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Archive for the ‘Elementary’ Category

As long as I have been involved with education there has been a discussion of whether or not technology is making a difference in learning, and whether or not we should use it in schools. This discussion takes place on a teacher-to-teacher level, as well as an administrative level. It occurs on primary, secondary and higher education levels. It may be time to shift the discussions to what we need our kids to learn and how they will implement that learning in our culture, and continue to learn, as the life long learners, which we, as educators, supposedly strive to make them to be.

The more we learn about learning, the further we seem to be getting away from the primary teaching lessons of the past. Lectures, although necessary, are no longer the focus of teaching methodology. Today’s methods seem to be relying on more collaborative and authentic learning. Actually doing and making, as opposed to having descriptions and theories delivered by lectures, is a shift, which is taking place in education today. Critical thinking, always addressed to some extent in learning, is now becoming more prominent in education.

The skills that educators are emphasizing more and more are skills of: curating information, analyzing information, understanding information, communicating information in various forms, collaborating on information both locally and globally, ultimately, creating information for the purpose of publishing and sharing. These are the goals of 21st Century educators. These are also the today’s needs of industry, business, and banking. Many of these skills are also needs of artists, writers, and musicians. Even politicians could use these skills, which are apparently lacking in a majority of our current leaders.

Now that we have seen how the needs of society have structured the needs of skills for students, and now that we have seen how the needs of education have structured the changes in methodology to address those skills, we now need to consider the best way to deliver access to information for curation, analysis, understanding, communicating and creating. For that direction let us consider what tools are used by Industry, Business, Banking, and the Arts. If the answer is TECHNOLOGY, why is there any debate about why, and how much technology should play a role in education? Yes, good teachers can teach without technology, but to what end, if the student will need to master technology to compete, or even exist in a technology-driven environment?
It is time that this debate ends. There are no choices for educators to make here. If we are educating our children to live and thrive in their world, we cannot limit them to what we were limited to in our world. As things change and evolve, so must education. As educators we have a professional obligation to change as well. We must retain a sense of relevance and that requires effort. Relevance does not come to us as we sleep in the night. Educators need to employ the very skills they are passing along to their students. They need to: curate, collaborate, communicate, critically think, and create. All of this is best accomplished through the use of tools of technology. An education without technology does not prepare our students with the skills that their world will require. Technology should be ubiquitous in education.

 

 

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I just finished an #Edchat that I left me with a feeling of not being able to add any authority to the discussion. For those unfamiliar, #Edchat is a weekly Twitter discussion on Education topics. This week’s discussion was based on this statement: There is a strong belief among some educators that poverty is the biggest factor in a failing education system.

It is difficult to have any discussion on this topic without people, including me, entering it with all of the biases built on myths and facts over the years. It is a mixture of biases not just of poverty, but race as well. It is not a comfortable place to be, since we are very aware of how incendiary these discussions can get with just a few poorly chosen words by well-intentioned people not thinking things through.

I am an average white guy who grew up on Long Island, New York in the 50’s in an all-white community that was designed to be just that, segregated. My college experience offered opposition to the Viet Nam War, and supported the Equal Rights Amendment in demonstrations that are now a part of history, and can now be only experienced through video clips on YouTube, or TV newscasts. I was a socially aware, late 60’s college student.

Nevertheless, I entered this Edchat discussion hoping to shed what little light I had on the subject of the huge effect that poverty has on today’s Education. To add to my total lack of credentials, I have never taught in a school that was considered to be in an impoverished community. In all honesty, when I devised this topic for the Edchat discussion, it was my hope that educators from poverty areas would join in to offer a credible voice on the subject.

It has been my experience that poverty comes in two large varieties, urban and suburban and they have both similarities and differences. Each community however, seems to have its own culture. How, and where education fits into that culture varies with every community. All are hindered by poverty and language barriers further hinder some. In a nation populated by immigrants, we are a host to many languages. If educators coming from English-speaking cultures to communities of non-English speaking students, that is a problem for education.

Many impoverished communities must deal with higher crime rates, as well as violence that are expressed with open gunfire. Communities are finding themselves under siege in many instances. How can Kids concerned about getting to school safely, making it through the school day there, and returning home safely, ever concentrate on learning?

