From Digital Immigrant to Digital Colonist

Posted by Geoff Belleau on June 17, 2015

School’s out for summer and the digital natives are beyond happy about it.  So are the teachers and administrators! We’re all ready for a break. It gives us an opportunity to slow down and think about things.

Old auto with people coming from Dust Bowl to California
Photo by Dorothea Lange, Library of Congress collection

One of the things I’m thinking about is the whole idea of digital natives. That’s what we call kids today; but if they are digital natives, what are we? Many people have gone with the term digital immigrants. However when I think of immigrants, I think Grapes of Wrath. I picture the hopelessness, despair and tribulations of people fleeing the Dust Bowl to make their way to California. They have hope. They seek opportunities and things that are new.   Yet still, I picture a guy in dusty overalls—maybe John Malkovich’s Lennie in Of Mice and Men. Such images are not a ringing endorsement for encouraging others to try something new.

Several years ago though, I read an article in which the writer coined a new term, digital colonist.1  Digital colonists are the ones who not only move but move in. They build a home in their new place. They make a living. They thrive. For a late Gen X like me this idea struck home and really made me think about how I try to grow my “digital colony” with others.

This spring, for the first time, TICAL held a regional workshop in the Capital City area.  To attract participants, we were getting the word out via the usual digital colonist ways—emailing flyers, tweeting, posting information on LinkedIn. As I was doing my part to publicize the event, it dawned on me, “I don’t think the people I want to be there use these tools!” Only a small number of school administrators use Twitter professionally. Many have set up a LinkedIn page but their effort ends there. How do we reach those dusty digital immigrants and help them set up shop in our new digital colony?

Here are my ideas.

Go old school. Create and print a flyer with the workshop information, then actually take the flyer to those you are targeting. Get it into their hands. You’ll be able to get the flyer to some people yourself, but for others you’ll need help. Tweet a link to the flyer and say, “Friends help friends tweet. Print this and share it with someone you know,” or “Help your principal! Print this and give it to them.” Another approach I took was to post the flyer on my Pinterest Board with a note for teacher to invite their principals. There are some teachers who ignore all other media, but if they follow your board, you have their attention!

Lead with them. Invite someone to go to trainings with you. It’s always more fun to do things with someone else. If you just know a little more than the next guy, you are the expert! It helps those around you know that you are “in.” The personal touch goes a long way for all of us. When we get a personal invitation to go, be honest, it makes one feel special and one of a kind. Who doesn’t want that? It is our job as leaders to build up those around us, and doing it with them, no matter what “it” is, will make them want to come and take notice.

Be an advocate. For as little as you may feel you know, you are still better equipped than anyone else to make a digital change. A teacher may go off to a training and get excited with creative ways to teach and lead these digital natives, but then policies at school, district and state levels prohibit them. Some policies need to be updated, but some can’t be. As leaders at district, county and state level, we are positioned to bring about policy change if needed, and also must be the best communicators and advocates for our students, teachers, and parents. If George Washington popped out of TARDIS today, one of the only things he would recognize is the classroom. We must be as courageous as George to bring about the policy changes needed to accommodate and support digital learning.

The bottom line? We are preparing students for their future with the digital tools of today, not the analog tools of our past. We’ll do a better job when we have friends around us in our digital colony.

What do you think? What other ideas do you have for bringing the immigrants into the digital fold? Leave your comment below!

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1Stern, Ben. “Troubleshooting Advice from a ‘Digital Colonist’ (EdSurge News).” EdSurge. N.p., 24 Dec. 2012. Web. 17 June 2015. <https://www.edsurge.com/news/2012-12-24-troubleshooting-advice-from-a-digital-colonist>

 

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Genius hour: We all need a little time!

Posted by Susan Brooks-Young on March 29, 2015

Man studying computer screen.Ask any educator to name two or more impediments to innovation and creativity at their workplace. Almost without exception time and money will top the list. We may not have a great deal of influence over outside funding sources, but we do have some control over how we allocate the time we have.

