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Teaching and leading for higher student engagement … even during a pandemic (aka How I spent my summer)

Harnessing Technology for Deeper LearningSome schools spent the summer engaged in magical thinking that everyone would be back in person this fall, just like before the pandemic. Others paid attention to the data and rising number of coronavirus cases and used their summers more wisely to design for better remote/hybrid learning and teaching than the mostly-low-level direct instruction, digital worksheets, and paper homework packets that we saw last spring. I was fortunate to work with numerous educators this summer on how to teach and lead for higher student engagement – even during a pandemic. I thought I would describe a little of that work below…

Redesigning lessons with Virginia teachers

This summer I worked with over 150 teachers in Virginia to redesign lessons and units for deeper learning, greater student agency, more authentic work, and rich technology infusion. We used the 4 Shifts Protocol as the framing lens for our work together. We met virtually for 2 hours every day for 4 days. We used Days 1 and 2 to become familiar with the protocol by redesigning lessons that weren’t theirs (to reduce defensiveness). I modeled how to adopt an approach that focused on ideation, not judgment, and pointed out some key considerations and ‘think abouts’ for each section of the protocol. On Day 3 they brought their own lessons. I put them into virtual redesign triads. They helped each other shift their students’ learning in directions that they chose, using the skills they had gained during Days 1 and 2. Day 4 was more of an ‘office hours’ approach. Teachers popped in as desired and asked more individualized questions about their local contexts (e.g., how to handle scripted curricula, how to use the protocol as an instructional coach). Some of them brought additional lessons for us to hack at together. I did all of this twice, the first week with elementary educators and the second week with secondary teachers (so 8 days total).

Instructional leadership with Virginia administrators

I also had the wonderful opportunity this summer to work with school administrators from across Virginia. We met virtually for 90 minutes each day for a week. The setup was similar to what I just described with Virginia educators. On Monday and Tuesday, I introduced them to the 4 Shifts Protocol but we adopted more of an instructional leadership lens, not just a teaching lens. On Wednesday, we talked about some organizational strategies, leadership behaviors, and coaching techniques – again, more of an instructional leadership focus than just a pedagogical focus. On Thursday they brought lessons like the teachers did and we practiced instructional coaching with those lessons using the protocol. Friday was an ‘office hours’ approach again, and the leadership questions and ideas that they brought to those discussions were amazing. 

Innovative remote instruction with Texas administrators and building leadership teams

I worked with a school district in Texas at the beginning of the summer and was able to help kick off their annual, 2-day, in-district leadership institute. They asked me to do a short keynote highlighting some possibilities for hands-on, active student learning. I then facilitated 3 follow-up sessions over the next day and a half, working with elementary, middle, and high school administrators and their building leadership teams. I tried to connect some ideas from my keynote to the realities of pandemic-era remote instruction. I also showed and discussed multiple, concrete, age-specific examples with each group to illustrate how we can redesign instruction for higher student engagement, even during blended or online learning. All of this work was virtual.

Instructional leadership with Massachusetts administrators

I had an incredible experience with a school district in Massachusetts this summer. We spent a total of 3 weeks together, all virtual. During the first week all of the administrators in the district read Harnessing Technology for Deeper Learning and engaged in a virtual book study. I dropped in each day to interact in their Canvas course shell and answer questions. During the second week we alternated between synchronous and asynchronous learning together. For instance, on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday of that week, we met together virtually in Zoom for a couple of hours of very robust conversation each day. I also created over a dozen mini-modules full of resources that they could explore in between each live meetup. The school leaders had lots of choice (because I’m trying to model, right?) and could investigate anything in the mini-modules that interested them. Some of the topics that they dove into were:

  • Workforce preparation and job automation
  • Skills development and college/career readiness
  • Educator staffing and the future of the teacher workforce
  • The integration of robots into day-to-day life
  • New literacies, including digital storytelling, AR/VR, and student multimedia / transmedia production
  • Instructional redesign for deeper learning, including additional leadership and coaching scenarios
  • Inquiry-based, project-based, and other high engagement learning strategies
  • The research behind deeper learning/teaching strategies and student achievement
  • Innovative scheduling
  • High-engagement remote learning
  • PBL during remote learning
  • Equity considerations during a pandemic

We also had a concurrent online discussion space in Canvas where they could share their reactions, concerns, and ideas for their local schools from the mini-modules. Those conversations were very active and impressive. 

All of that work continued into the third week, and the district also folded in some assistant principals, instructional coaches, media specialists, and other building-level teacher leaders. They are working to create a critical mass of people who might be ready to begin transforming day-to-day instruction. This was an incredibly unique 3-week experience for me. I was able to pilot and try a number of new virtual professional learning modalities with this district and had some absolutely phenomenal discussions with them. I get to work with them a little more this fall and absolutely can’t wait.

