Unconferences: Constructive time for the big kids

Posted by Lisa Marie Gonzales on August 8, 2015

We’ve all been there. Conference after conference. Training after training. Receive the agenda ahead of time and peruse for breaks and down time. Is it lecture after lecture? And yes, I’ve hosted many of just those types of trainings with panel discussions, dynamic speakers (well, some not so much), and agendas that have packed in too much, leaving participants exhausted and overwhelmed.

Those experiences may become a thing of the past if the “unconference” movement continues to grow. For the sake of our own learning, let’s hope so!

The unconference gets underway.
The unconference gets underway.

I recently attended my first unconference, hosted by EdCampLeader and Remind101. What a relaxed day of learning, discussions, and brainstorming.

The approach is fairly simple. Get a group of people together, have no preassigned topics in mind, invite no keynotes, but do plan breaks and meals. Got it!

But wait! Attend a conference with no agenda? It works. It really does. Imagine joining productive conversations that go where you drive them. In an era of so much structure and hands ticking on a clock, you relax into the informality. You’re real with yourself and your needs while at a conference!

Edcamp attendees immersed in discussion.
Edcampers immersed in topic.

Our unconference was the EdCampLdr (aka Ed Camp Leader) held in San Francisco, thanks to Remind (aka Remind 101) co-hosting. We were one of 13+ locations in the nation simultaneously unconferencing their way through the day. Our day began with an overview of the rules:

  • Everyone participates in the brainstorming topics.
  • Topics are winnowed for similarity.
  • We follow the “Law of Two Feet”—i.e. if you are not learning or contributing to a talk or discussion it is your responsibility to find somewhere where you can contribute or learn.

The first round had us engage in 45 minute long conversations. The topic of the first breakout I joined was “Mindset.” Get ready…talk. Those who were present raised questions, shared their work, and ultimately expanded my thinking in a way that I’m not able to do at a conference. Here are just a few of the topics we covered:

  • Bringing data back from implementations to move to growth mindset iterations
  • Must provide time to reflect and revisit
  • How to use data to build growth mindset
  • Build framework as a school leader
  • What is the common vision of the student we are trying to build as a school?
  • Need to move teachers out of isolation and silos.
  • How do you build it in a school staff that is at a very high performing school?
  • Must create an ecosystem that supports team-taught classes?
  • How might we use strategies that we already have in place to build growth mindset
  • Check out instructional rounds
  • What kind of pressures do our staffs, students, families face?
  • Six seconds for social emotional needs
  • Assessment of Learning vs. for learning
  • How do we build mindfulness in all stakeholders?

Get the idea? The best part is that we were empowered to do more than share our expertise but also to look at how we can add, change, or support programs we have in place. While I gave a great deal, the focus on give and take certainly meant that I took more ideas than I gave today.

Happy edcampers!
Happy edcampers!

A day built around conferences. That is an unconference. That is EdCamp. Check it out and attend one.

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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!

_______________

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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Veteran Teachers: Developing a growth mindset

Posted by Janice Delagrammatikas on April 30, 2015

Drawing of brain sparking to reprsent Recently, I have been able to observe some exemplary models of 21st Century teaching practices and it reminded me of two things. First, many of our veteran teachers have instructional practices and knowledge about how students learn that far outweigh any challenges they may have with learning new computing skills. Second, it really isn’t about the technology integration; it is about engaging learners and creating educational environments where students learn, and thrive.

In one classroom, I observed a Biology lesson. On the board was a prompt requiring students to draw a model of how DNA was involved in the process of protein construction. While the students were drawing on their IPADs, the teacher circulated checking on homework and entering grades from his phone. The teacher selected one student to mirror her drawing on the screen at the front of the classroom. The teacher led a class discussion reviewing protein construction and connected the learning to student’s healthy eating habits. Around the classroom, there were physical models students had constructed of DNA. In one corner of the classroom, a group of students were getting ready to present a “DNA Rap” they had written the lyrics to and produced using Garage Band.

In another classroom, an independent study student was using padlet to create a presentation explaining the fundamental economic questions. The plan was that other students could add to the Economics Padlet creating a resource for students to collaborate on and benefit from even if they were not able to meet in a physical space.

Another teacher had students creating car models which they raced in a competition. Students used the Internet to research the shape and design of their model. They made measurements and computed rate, time and distance based on their models performance. The activity was structured so that each student had a role, there were steps which needed to be completed along the way, and there were time limits on how long the steps could take.

In each of these instances teachers used well established instructional practices such as checking for understanding, formative and summative assessment, student collaboration practices and project-based learning to engage learners and ensure that all students had multiple opportunities to master their learning objectives. The technology facilitated learning the concepts, but the point is these teachers had well developed instructional practices and they incorporated the technology into those practices.

Sometimes I think our veteran teachers hear that the skills they have been teaching and the teaching strategies they are using are irrelevant and out-of-date. They feel overwhelmed and defensive. Instead, I would like to propose that we help our most experienced teachers develop a growth mindset about technology by recognizing and celebrating the strengths they bring to the table.

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SAMR and Teacher Confidence: A confluence of models

Posted by Will Kimbley on February 20, 2015

As someone who works to assist educators with the integration of technology into instruction, I work with a wide variety of experience levels and skill sets. At times it is a challenge to meet all their needs. Nevertheless, just as in any K-12 classroom, you accept people where you find them and seek to help them move forward. But how can we best do that?

Research has given us a couple of models that can serve as a lens to examine this and assist us in formulating strategies. The first, and probably wider known is the SAMR model from Dr. Ruben Puentedura.

SAMR model diagram
SAMR model. Click photo for explanation by Dr. Puentedura.