The idea that the parents of poor students are sitting home all day without jobs is another myth. That prevents us from addressing poverty as a problem for education, and not as a bad result of some liberal social welfare programs. I was stunned to hear that the average age of fast food workers is 34 years of age. That tells me that people are trying to carry their families with jobs that are minimum wage dependent. How can anyone adequately support a family that way? It is however, the bulk of jobs that are available. Retail jobs, and service positions are also high on the occupation list for the poor. If most poor people are working, but not earning a living wage, that is another problem for education.

The very goal of what most educators strive for is that college education as the pot at the end of the rainbow. Educators see it as a way out for their students and can’t see why the kids drop out. If kids from poor families can hardly support the financial needs of a public school education, why would the goal of an over-priced college education be an incentive to graduate? The financial needs of the family often dictate the direction of the student’s need for education. That is another problem for education.

Research has shown us that nutrition and proper sleep are two components of a child’s home life that will determine his or her success in school. For a number of reasons, tied directly to poverty, this is rarely the case for students in poverty. This is yet another problem for education.

I have always supported the whole child approach to education expressed by ASCD:

Whole Child Tenets

Each student enters school healthy and learns about and practices a healthy lifestyle.

 

Each student learns in an environment that is physically and emotionally safe for students and adults.

 

Each student is actively engaged in learning and is connected to the school and broader community.

 

Each student has access to personalized learning and is supported by qualified, caring adults.

 

Each student is challenged academically and prepared for success in college or further study and for employment and participation in a global environment.

 

All of these are necessary for a student to succeed in school. The first three of the five are a struggle for students in impoverished schools. That is a problem for education.

I do not disagree with the belief that the most important element in a student’s education is the teacher. The teacher however is not the only factor in a student’s education. There is no level playing field here. That is a problem for education.

Educators adhere to Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning Domains, but before schools in poverty can even get there, Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs is a more-needed consideration. This is a problem for education.

I am the last person who should be talking about poverty, but I do feel confident in talking about education. As an educator it is obvious to me that unless we deal directly with the issue of poverty, we will never address the issue of education in any way to improve it. I have heard it said that if we factor out the schools in poverty, the U.S. education system is very good. A blind eye never works in the real world. If we don’t deal with the real issue we will continue with the real problems. This is the biggest problem faced by education. Nobody is pulling themselves up by their bootstraps in this world of poverty. That is a ridiculous expectation!

 

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The latest big thing in education is getting educators connected. The Department of Education is even declaring the month of October as Connected Educators’ Month to place an emphasis on and using, information, sources, and recruitment as key components in supporting a goal of connecting educators.

What is a connected educator? As a generalization, defining anything for educators is always a task, since educators try to make all definitions as inclusive and complete as possible to account for any contingency. It is as if someone can point out an exception to the rule, the definition must be flawed. As a result some bloggers try to qualify definitions in order to accommodate skeptical, or questioning educators. With that in mind, this is my definition of a connected educator. If it does not suit you make up your own. For me a connected educator is one who uses technology and social media to personalize learning for both personal and professional growth.

Of course someone will step up and say that we can do that face-to-face so we don’t need technology. Of course that is true, and that is the way that it was for many thousands of years, but we are no longer living with the limitations of past centuries. With the advent of the printing press, the radio, the telephone, the television, the calculator, the computer, and now the Internet, we have tools to get beyond face-to-face limitations. We can connect globally or locally without concerns for time or space. We live in an anytime, anywhere communication culture. Why would any educator dealing with thinking and learning not use that to his or her advantage, or the advantage of his or her students?

The big picture in being a connected educator is the idea that you as the educator are first connected to the general flow of information, and then secondly, focused on specific connections to drill down to the detailed needs specific to you, or your students’ needs. Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter are all applications that may be used to connect educators. Like it or not however, Twitter is the backbone of a majority of Personal/Professional Learning Networks for educators. Educators have taken Twitter beyond its intended use, making it a professional tool for collaboration. Approving or disapproving of the application is like approving or disapproving of a hammer or screwdriver. You can hate them all you want, but try building a house without them. Being on Twitter and following 200 sharing educators is a general connection that will meet general needs, and promote great reflection on education. Your Twitter timeline will flow with education sources and information 24/7. Information and sources are simply there for the taking. Using that timeline to focus on educators in your area of expertise will render ideas and lessons beyond general education philosophy to meet specifics in your area of study. If you teach English focus on English teachers. If you teach second grade focus on second grade teachers. There are thousands of connected educators in your specific area of expertise willing to share with you. Your task is to find them and connect.

