Country mice visit Big Apple cousins

Posted by Phoebe Bailey on January 27, 2015

Cartoon mouse staring at computer screenYou know the story. The city mouse goes to visit his country cousin. When the country mouse offers him a meal of simple country food, he sneers at it and invites his cousin to the city for a taste of the good life. But their feast in the city goes wrong when a couple of hungry cats move in and they barely escape with their lives. The country mouse returns home, preferring a life of simplicity to a life of risk and its rewards.

According to Wikipedia, the story can be traced back to Classical Greece literature. Many of the assumptions of country life such as the simplicity and lack of opportunities can still be found in 2015. In October, I had the opportunity to travel with a group of Arkansas educators to visit four schools in New York City. What we observed blurs the lines of country and city education.

We visited four schools including an elementary, middle school, high school and a technical high school. In each setting we saw great things happening but also observed a common theme. As we asked what technology they used in their daily instructions, each principal pointed out the interactive white boards recently installed in all rooms. Each principal also acknowledged that they were working on teacher training to make the technology more student centered and not so teacher centered. That is a problem we in Arkansas could relate to, but that was an issue for the majority of our state educators five to ten years ago. Our NYC counterparts were surprised when we mentioned we have schools moving from the boards to large flat screen TVs that mirror the devices the students have in their hands.

We did not see buildings that had any one-to-one classrooms (or 2-to-1, not even 5-to-1). The schools did have labs, but in most classrooms there was a teacher computer and the interactive whiteboard.

In the high school we visited, we saw a program that is similar to the EAST Initiative we have in Arkansas. It was VEI (Virtual Enterprise International.) VEI replicates all the functions of real businesses in both structure and practice. Under the guidance of a teacher-facilitator and business mentors, students create and manage their virtual businesses from product development, production and distribution to marketing, sales, human resources, accounting/finance and web design. VEI firms offer diverse products and services—from banking, insurance, and technology to publishing, advertising, app creation, tourism, and fashion. The specific program we visited was TSquared, which has only been in existence for a couple of years but is already award winning.

Classroom technology in Arkansas is far from perfect but it has shown growth and development over the past two decades. When lawmakers and educators discuss technology in the classroom today, computers are only one element of the equation. SMART boards, compressed video, Internet access, and a wide array of software tools are just a few examples of the educational technologies currently at our disposal.

In the November 2014 election, New York Bonds for School Technology passed. The investment of the two billion dollar bonds will focus on school technology upgrades including purchasing educational technology equipment and facilities, such as interactive whiteboards, computer servers, desktop and laptop computers, tablets and high-speed broadband or wireless internet.

The same tools should be able to drive networks of innovation in cities as well as in our rural areas. And it is happening. It is happening in the country, it is happening in the city, and it will hopefully continue throughout this decade. We share many of the same issues; dealing with students in poverty, single family homes, long transportation routes (ours are on a school bus and not a subway), all while implementing new programs and educating students. When the country mouse and the city mouse get together in 2020, they will find they have more in common than they expect.

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Same Song, Second Verse

Posted by Susan Brooks-Young on April 29, 2013

Image of The Prune Song sheet music 1928Do you remember The Prune Song? A camp classic, this silly ditty reviews the travails of life as a prune. The pleasure in singing the song comes from repeating over and over its first verse —“a little bit louder and a little bit worse!” A fun way for nine-year-olds to wile away the time perhaps, but not so amusing when adults persist in this same behavior.

Two decades ago Apple Inc. hired independent researchers to evaluate the impact of the Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow (ACOT) project. One important outcome of this report was the recognition that when technology use is limited to supporting traditional instruction or increasing student productivity, any improvements in student performance cannot be attributed to the technology. Subsequent studies and models (e.g., the Substitution Augmentation Modification Redefinition (SAMR) model) draw similar conclusions.

What kinds of technology-supported activities actually make a difference? The research is clear on this as well. When students engage in project-based learning experiences or solve authentic problems using technology as one of several available tools, increases in achievement can be attributed—at least in part—to technology use. How does this information impact classrooms today?

In their eagerness to incorporate use of mobile tablet devices into classrooms, some educators are taking the same-song-second-verse approach instead of taking time to think through how this technology could be used to significantly change classroom instruction. As has been the pattern with earlier technologies, it’s not uncommon to hear about schools and districts that have purchased equipment with minimal planning for actual classroom use. Or to run across teachers who envision primary use of tablets consisting of apps that cover discrete Common Core performance indicators. The upshot of this is teachers spending their time searching for and deploying stand-alone apps that have a limited shelf-life and use minimally effective instructional strategies to teach or review very basic concepts.