At its base level, technology is used as a Substitute. If you put a worksheet on an iPad, you have a very expensive worksheet. My own ed tech journey included a time when I was really proud that I had figured out how to scan student worksheets and turn them into fill-able PDFs that they could fill out on their laptops. Fortunately, it didn’t take me long to figure out that was a waste of good technology, not to mention bad pedagogy.

Writing a paper with a word processor can be seen as Augmentation. Students can change font sizes, use spell check, and even email their work. Modification comes in when online collaborative word processors such as Google Docs or Microsoft OneDrive are utilized. Students can communicate and collaborate in the same document in real time on separate devices transforming the task significantly. If you consider adding in something like Skype or Google Hangout, students can connect with classrooms literally around the world to collaborate on a document. Add in Google Translate and even the language barrier is not insurmountable and you can start talking about true Redefinition—a task that would be impossible without the technology.

Moving classroom technology use up through the levels of this model is an important task for technology leaders. Not every task needs to be at the top of the model, but why does so much technology use tend to be mere Substitution or, at best, Augmentation? For example, two of the most common tools I see are interactive whiteboards and document cameras. Schools spend quite a bit of money on document cameras that are used to show a teacher filling out a worksheet or solving a math problem on paper. Interactive whiteboards costing thousands of dollars are often used no differently than a regular whiteboard, and never touched by students. Why are many teachers stuck in substitution mode?

Teacher confidence comes into play

I believe much of the reason has to do with a teacher’s confidence in using technology. Mark Anderson  developed a flowchart examining teacher confidence based on the work of Dr. Ellen Mandinach and Dr. Hugh Cline.

Anderson model of teacher confidence

You can see that at the base level, teachers are in Survival mode, often afraid of breaking technology. As someone who was around when personal home computers were first introduced. I quite understand this fear. I remember when putting in your floppy disks in the wrong order could mess you up for hours. Part of my job is to give them some training and practice and let them see that today’s Web 2.0 technologies are not as fragile thus instilling confidence and moving up into the next stage of Mastery.

Where teachers begin to have Impact is when students also are using technology. To quote Alan November, “The person doing the work is doing the learning.” When technology is teacher-centric, students are left out of the experience. It is also worth mentioning that the Impact stage says “using tech effectively.” How effective is it to only use an iPad to practice math facts, or a laptop only to take a reading quiz? Innovation comes into play when technology becomes second nature. Its no longer a question of how to fit technology into a unit. Effective technology use is a matter of course in everyday lesson design.

What I noticed when looking at these two models is a confluence where one helps explain the other. In many cases, especially early on in technology integration, technology is used as a substitute because teachers are in Survival mode and seek the comfort of a familiar environment. It is after they have received some training and feel a sense of Mastery that they can begin to move into Augmentation and beyond.

Building confidence

Our role as leaders is to help build teacher confidence with the use of technology so that they can move beyond mere Substitution. We can do this in a number of ways.

  • Provide them with working, effective tools.
  • Provide enough tech support; teachers don’t have time to troubleshoot on their own.
  • Provide sufficient devices so students can use them reasonably. You don’t need to have 1:1, but one iPad in a classroom is not technology integration.
  • Ensure that there is adequate infrastructure for reliable and readily available internet access. If teachers know the tools, infrastructure, and support are reliable, it builds their confidence. When it is not, quite the opposite is true.
  • Bring in quality professional development—hands-on, ongoing, not just sit and get.
  • Offer release time to observe exemplary classrooms and to collaborate with one another.

Lastly, give them permission to try, and permission to fail. Technology integration can be messy and fraught with failure. Just like learning to walk, falls and missteps should be expected. Support your teachers, build their confidence, so they can effectively use these essential tools for teaching and learning. Keep in mind they are teaching students who grew up with, and will go into, a world full of technology. Don’t let the classroom be a technology free zone.

See follow-up resources from the TICAL database.

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The tools are there; can we meet the challenge?

Posted by Susan Gilley on November 8, 2014

Do it yourself - letters with tools attached.Back in the day, when your computer was messed up, you phoned a friend or even took your machine in to a computer technician. A couple of days ago, my laptop began showing an error that the battery was not charging. I googled a little last night trying to find the solution and tried a couple of options without success. Tonight I came home and googled possibilities again. Believe it or not, the second YouTube video I watched provided the answer.

Your response may be, “OK, cool!” or perhaps it’s, “Big deal; so what?” Regardless, to me this experience emphasizes how education is changing. People now have an incredible network of options for solutions to problems. In this case, I watched a 3-minute video, performed the steps suggested in the video, and my battery is now back to charging.

Does this new abundance of learning resources replace live people in the classroom? Absolutely not! Does it allow anyone to learn about anything they want at any time? For sure! That puts a lot of educational and learning power in the hands of the learner, and challenges us all as educators.

● How do we stay current in today’s ever-changing educational landscape?
● How do we keep in tune with how our students are meeting their educational thirsts for knowledge?
● How does society blend the answers to both of these questions to enhance education?

For myself, I choose a variety of ways to stay current beyond just googling and watching YouTube videos. One way I have expanded my professional learning community is through Twitter and Google+ communities. Both of these social media outlets allow me to follow people around the globe who share the same interests as I do and choose to share more information about those interests through their Twitter feeds and Google+ communities.

My philosophy has always been, it’s not what you know, but what you share! So, I welcome your comments and discussion. Follow me on Twitter @uniqsuseq, check out the websites I have bookmarked at https://delicious.com/sgilley, or visit sgilley.com that hosts all of my resources. And, of course, feel free to add your thoughts right here by commenting on this post.

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