Start of the school year has been notable on Facebook as almost every parent with whom I’m acquainted has shared those infamous first day of school photos.
And as students and staff report back, organizations such as Phi Delta Kappa International, US News & World Reports, and even state departments of education are releasing data and reports that coincide with the start of the new year. The most notable one that has come my way to date has been the Phi Delta Kappa (PDK) article on perceptions held by the public regarding public education.
PDK’s 48th annual public poll entitled “Public Attitudes Toward the Public Schools,” measuring opinions about public education, lacked consensus over the main purpose of public education. 45% of its respondents, representing a random sample of more than 1500 adults covering all 50 states, believe public education is meant to prepare students academically. Another 26% feel the primary role should be to prepare students for citizenship, while another 25% feel the purpose is to prepare students for the workplace.
What I find most puzzling is the lack of explanation of preparing students for citizenship, but even more so that 26% of respondents felt this was the primary intent of education generation after generation. The survey went on to share more data about how students are performing, opinions on keeping schools open when failing, and general perspectives on what our schools are doing to meet the needs of their students. And before I digress too much, let’s take a moment and look at the list of tasks we expect from our teacher, let alone our public schools. We’re responsible for teaching all subjects, receive hefty criticism when students are obese and we aren’t doing enough with physical fitness. We cover sex education and driver’s education, and the list goes on. I think this picture says it all:
But back to the survey. There is clear confusion about what the purpose is of education, of public education. With the split data shared above, should we be doing our work differently? If only 45% feel we should be covering academics, then should we be doing less in a focus on academics?
When I think of conversations I have with parents about the use of technology, I get push back that a focus of tech to communicate and collaborate should be reduced. Granted, I always advocate for a balance. But yet…we have workplaces with a colossal reliance on technology, and if we focus on the 25% of parents who want us to prepare students for the workplace, then there really is a role for workplace preparedness, which includes technology.
I don’t expect the responses to change. A great deal of expectations are placed on the deliverables of our public education system. I predict that the confusion will also continue – much is expected of us. And much will continue to be expected. And the WHY won’t change.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The long and winding road that leads to your door
Will never disappear
I’ve seen that road before it always leads me here
Leads me to your door
Technology was probably not on the Beatles’ minds when they composed “The Long and Winding Road.” As a technology coach focused on maximizing learning, my job is a long and winding adventure. It’s long because technology is constantly changing. It’s winding because I keep searching around for new and better ways to provide meaningful professional development.
One useful discovery on my winding path is Ruben R. Puentedura’s “SAMR” model. The relatively simple terms—substitution, augmentation, modification and redefinition—seem to resonate with administrators and teachers.
The simple explanations of each level provide opportunities for discussing why certain technology tools can or should be used. The references to enhancement and transformation keep the focus on learning content, not just learning technology. As Bill Ferriter writes in his blog The Tempered Radical, “Technology is a Tool, not a Learning Outcome.”
Taking another curve along my path, I participated in a “coaching cycle” with two high school instructional facilitators. In this approach, one or more teachers work together with an academic coach to create a plan for teaching a unit, concept or standard(s). The important twist here is that I provided ideas for using technology only after the goals and objectives of the learning were in place. Two good resources on coaching are Jim Knight’s book Instructional Coachingand Diane Sweeny’s books and materials on student-centered coaching.Another excellent resource in this work is the TPACK model which maps the “complex interplay” of content knowledge, pedagogical knowledge, and technology knowledge.
I am convinced that teachers, specialists and administrators can work with the SMAR and TPACK models along with coaching cycles to provide rigorous and engaging teaching and learning. That’s the plan I have for enjoying the challenge found in the “Long and Winding Road” of Ed Tech in the 21st Century.
As a county office educational technology consultant, one of the hottest topics I am asked about is how to build student technology skills so they will be ready for Common Core standards and assessments. While the concept of the digital native continues to exist, the practical experience of educators giving them the SBAC practice exam is that students struggle with keyboarding and other computer skills. Students as young as kindergarten are expected to use “a variety of digital tools to produce and publish writing,” and by 4th grade they are expected to have the “keyboarding skills to type a minimum of one page in a single sitting.” So, how are they going to do that? There are a number of free online tools that students can use to learn and practice keyboarding skills. However, is rote practice of keyboarding the best solution?
With Common Core we are moving away from rote practice and memorization of basic skills in content areas, why should we stick with that approach when it comes to keyboarding? In a previous position as a 7th grade computer applications teacher, I began teaching keyboarding as an isolated skill, but I soon realized that unless my goal was to produce a cadre of stenographers, I needed to change my focus. I had students create blogs, and gave them five minutes each day to write it. At the beginning of the year they were required to produce one paragraph, by the end of the year they were writing three to four paragraphs.
“This is the start of my first novel.”
Over the course of each year I watched not only their keyboarding skills, but their writing grow by leaps and bounds. At first I had them write about things they learned in other classes and engage their metacognitive skills about the learning process. They described what they learned and reflected on what strategies they, and their teachers, used to help them understand. As a strong proponent of offering students choice, I began Free-Write Friday. Students could write whatever they wanted—songs, poems, narrative, stories. The first Free-Write Friday two students wrote, “This is the start of my first novel” and each week afterwards they wrote another part! Giving students an opportunity to blog and write authentically was one of the best things I ever did for my class. It gave my students a voice. I learned more about their capabilities and skills than I did through any other assignment.
We soon began focusing on Common Core writing strategies. One key focus of Common Core is claims and evidence in writing, so I began having students incorporate that into their blog posts. They were given prompts that focused on science, math, and history. Students had to take a position on a topic, such as the cause of the fall of the Mayan empire, and support it with evidence from their history class. Student skills at keyboarding were developed naturally through authentic writing experience. Even more importantly, students developed critical thinking skills and writing abilities. While you can certainly develop student computer skills through rote practice, consider engaging them through authentic writing and assignments.