I referred to Twitter as the backbone of a PLN because it is a constant flow of education sources and connections. You can literally post a question on Twitter and get answers back in seconds, if properly executed to a developed network of educators. To get beyond Twitter educators need to locate and follow Blogs that are in line with their needs. More and more bloggers are becoming our educational thought leaders. The benefit of blogs is that you may interact with the blogger, as well as the ideas in any post. Educators may question, test, and reflect on any ideas put forth in a post.

Ning sites are communities of educators with like interests. Joining any of these communities gives access to Blogs, discussions, videos, and groups specific to the needs of that community of educators. Ning sites are a great source for expanding connections

Skype and Google hangouts allow educators to select individuals for specific face-to-face interactions. Educators may connect with authors, experts, speakers, or other educators for personal, or classroom interactions. These interactions may also be recorded in order to be shared later. Making these connections lasting connections should be your goal.

There are several hundred education Chats taking place on Twitter each and every day. Participation in these chats enables educators the ability to exchange, consider, reflect, modify and adopt ideas from educators around the world. These chats are a great place to find, and connect with other educators based on the acceptance of their ideas as opposed to their title. Follow the chat hashtags.

Of course the irony of this post is that if you are reading it, you are more than likely a connected educator. You are also more than likely already familiar with all that I have said. There is however a purpose in sharing these ideas with you. We need to take these ideas to share with your non-connected colleagues. As we increase the number of connected educators in our connected community, we are increasing our knowledge pool. In doing so, we are getting more educators focusing on their needs in education. An idea not shared is just a passing thought. As individual thinkers we may be good, but collectively we are better. Convince a colleague to connect and we all benefit.

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“Preparing kids for the Real World” is a phrase that many educators and schools use without regard for the consequence of what they selectively choose as reality for their students. Both educators and institutions in many cases are still choosing for students by educating them traditionally, or more progressively using technology tools for learning. This probably begins with educators’ misconception of the real world.

We cannot prepare kids for the Real World when we still have a 20th century view of it. We are over a dozen years into the 21st Century and some kids in the system have another dozen years before they need their real world experience to hit the streets. That would take us a quarter through the 21st century. How time flies.

Yes, one can be a good teacher without technology. I will not dispute that claim. I believe it to be true. That however deals with a method of teaching, and not what needs to be taught. It is the how versus the what. If one buys into the preparation for the real world argument, teachers methodology choice should take a back seat to  how kids learn and what kids need to learn.

First, I must say that the real world for kids does not begin when they graduate. They are living in the real world now. Their world is quite different from ours. Their world is even more technology driven than ours. Schools cannot be protective cocoons holding our youth until they are matured and educated well enough to spread out their wings and take on the reality of the world. It makes a nice picture, but the subject today is reality.

I remember how Math teachers at one time used the slide rule for calculations. It was even allowed to be used in class, and sometimes on tests. Calculators had a tougher battle getting into classes. Even today many teachers ban them from tests. I wonder if the math jobs in the real world ban the use of calculators? I wonder if students familiar with computer programs dealing with advanced math are disadvantaged in the job market?

When private companies tell us that employees today should be versed in collaboration and be willing to work in groups to fit into the models and structures of modern workspaces in today’s businesses, does that ring true with our students’ education experience? Do educators and schools understand the needs of business in order to prepare students for it in the real world?

When employers are seeking candidates for writing positions in business, will they interview candidates with pen and paper writing samples, or will they ask to see finished writing projects with style and flair produced for print quality? Mechanics having the ability to rebuild a ’58 Chevy may be in high demand in Cuba, but, in the real world that we must prepare our kids for, this is less desirable than a mechanic who knows how to address the automotive computer world of repairs.

We live in a technology-driven society. Unless we choose to live in a commune in the woods or the desert, that will not change. Technology has permeated every part of our lives. It takes one lightning strike on your house to learn that lesson. In addition to all phones and electronics, even your home heating unit and ice maker will have computer chips that will need to be replaced.

