeks later.

 

What matters is that the student holds in her brain what was transmitted and regurgitated long enough to get the grade. We need to check the box. We need to move on. We have things to cover. Hopefully, enough of what is transmitted and regurgitated will stick – individually and collectively, across all students and all buildings – for those end-of-year assessments of factual and procedural regurgitation that we use to determine educator and school ’success.’

 

Transmit, regurgitate. Transmit, regurgitate. Transmit, regurgitate… Why do we believe that this model is adequate for the demands of a complex, global innovation society?

 

Image credit: Transmitting, Tim Haynes

The importance of common, shared understandings

Fortune cookie: We all have extraordinary coded within us, waiting to be released

I had the chance recently to work with an awesome teacher-led school here in Colorado. Because the school already is pretty amazing, we spent most of our day and a half together fine tuning a few aspects of its work.

One of the core values of this school – stated front and center in its mission statement – is its commitment to guiding students to become self-directed learners. However, although the school had been working on this front for several years, there was still a lack of agreement across faculty about what that really meant. There were some great student projects occurring, but there weren’t common understandings across classrooms and grade levels. So we spent a significant amount of time in a structured process that allowed them to pin down a definition that they could all agree on (woo hoo! success!). Now in this school, if they’re going to call a student experience ‘rock star quality student self-directed learning,’ it’s going to have most of the following 7 elements (each of which they defined in detail) most of the time for most students:

  1. student choice
  2. student voice
  3. student as director of own learning
  4. student engagement
  5. student risk-taking
  6. student reflection
  7. teacher as facilitator

If the student experience doesn’t have any of these elements, it won’t be considered ‘self-directed learning.’ And if the experience only has some of these elements, it will be considered one that is ‘working toward’ the end goal of ‘more student self-directed learning, more often.’

What was important about this process was not the variety of different facilitation techniques that we used or the ‘correctness’ of the end result. You might define ‘rock star quality student self-directed learning’ differently, for example. What was important was the productive, goal-oriented dialogue and that the school faculty was able to come to agreement about what will work for them so that they then could identify concrete ‘look-fors’ and action items. In other words, common, shared understandings are prerequisites for common, shared commitments.

I love doing this kind of facilitation work with educators. Too often in our schools we use big, important ideas or terms – critical thinking! technology integration! student inquiry! academic rigor! social justice! – that mean widely different things to different people. Because we never take the time to really pin down and define common, shared understandings (or, worse, we try to impose our understandings on others), we see significant variability as educators attempt to implement those ideas in their day-to-day practice. If we want to get an entire system to extraordinary, we have to get everyone in agreement about what that means…

As a school leader, when was the last time that you engaged in a structured dialogue that allowed you to see if your staff really agrees on what some big ideas mean in your school and what they look like in practice? Are you just assuming or hoping that everyone has common, shared understandings? 

Is there room for creativity and sharing in a professional preparation program?

Shannon Falls

[I’m one of five Digital Pedagogy Faculty Fellows this year at the University of Colorado Denver. I’ll be sharing my thoughts all year on this experience, starting with my time at the Digital Pedagogy Lab in Vancouver, Canada.]

I help prepare principals and superintendents. Like other educational leadership programs across the country, my program is supposed to prepare teachers and administrators to take on new leadership roles. Students come to us with expectations that they will learn how to be successful in new, usually very challenging, administrative positions. Sometimes we do that well, sometimes we don’t. 

One of the biggest complaints about many educational leadership courses and programs is that they’re too theoretical and not practical enough. This is true. Many of us faculty aren’t as connected to the day-to-day work of practice as we should be. The most common rejoinder – particularly from research faculty (folks who literally are paid to think) – is that narrow, time- and context-bound leadership preparation doesn’t foster graduates’ ability to work in different settings or across varying policy and practice eras. Both sides are right.

I wonder if there’s a third dimension – beyond the thinking v. practice dichotomy – that’s also worth considering. When I think about the times in my life when I feel most energized and ‘in flow,’ many of them revolve around opportunities to be creative. I write, I take photos, I create slides and presentations, I design a new course or workshop experience… and I usually share those publicly with others. As I was driving up and down the Sea to Sky Highway yesterday attempting to capture the natural beauty with my camera, I began to wonder what skills and talents, interests and passions, and professional and hobbyist expertise the students in my new Boulder principal licensure cohort will bring to our collective learning experience. And whether they feel as energized when they do those things as I do when I do my stuff (no matter how amateurish).

Can we bring in students’ “outside,” perhaps non-education-related, expertise and experiences into a professional preparation program that’s designed to get students ready in real, practical ways for incredibly complex and demanding jobs? I’m not sure, but I’d like to try…

[cross-posted at Thinq.Studio]

The hidden cost of an achievement-oriented curriculum

Rainesford Stauffer said:

As children, we’re trained to avoid failure, not learn from it. It’s presented as a sign of inadequacy, even worthlessness. I think this is the hidden cost of a K-12 curriculum that is achievement-oriented. Failure is never presented to us as a different kind of educational experience, a universal (and ceaseless) part of being human.

via https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/17/opinion/dropping-out-of-college-into-life.html