What can school leaders do to reverse this trend? Here are a few simple suggestions:

  1. Resist the temptation to deploy mobile tablet devices to ‘see what will happen.’ Take time to plan thoroughly. The College of William & Mary School of Education Learning Activity Types wiki offers a variety of technology-supported activities based on the TPACK model.
  2. Work with staff to revisit Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy. Several talented educators have posted work online designed to help teachers rethink classroom use of touch technology. Check out Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy and Bloomin’ Apps for ideas.
  3. Think beyond drill and practice or task automation. The most effective use of tablets is for content creation, not content consumption. Encourage teachers to explore ways students can use tablets for project-based learning and to solve authentic problems.

 

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Keeping Our Netbooks…for now!

Posted by Jim Yeager on February 14, 2011

As my iPad and I get more acquainted, I find myself analyzing its place in my instructional technology program.  For example, one of the cornerstones of our program is a modified 1-to-1 netbook project with fourth grade.  We utilize a toolbox that consists of a word processor, a presentation application, a spreadsheet, and the Internet.  A typical activity will call for the students to brainstorm in their word processor, create a presentation, and work with some data.  Often they do simple research or get their instructions from the Internet.

My teachers utilize shared learning spaces to share assignments, links, and prompts.  Many times students share documents with classmates and the teacher.  These fourth graders have become amazingly proficient with Google Docs and can manage several applications at one time.  My teachers and I can readily create tasks that not only address content standards, but offer connections to NETS standards as well.

For personal use, the iPad is my favorite information consumption device.  I keep it handy for tasks that range from educational research to Angry Birds.  I could see it replacing our textbooks, but at the moment, I can’t see replacing my $300 netbooks for our projects that call for student-directed research, collaboration, and creativity.  For now, I’ll wait and see what the next generation iPad, or its competitor, has to offer.

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Hope for the Future of Schools

Posted by Sandra Miller on June 15, 2009

Look to the Future by darkmatter; used with permission.

There is lots of talk about how our schools must change to prepare students for the 21st Century.  In fact, given the new technologies being developed everyday and the way in which young people embrace technology in their daily lives, it is obvious that our schools will change. So as leaders in our schools, where does that leave us? There is so much to change that it seems overwhelming.  Where do we start?

Many of today’s veteran educators used project-based learning and a constructivist approach in the early 90’s if not before. Students were taught to construct their own meaning using cooperative learning and projects. Current brain research confirms the effectiveness of such approaches.  Yet, in this decade, assessment became the guiding mantra, and students and teachers now focus their efforts toward higher test scores. Project-based learning and constructivism faded into the background as direct instruction and teaching to the test took center stage.

Today there is hope as project-based learning again gains momentum. One thing we can do is encourage this type of learning in the classrooms and beyond the school walls. The Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow 2 project has rechristened it challenge-based learning.  Whatever the name, the goals are the same.  Apples’ white paper, “Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow—Today,” is good reading for anyone who wants to share the future with others.  The following quotation is from that paper.

These are profound changes that require schools to become more than information repositories; they must also be places where students can acquire knowledge and skills they can use to solve complex problems for the rest of their lives. These changes affect the role of educators even more dramatically. Educators must become more than information experts; they must also be collaborators in learning-leveraging the power of students, seeking new knowledge alongside students, and modeling positive habits of mind and new ways of thinking and learning.

As we grapple with our current economic woes, new technology purchases will likely be minimal.  Yet there is important work we can do that will cost us nothing.  We can  share the goals for 21st century learning.  We can share them with parents, other administrators, teachers, support staff, and students.  The Partnership for 21st Century Skills Framework is widely accepted and provides guidance in every possible area.

The road ahead for schools will be a challenge, but there is always hope.  Many new teachers will already know the technologies, but they need wisdom and guidance from us as leaders.  We will need to help young teachers learn how to share their knowledge with students in ways that will embrace 21st Century Skills.  We will also need to give them the freedom to help seasoned teachers reach new levels of teaching.

It is a small start, but it is a hopeful one. You aren’t alone and others have already laid out some guidelines. Share the information and point others to resources.  Then watch as the new generation takes over in our schools, and know you helped lead the way.

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