Education as much as any other industry has been deluged with technological tools for learning, communication, collaboration, and creation. These tools represent and are used with everything that we teach and hold dear. Some are good and some are not. Our choice as educators should be between the good and the bad, the useful and the frivolous, the productive and the time wasters. As educators we no longer get to choose whether or not we use technology. If our goals, as well as we as educators, are to be believed, and we truly are preparing our students for the real world, we must concede that that world abounds with technology and there are no other choices. We would be more than remiss in our obligation as educators if we chose not to employ technology where it fits. There are times when it may not.

Now the questions arise, are our teachers trained and supported in technology use. Are the buildings adequately tooled for technology? Are administrators devising new, and updating antiquated policies to meet the challenges of teaching with technology? If we are not doing these things, are we then lying to our children when we tell them that we are preparing them for their future?

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Each Sunday afternoon there are five Topic questions posted on a poll to determine which will be selected as that week’s #Edchat Topic. There are two #Edchat discussions each Tuesday on Twitter, so the top two topics selected by the poll become the topics of the chats. The number two choice goes at noon, Eastern Time, and the number one selection goes at 7 PM, Eastern Time. The larger audience is the 7 PM Chat. If you did not know it before, I am the person responsible for making up the #Edchat Topic questions that are voted on each week. I admit that I do have favorites each week, but, more often than not, they are not the favorites of the voting public. This week it was a little different. I actually had two favorites, and fortunately for me, they were the chosen topics for the chats. I found both yesterday’s #Edchat discussions thought-provoking, and very much in need of public discussion. The topics were very much connected as well.

#Edchat is very much an open, public discussion by educators from around the world. Ideas on each topic are presented from various points of view as we discuss the varied topics in education each week. As in any public discussion, a person may pick and choose those ideas that suit his/her needs and in this case, educational philosophy. Sometimes it is a new idea, and other times it is validation of what is already being done. Since it is a discussion using Twitter as the platform, most of the participants are educators who are somewhat familiar with technology and social media. As a generalization they tend to be a collaborative group, more progressive in their approach to education, and open to the use of technology as a tool for learning.

The other day I engaged an educator who described himself as a 20th century traditionalist educator (my words). He said that he participated in #Edchat so that he could know his “Enemy”. When I called him on this, he informed me that “Enemy” was in quotes in his tweet. I guess that was to make it humorous, but there is much truth in humor. The point here is that most of the participants are striving to move from the methods and pedagogy of 20th century education to a place that we have not yet found. It is also a great help when authors and experts on these various topics join in on the Chats giving clarity and direction in their areas of expertise. Many of these thought leaders are connected educators.

Usually the #Edchat question is a singular interrogative. The Topics this week had more than one part in the hope of generating more discussion. The noon Chat Topic: What is the BIG Shift in education that everyone is looking for? Is there one big idea that can positively affect education? If not why? Of course there is no single idea because education is too complex for an easy fix. A point lost to most politicians and business people. The question, I thought, would prompt the chatters to present and promote their best and biggest idea.

From the folks I engaged in conversation on this topic the overwhelming objective was support of student-centric as opposed to teacher-centric lessons. The shift being from Direct instruction, and lecture to problem-based, or project-based learning. The teacher would no longer be the content-delivery expert filling the empty vessels of students, but rather a mentor, guiding their learning direction rather than mandating it.

The 7 PM Question: Children are anxious learners in the early grades of education. What are the factors that turn kids off to learning, as they get older? This #Edchat started slowly. I hate when that happens. My biggest fear in doing these chats is that there may come a time when nobody responds to the question. Going into moderator mode, I broke the topic down, and peppered the chatters with a series of smaller questions to loosen them up. That worked which immediately calmed me down. It was like the priming of an old well. It took a minute to get it going, but it came on strong.

Words that popped up with those who I engaged were curiosity, authenticity, and ownership. What I took from it was that students at a young age are curious about learning because it is all new and exciting. It is also relevant ant authentic since what kids are learning enables them to participate in more stuff as well as society. However, some reach a point where they think they have as much as they need and the curiosity is gone. The direction however continues providing to them things that they no longer want to engage in. They do not own their learning and cannot direct its direction to things they would like to learn. If this occurs in a student, it comes at different times for each student. Some teachers saw it on the elementary level others in Middle school where hormones play an even bigger role. The point here is that it happens to many students.