In the belief that independent inquiry encourages students to engage in activities that support deep thinking and increased engagement, many K-12 educators regularly voice concern about the lack of available time for their students to pursue personal interests during the school day. One strategy that has gained traction among educators is called “20% time.” This approach comes from the technology sector where innovation and creativity are the industry’s bread and butter. I’d like to suggest that educators also need time to think, to explore new ideas, and work on projects in areas that are of interest to them; that we need to consider ways to restructure what time is available to make it possible for the adults to take advantage of some form of 20% time when needed. But I’m getting ahead of myself. What is 20% time and how does it work?

The practice dates back to at least 1948

Twenty percent time is a practice where personnel, usually knowledge workers, may opt to spend one-fifth of their regular work time tinkering with their own pet projects. Although Google often gets credit for originating the idea, this practice has actually been embraced for years in various formats by an assortment of innovative companies. For example, 3M has encouraged employees to use a percentage of their paid time to pursue new work-related ideas since 1948. Of course it’s difficult to imagine an educator being able to carve out 20% of the work week for creative pursuits, but there are ways the idea can be modified to meet the constraints of educational institutions. This lack of time for additional research and making real world connections worries many K-12 educators, leading them to seek ways to provide time during the school day for students to engage

It’s important to understand that 20% time is not usually a formal program in the business world. Participation is entirely optional and many employees never take advantage of this time. The specific design of 20% time for self-directed exploration isn’t rigid, either. The percentage of time allocated varies from one company to another. In addition to percentages of the work week, some firms offer year-long research grants (we used to call them sabbaticals) while others sponsor occasional events lasting anywhere from one day to a week (something like self-directed professional development).

Translating 20% time to education

How does this translate to education? For students, teachers are making opportunities for them to work on individual or small group projects during the school day. Often called Genius Hour, this program typically provides roughly 60 minutes per week for all students in the class to work on individual projects of their own choosing that have been approved by their teacher. Due to time constraints, the time for student Genius Hour is usually set and flexible scheduling for self-directed learning is not normally an option.

Sixty minutes, you ask? Would it be possible for the adults on campus to dedicate one hour per week for self-directed inquiry? I think so, particularly if it’s something a person can opt into, rather than being mandatory. Imagine inviting staff members who are interested to pitch an idea for an individual project that they could work on during the work day, say during PLN time or in lieu of a committee assignment. Of course, guidelines will need to be established to make this work.

Structure the program to meet the specific needs of your staff. Remember that business model schedules vary greatly. Offering sabbaticals may not be possible, but aside from that, the time frame can range from 60 minutes per week to one or more days per year. What options are available to you? Brainstorm some possibilities with staff or fellow administrators.

Some things to keep in mind

Once you have an idea of the schedule you can offer, consider the following as you develop a plan.

  • Self-directed projects are not time off. Establish guidelines that set clear expectations. For example, require that volunteers outline a project that you approve before they begin. You may even say that projects need to be related to school or district goals, or require that all projects include a tangible product and/or some type of presentation.
  • Individual projects may serve unique needs, but small group projects can allow participants to accomplish more together than they can on their own. Do insure that part of the procedure-planning process includes setting expectations for group members’ responsibilities.
  • Remember to be flexible. Even the best plans can be sidetracked by unanticipated challenges.

Part of the beauty of self-directed projects is that there is no right answer. Participants may find their inquiries lead to outcomes they had not anticipated. Encourage them to go with the flow.

Even given the scheduling constraints we live with, there are ways to support individuals who are interested in expanding and enhancing their professional skills through dedicated time for working on projects of their own design. Encouraging this level of autonomy will result in greater job satisfaction for educators and may lead to innovations you might not have thought possible.

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When Winning Isn’t Enough.

Posted by Geoff Belleau on December 31, 2014

It's not enough.As 2014 draws to an end, schools are reaching halftime in the Big Game of 2014-2015. Last Sunday, I watched the San Francisco 49ers win their last game of the year, and then bid farewell to a coach who has posted a winning record over the past four years. Twitter blew up with comments like “What are they thinking? Winning isn’t enough?!?” (And those are the nicer comments.) It made me stop to think, which led me to re-write this blog post.