Book club with Solution Tree

Finally, Julie Graber and I conducted a 4-week book study around Harnessing Technology for Deeper Learning for Solution Tree, our publisher. We met once a week for 4 weeks for 45 minutes a session. Although those were sparsely attended, all of the recordings are available on the Solution Tree website. Julie and I had some good discussions with our participants and were able to explain some of our thinking and approaches when we are engaged in instructional coaching.

Conclusion

In addition to all of the above, I also created my new self-paced 4 Shifts Video Series; had some good conversations with educators in Denver, Luxembourg, and Switzerland; continued my Coronavirus Chronicles interviews; recorded some additional episodes over at Silver Lining for Learning; and participated in a few podcasts! It was a busy but fun summer, and I really enjoyed working virtually with educators all across the planet on higher-engagement learning, teaching, and leadership.

As always, let me know how I can be of support to you and your community!

EcoMOD: Computational modeling and virtual worlds for 3rd grade ecosystems science

Chris Dede, esteemed faculty member at Harvard University and one of my co-hosts at Silver Lining for Learning, has a project that is a finalist for a STEM DIVE award. Check out the video below. Chris and his colleagues have created a very cool immersive virtual science environment, called EcoMOD: Computational modeling and virtual worlds for 3rd grade ecosystems science.

Please ‘like’ the video on YouTube and give EcoMOD a ‘vote’ during the People’s Choice Round!

Coronavirus Chronicles 043 – Bunche Middle School

I am talking with schools to see how they’re responding in the wake of this global pandemic. I invite you to join me for the Coronavirus Chronicles, a series of check-ins with educators all over.

Episode 043 is below. Thank you, Jose Gonzalez and Darleen Perez, for sharing how Bunche Middle School in Compton, California is adapting to our new challenges and opportunities. It was SO MUCH FUN hearing about your remote learning project with your students!

See the complete list of episodes, which also are available as a podcast channel on Apple Podcasts and Spotify. If you and your school(s) would like to be featured in the Coronavirus Chronicles series, please get in touch. 

Other conversation series that may be of interest are below. Check them out!

Conversation series with educators during the pandemic

A conversation with Katie Martin

As always, Katie Martin has been doing a lot of wonderful work this summer around deeper learning and student engagement. I thought it might be fun for the two of us to just get together and chat. I tweeted an invitation to her and she kindly took me up on the offer.

Katie Martin Twitter exchange

Two days later we made that conversation happen and the result is below. As you can imagine, our discussion was wide-ranging and SUPER fun. I am sharing it here in case you’d like to join us. Hope it’s useful to you.

Happy viewing!

August book study: Harnessing Technology for Deeper Learning

Harnessing Technology for Deeper LearningSolution Tree is hosting a series of webinars this summer. My co-author, Julie Graber, and I are delighted that we were selected to do a FREE 4-week book study on Harnessing Technology for Deeper Learning!

We will meet online at 2:00pm Eastern (USA) for 45 minutes every Tuesday between August 4 and August 25. Did I mention that the book study is FREE?! Our sessions will be recorded if you have to miss a date. Here is what our schedule will look like:

  • Tuesday, August 4 – Chapters 1 & 2
  • Tuesday, August 11 – Chapters 3 and 5 (pp. 41-45; elementary)
  • Tuesday, August 18 – Chapters 4 & 5 (pp. 45-50; secondary)
  • Tuesday, August 25 – Chapter 6

We invite you to roll up your sleeves and dive into instructional redesign with us. If we want deeper learning, greater student agency, more authentic work, and rich technology infusion, we have to design for them! Participants in this book study will leave with a deeper understanding of the 4 Shifts lesson redesign protocol and numerous tips and strategies for success in their schools. The book is only 57 pages long and thus is an easy read!

Hope some of you can join us. Click here to register! (and if you need the book, you can get it here)

The order of the 4 Shifts Protocol is important

Harnessing Technology for Deeper LearningJulie Graber and I often get asked if the order of the 4 Shifts Protocol is important. Our answer? Absolutely.

Note that the protocol begins with Deeper Thinking and Learning (Section A), followed by Authentic Work (Section B). We have found that starting with one or both of those dimensions tends to raise the level of learning for students much more than starting with Student Agency and Personalization (Section C) or Technology Infusion (Section D). Given that Julie and I are strong advocates for student agency, this may seem a little counterintuitive. The reason is because there are numerous ways to give students ‘agency’ or integrate technology that are fairly low-level. Imagine, for instance, adaptive learning software modules or a set of teacher-created classroom centers in which students have some ‘choice’ about content and pathways but the learning is still shallow rather than deep. We also can point to numerous examples of ‘technology for technology’s sake’ in which, again, student learning could be much more robust. Starting with Sections A or B helps us center our instructional work on deeper, meaningful learning.