Engagement in learning is the goal of education and the ability for students to own that learning and for it to be authentic, and relevant was a theme for this #Edchat. Again it came down to the teacher being the guide or mentor and not a content delivery person directing content to kids who don’t see it as relevant or authentic. They prefer to create content instead of memorizing it. They prefer to use content instead of regurgitating it on a test.

Both of these #Edchats led me to the same place. For kids to be engaged in learning it will be more effective if they own it and direct it. Teachers can always guide the direction and, as content experts, they have the capacity to do so. Teaching kids how to learn, and how to continue to learn, is more important than whatever content the curriculum tells us the students should know for a test. If we can use their interest to promote our content, fine. If our content doesn’t interest students at all, then what do we do?

#Edchat is not the best method to introduce people to online chats for the first time without preparation. It requires some knowledge and a little strategy. If you are interested, this may help: #Edchat Revisited.  If you are interested in viewing the past #Edchat discussions, we have archived the last several years here: #Edchat Archives.  If you do not have time to read, you can download a podcast analysis of several of the #Edchats from Bam Radio Network, and The #Edchat Radio Show.  #Edchat is one of many education chats. It was started 4 years ago be Shelly Terrell,@shellterrell, Steve Anderson, @web20classroom, and me,@tomwhitby. It was not the first chat, but it is the most enduring, and it has spawned many, many others.

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Dell Computer has sponsored four education Think Tanks over the last year, or so, and I have been fortunate to participate in three of them. At each get-together educators, education related organizers, education industry executives, and most recently students, were brought together in an open discussion on the weighty topics of education and education reform. All of the discussions were video-taped, and live-streamed, and even animated on a mural to a viewing audience. The final production was archived to a special website maintained by Dell. During these discussions the participants were even tweeting out discussion ideas in real-time, which reflected out to the growing community of connected educators on Twitter. Transparency abounds at these Dell Computer think tanks.

Each of the groups is given four to six general topics of concern in education to discuss for about forty-five minutes to an hour. Since the members are all invited guests, they are usually intelligent, passionate, and well-versed in aspects of education specific to their profession.

What I love most about this latest group, and others similar to it, is that if you put a number of intelligent and reasonable people together in a room to come up with a goal for the common good, the results are usually positive and helpful. This is a real teachable-moment lesson for all of our politicians in Congress today.

Dell has provided a great platform for getting to the heart and identifying some of the pressing problems of education through the eyes of these educators, but it doesn’t provide a means of enacting solutions to those problems. If it were a question of educational problems being identified and solved by educators within the education system, there would be far less a problem. But, like all complex problems, there is more to it than that. Progress is being stymied by the 6 “P’s”. By this I am not referring to the military expression “Proper Planning Prevents P*ss Poor Performance”. I am talking about Poverty, Profit, Politics, Parents, Professional development, and Priorities preventing progress in Public Education.

Profit is a big deterrent for change in the system. Most educators agree that high stakes, standardized testing is one of the leading problems with the system today. The idea of changing that anytime soon is remote however. The leading education publishing companies are making a BILLION dollars a year alone on creating and maintaining standardized tests. The profits are even higher in the area of textbooks, so progress in that area, even with the advent of the Internet and endless sources for free information, will show little change soon. Of course these companies all have lobbyists working on the next “P” Politicians.

Politicians are very much influenced by money. Some may even distort the facts to support the interests of their financial backers. Since education itself is a multi-billion dollar industry, that until recently was not, for the most part, in the private sector, it has become the goal of some politicians to put more schools into the private sector. This has made public education a political football. Education for Profit is the new frontier. Along with that comes an initiative to publicly praise teachers, while privately and politically demonizing them. For too many individuals the words Education Reform are code words for Labor, or Tax reform, or both.

Business people and politicians are quick to solicit the help of Parents. Parents, who are familiar with the education system of the 19th and 20th Centuries, the very system under which most of us were educated, are easily duped into trusting the lies of standardized testing. The belief that test results are an indication of learning, and that if the scores are low, it is the fault of the teachers, is a concept delivered by politicians and profit conscious business people. This is a concept that is easily believed by those who are less educated about education. We need to educate parents that although it is true that the teacher can be the biggest influence in a child’s life, the teacher is not the only influence. This less emphasized fact, that the teacher is not the sole influence in a child’s life, brings us to another “P”, Poverty.