What if winning isn’t enough? What if, over a span of four years, it’s not OK “just” to win and never fail? From what I read, the problem between 49ers management and the coach all boiled down to relationships; they just couldn’t get along.

Relationships matter

Relationships matter. Getting along is important. It is something we try to instill in students early on. “Learn to get along and play nice.” What does that look like today?

It seems to me that there are at least four things we can do as educators so we don’t end up in the same kind of situation the 49ers are experiencing: look for new ways to curate, create, communicate and collaborate.

Curate

First curate. There is so much out there today and so much content. As a school leader or leader anywhere, no one has time to read everything. Also, you don’t want a censored feed delivered. Two of my favorite curated content providers are Zite (now Flipboard) on my mobile/tablet and paper.li on the computer (emailed or tweeted). Only recently have I started tapping all that is available with my Amazon Prime with Amazon music and Amazon movies.

Create

Look for new ways to create and share content with those around you. With a camera (both still and video), recorder, and so many new apps/tools released every day, the possibilities are endless. Teachers are some of the most creative people I know. Who else would take a app designed to make comic books and use it to identify parts of a carburetor in an auto class or document a process using the storyboard feature?  Don’t forget augmented reality apps like Aurasma to create 4D. Or how about starting to asking questions that must be answered with video and students can work together and to record then post the video to your YouTube channel. Be sure to have them answer these three basic questions before diving into a new technology: 1. What training have you had? 2. How will this impact how students learn on a daily basis in your class? 3. How will you keep inventory control? This will help focus the creativity.

Communicate

It seems like we almost can communicate too much now, but it’s a glass half full or half empty view and how each of us views the way and amount of communication that goes on today . Start where we are and let’s see what else we can do! Use Cel.ly, Remind or Twitter to connect with others. Don’t forget classic channels. My family sent out a few printed Christmas cards and letters to those we care about but not in the digital world. There were some tablets, and other mobile devices that were under the tree. Find a way to communicate with those around you using them so that they are a asset and not a hindrance. If you wonder how many devices are in your school or in your district, go sit on a bench during passing period or at lunch on a campus near you and just be a “fly on the wall” watching what comes out of backpacks/pockets as students/teachers move around the campus. How can these assets be tapped instead of banned?

Collaborate

Finally Collaborate. How can this be fostered? What is the difference between collaborating and cheating? Let’s be honest; that is a question that many struggle with. It needs to be answered, though, and a way to do just that is to start. Start small with something like Google Slides and have everyone create a collaborative slideshow. What is your favorite tool/app for collaborating?

There are many things up in the air right now with school funding, changes in staff with retirements, and any number of other forces, but nonetheless halftime for the class of 2015 is right ahead of us. Before we know it, these kids will graduate and a whole new class of seniors will start in the fall—as well as a whole new class of kindergartners with backpacks larger than they are. The time to get busy is now.  It’s not good enough just to win, we also have to get along!

P.S. Share your favorite tools in the comments!

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Formative and Summative Assessment

Posted by Jenna Mittleman on August 3, 2014

Cartoon of king speaking to subjects from balcony: Try to see things from my point of view.
© Baloo, Jantoo.com. Used by permission.

A recent exercise in my Leading Edge Certification for the Administrator course gave me a chance to reflect on the topic of formative and summative assessment. I read an elementary school scenario in which Antonio Roberts, a teacher on the school’s staff, was eagerly awaiting a meeting with Mary Brown, his assistant principal, who had done an observation in his classroom the previous day. To me, the scenario provided a good example of how important it is to recognize the projected outcome of each participant.

There needs to be an intentional connection

Mrs. Brown seemed most interested in providing feedback to Antonio about his students’ progress following implementation of the new reading program. After the observation, Antonio was asked to reflect on student engagement in his class. He expressed his concerns about his ability to differentiate curriculum to best meet student needs. This is a classic example of what I personally experienced with several teachers this past year. There needs to be an intentional connection to the agreed upon standards in pre- and post-observation meetings. Historically, teacher evaluations at my site have not been entirely meaningful. Sadly, I’m able to say this as I was a teacher at my site for over 11 years. Teachers have typically chosen two CSTPs as a focus in the beginning of the year and the follow-through & accountability to monitor and assess hasn’t been fluid between administrators and teachers.