Note also that the very first questions in Section A pertain to Domain Knowledge and Deeper Learning. Whatever instructional transformations we are working on, we should try as best we can to make sure that we’re meeting content and procedural goals, and that whatever skills and knowledge we’re addressing are focused on big, important concepts, not just trivia. This is particularly true as long as state standards, testing, and accountability mandates dominate our educational landscapes. Deeper learning work should not be contentless. [AND students also deserve some say in what they get to learn…]

In sum, while Julie and I advocate that teachers start with whatever sections and items make sense for them (and focus on just a few), we also recognize that some of the sections and items of the protocol are more transformative than others. We encourage you to lean into Sections A and B!

10 quick thoughts on mobile phones in schools

No cell phones!A few quick thoughts…

  1. Most people realize that mobile phones are actually mobile computers. But many schools that claim to be doing everything they can to get technology into the hands of schoolchildren then ban their students from using the computers that they bring in their pockets every day. The issue apparently is not technology, it’s control. We need to call this for what it is.
  2. Students know that mobile phones are powerful learning devices. They know that when we ban them, we are sending them messages that we don’t get it. Or that we’re not really about learning.
  3. We have to stop blaming the device. Classroom management stems from good instruction.
  4. We have to stop the ‘holier than thou’ pronouncements about today’s kids. We haven’t seen significant evolutionary changes in children in just a few decades. Our students (or their brains) are not substantially different, they just have different opportunities. Nostalgia aside, we adults were often bored out of our minds in school too. If we had Facebook, texting, Snapchat, and other avenues to alleviate our boredom, we would have turned to them as well. Let’s quit the arrogant attitudes of moral superiority.
  5. Banning and blocking does absolutely nothing to teach students about inappropriate or untimely mobile phone usage because it removes the decision-making locus from students to educators. Students don’t ever get a chance to own their mobile phone behavior when they are just passive – and usually resentful or bewildered – recipients of our fiats.
  6. Many schools say that they’re trying to foster more student agency. That should mean more than fairly-constrained choices related to content. Student choice in environmental contexts and instructional tools (ahem, learning technologies) matters too.
  7. No one – I repeat, no one – can concentrate without any distractions whatsoever for 45-50 minutes straight. Nor can they then repeat that 6 to 8 times a day. Is our goal with these ‘digital distraction’ bans to have students’ 100% attention at all times or else? If so, are we just punishing students for how our human brains work?
  8. Maybe it’s not the phone that’s leading to students’ distraction. Distraction can result from hunger, fatigue, illness, anxiety, boredom, an overstimulating classroom environment, the desire to engage in additional research, or a whole host of other factors (e.g., frequency of daydreaming is highest during undemanding, easy tasks). Let’s avoid simplistic solutions to complex contexts.
  9. If we involved students in the creation of school mobile phone policies – with authentic input and decision-making, including about ‘consequences’ – instead of fighting with them, we probably would be pleasantly surprised at the outcomes.
  10. When students use mobile phones despite our bans, maybe they’re not defiant. Maybe they’re rational given the context in which they’re embedded. Did I mention that classroom management stems from good instruction?

Image credit: No cell phones!, Joe Pemberton

Podcast – Talking with Richard Byrne on the Practical Ed Tech Podcast!

Last week my conversation with Richard Byrne went live on the Practical Ed Tech Podcast. Many of you know Richard from his primary site, Free Technology for Teachers, one of the most widely-read education blogs in the world. Richard and I have known each other for a long time. Maybe he’ll come see me in Colorado sometime. He’s an outdoorsy type – he’d love it out here!

Richard and I talked about a wide range of things, including Tik Tok, building leaders’ capacity to foster school innovation, keeping up with changing technologies, redesigning lessons with the 4 Shifts Protocol, filtering and blocking students, and so on…

Hope you enjoy the discussion. Happy listening!

10 signs that you may be missing opportunities with your school’s technology integration

Left turnHere are some signs that you may be missing opportunities with your school’s technology integration efforts:

  1. Your LMS is primarily used as a document management system
  2. Lots of Kahoots but not much student creation
  3. Many conversations about responsible and appropriate use, not many conversations about empowered use
  4. Teachers are the primary users of technology
  5. Digital worksheets greatly outnumber student multimedia products
  6. Teachers are gravitating toward technologies that allow them to tightly control the student learning experience (e.g., NearPod, GoGuardian)
  7. Silent work alone on ‘personalized,’ adaptive learning software modules is a dominant modality for students
  8. A greater emphasis on filtering and blocking than on equitable access and usage
  9. Technology professional development sessions are sparsely (or reluctantly) attended
  10. The ‘yes buts’ outweigh your visions for technology-infused student learning possibilities

These are just a few. What else might you add?

See also The unholy trinities of classroom technology usage

Image credit: Left turn, Clyde, Alan Levine

Podcast – Harnessing technology for deeper learning

Last week my interview with Tom Vander Ark went live on the Getting Smart podcast. Tom grilled me about my law degree(!) and then we got to the core of the interview.

Tom and I talked about school transformation and instructional redesign, during which I uttered this immortal line:

GettingSmartpodcast

Hope you enjoy the discussion. Happy listening!