If we factored out all of the schools in our education systems which are affected by poverty, we would have a great education system. Poverty however, represents people. Children in poverty have many things acting upon them and probably the least influential is the school system. A child who is hungry cannot learn. A child who is sleep-deprived cannot learn. A child who is fearful cannot learn. A child who is not healthy cannot learn. A child who is not in class cannot learn. What does a standardized test mean to these children? How can we hold the child responsible for those test results? How can we hold the teacher responsible for that child’s test results?

And finally, we arrive at the last “P”, Professional development. To be better educators we need to be better learners. We live in a technology-driven culture that moves faster than any we have ever known. We need to educate our educators on how to keep up to be relevant. Professional Development must be part of the work week. Skills have changed in the 21st Century, but many who are responsible for teaching those skills have not changed themselves. They need education and not condemnation.

My final “P” is for Priority. If education was more than a lip-service commitment from the American people, we would not be having these discussions. We tied education to taxes and that will never bring us together on needed solutions. That is the very reason National Defense has less of a problem. If we are determined to fix education, than we will need to fund it differently. Public education is our National Defense. It is too important to privatize for political gain or profiteering. Educators need to educate Parents, Politicians and Business People about education and not the other way around. Educators must also educate themselves on what education is, as we move forward, because it is, and from now on will always be a moving target.

As always this is just my humble opinion.

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I recently attended a complete immersion of education philosophy, education methods and pedagogy, technology tools for learning and connectedness with education thought leaders from around the world. All of this took place at one of our premier annual education conferences, ISTE 2012 in San Diego. Educators attend these conferences with their own focuses. They select the sessions they need from a smorgasbord of high-quality presentations on education topics given by practitioners and authors, all vetted by a screening committee of educators.

A majority of the comments that I heard from attendees were positive, with one exception. There were some presenters who adopted a stand-and-deliver lecture style — the death-by-PowerPoint presentation. Many educators simply hated this type of presentation and were fairly vocal about it. Of course, I am but one person talking to a small sample of people, so there might be less to this than I was led to believe.

Of course, individual presentation styles cannot be controlled by screening committees. It will only be through feedback that these methods will dwindle and die. We will always have a lecture form of method for teaching, but we can hope for it not to be a focus for all lessons. The more engaging give-and-take, discussion-oriented presentations seemed to have been more popular with the folks with whom I spoke. This should be a lesson to all educators to take back to their classroom practice.

My personal focus for this conference was to make connections. Connectedness among educators is something you will be hearing quite a bit about in the upcoming month. It has been so declared as a national month of observance. Of course, the irony is that many of the national organizers have not been connected educators. Educators who have been connected and working those connections were contacted late in the process. That is another post for later.

ISTE 2012 is one of the best sources for connecting with education experts and education thought leaders. My goal was to touch base, connect or reconnect with as many of these folks as possible. Fortunately, each time I connected, a valuable conversation resulted.

Many educators use various methods to connect with other educators for the purpose of professional exchanges. These exchanges include ideas, information, websites, webinars, videos, advice, connections to other educators and personal relationships. Connected educators use conferences such as ISTE 2012 for face-to-face meetings with those digital connections.

All of this is valuable to a profession that before digital connections was somewhat isolated. Digital connections can provide a bridge to cross that void of professional and personal relationships. The connectedness of ISTE attendees is most prevalent, and there appeared to be a high percentage of connected educators in attendance. This, of course, is my opinion, but with all of the social media tools at my disposal, I am probably directly or indirectly connected to 40,000 to 50,000 educators.

Who should I connect with?

That’s the question that I always get from people new to digitally connecting with other educators. I went to ISTE to seek out and connect with education thought leaders I hold in high regard. My standard was to connect with those who not only have great ideas in education but also are willing to share those ideas. An idea not shared is only a passing thought that will never become an idea. The best part of ISTE 2012 for me is that no one was unapproachable. As in social media, ideas at ISTE 2012 were the focus, and a person’s position and title took a back seat. My interest was to interact with many of the folks who are public supporters of those ideas. These are the people I follow and interact with daily.