Making sure that the focus for California Standards for the Teaching Profession are selected in a meaningful way pending the teacher’s strengths and needed improvement is critical.  To help create this alignment, using a Google document would be beneficial in providing the expanded version of each standard which could potentially be highlighted in a Google doc as a reflection or post observation practice by the teacher. Considering the traditional methods of pen and paper reflections that my teachers currently use, this would be a giant step in the right direction. Allowing the evaluator and the evaluatee to share a living document that is specifically created to provide clarity about strengths and weaknesses would be a valuable tool.  This is the type of collaboration that must take place regularly throughout the year and feedback should be given in a timely manner that can be revisited regularly. In order to ensure significance of formative teacher assessments and summative evaluations…all assessments matter. Formal and informal evaluations are key elements in making employment decisions about teachers. The implementation of this process must be considered because the success of the students and the teachers greatly correspond.

The importance of collecting data

Last year, I used a tool on my iPad, “Classroom Walk-Through.”  This allowed me to provide teachers a quick snapshot providing feedback about lesson delivery, differentiation, resources, class environment and assessments. I loved that it allowed me to insert comments and email a PDF directly to the teacher and copy myself afterwards.  While I did find this to be a useful tool, I struggled with the time it took to complete as a minimum of 20–30 minutes was usually needed. Also, this was another email for the teacher and myself to receive and it required additional time to look up the CSTPs the teachers were focusing on to ensure alignment.

A more meaningful conversation with Antonio and Mrs. Brown could have occurred if student data was discussed.  Asking teachers to collect student data and create a portfolio to present is another idea. Also, using a web tool such as Mindomo to create a mind map can help teachers create a visual of how they can best meet the needs of their students and explicitly list the differentiation activities to be used in a given unit for specific students.

When discussing student achievement and characteristics of formative and summative assessment and teacher evaluations, the two words that surface for me are expectations and rigor.  If formative assessments with students are to be collaborative, while discussing strengths and setting goals, teacher evaluations should shadow this informal and conversational method.  Moving from poorly constructed expectations for students or teachers to clear and rigorous expectations helps transition from teacher centered to student entered and from administrator centered to teacher centered.  Furthermore, moving from general practice to specific practice is a must-do. Let’s practice as administrators what we expect of teachers.  Teachers, like students, should never be surprised of their summative evaluations if this process is completed properly.

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Resources for Digital Leadership

Posted by Sandra Miller on May 13, 2014

Today’s educators are fast becoming “digital leaders” in their schools and districts.  It’s almost expected that they will be able to provide leadership to everyone—staff members, students, and parents—as new technologies continue to become a part of learning.

I work with educators who are earning Leading Edge Certification.  It’s a new certification that focuses on site, district and regional administrators and was developed by an alliance of educational organizations that includes TICAL. The goal is to prepare these leaders to  effectively utilize technology tools, resources and innovative solutions to advance student achievement, foster educator productivity and extend learning opportunities for all.   The program is composed of six modules plus one “elective” topic.

Screenshot of Common Sense Media home page with Digital Citizenship menu indicated

Since I’ve been working with this program, one area that really stands out is the ability of these leaders to find and share information about “cyberbullying,” which is part of the Digital Citizenship module.  One tool that has been especially helpful to them is the non-profit Common Sense Media website. Related resources are found under the Educators tab by clicking on Digital Literacy.

Principals and superintendents have added web pages to their school or district websites to provide parents with an understanding of bullying as well as how to seek help.  They have used videos and prepared information for parent workshops and meetings.  And of course they have given links, videos, and discussion guides to teachers.

Cyberbullying is just one part of digital literacy.  Common Sense Media also offers resources on helping students understand the permanence of their online presence, as well as how to best utilize technology tools. 1:1 guidance and professional development have their own sections.  I have no personal connection to Common Sense Media, but I have had over 100 superintendents or principals use the site with much success and comment it was one of the best aids to them in fulfilling their job as a digital leader.

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