I always hate putting out lists because there are too many people who might belong on that list but are left off. I will say that this is a partial list of those with whom I connected at ISTE 2012. Most were presenters and keynoters. Feel free to use this as a starting point or an additional resource for educators to follow on Twitter.

@dwarlick, @shareski, @teach42, @djakes, @adambellow, @dlaufenberg, @joycevalenza, @mluhtala, @willrich45, @mbteach, @web20classroom, @cybraryman1, @kylepace, @thenerdyteacher, @coolcatteacher, @shannonmmiller, @stumpteacher, @BethStill, @chrislehmann, @kenroyal, @SirKenRobinson, @smartinez, @garystager, @stevehargadon, @ewanmcintosh, @InnovativeEdu, @amandacdykes, @2footgiraffe

My apologies go to the many whom my faulted memory has omitted. I am sure they will be included on some follow-up lists.

ISTE 2012 provided many things to many educators. My best take-away is the great face-to-face connections with people with whom I have been digitally connected, as well as with those with whom I want to be connected. In a profession that relies on teaching relevant information to ready students for the world that they live in, we must maintain our own relevance as educators and citizens. Being a connected educator is the best way we can maintain that relevance. ISTE 2012 reinforced that position for me, and my personal goal is to connect the dots and help all educators to be connected.

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For several years, I have been involved with social media as an educator — asking questions and sometimes providing answers with other educators. I was once asked for my special power. My answer: “My ability to connect the dots.”

It enables me to look smart without knowing the answer to the question, because I connect people with questions to those with answers. That is one of the advantages of being a connected educator. Social media is a great vehicle for these connections because of the vast variety of collaboration-minded educators who populate it and their willingness to help. It’s a teacher thing. What I like the best about social media is that ideas are considered on their own merit, without regard to the title of the person offering them. Administrators, teachers and students are all equals.

Some of the brightest educators I have known over my 40-year career are people I met through social media. Without Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+ and others, I would not be connected to as many educators as I am. At best, my personal learning network would consist of teachers in my district and those I connected with at whatever conference I was lucky enough to attend. If I did not meet with them in person, I would need to call them. With social media, however, my connections are global and endless. I exchange ideas with educators worldwide. I have seen my blog posts translated into other languages.

I find that one of the big myths of social media is that it doesn’t allow for strong relationships. I have found the opposite to be true. The strongest relationships I have had with educators have all been formed through social media. I have opened my home, as people have opened theirs for me, as a result of our social media connections. Authors are more than pictures on a book sleeve to me. I exchange ideas with many all of the time. My ideas appear in their books. All of this could not happen with the frequency it does without social media.

Now, I have been offered a unique position. I am able to call on many of those connected educators to share their ideas with more educators. These ideas will be appear on SmartBrief’s SmartBlog on Education. These are educators talking about education. Many have their own blogs and are on Twitter or LinkedIn, and I would encourage all educators to follow them. These are our education thought leaders. Their perspectives are a welcome refuge from politicians and business people who have dominated the national discussion on education for the past several years.

It is our intention to show you what can be accomplished in education with the latest methodology, as well as the newest technology for learning. This will be an educator’s perspective, delivered to other educators and addressing some of the oldest needs of our education system. It is a great opportunity to strengthen the educator’s voice in the national conversation on education.

SmartBlog on Education has a potential readership of almost three-quarters of a million educators. Guests whom we hope to provide represent the best thought leaders in education that social media has to offer. Your support and comments will be an important element in guiding us.

Do you read SmartBrief’s roster of free, concise, daily e-mail newsletters for education professionals? Sign up!

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My last post, Hypocrisy in the Profession of Education, seems to have gotten quite a few people talking about educators needing to learn more. Of course there were some who disagreed, which is an inevitable consequence of blogging. One of the comments that caused me to think even more about this educator/learner topic was a comment that I had received concerning the methods I suggested might need a revisit of learning. Authentic learning and project-based learning were two that were specifically mentioned by a commenter. The comment was to the effect that these were methods of teaching that have been with us for years, so why would educators need to learn them? That set me to examining why, or even if, we need to revisit any of the things we should be teaching. What is different about: communication, collaboration, collection of information, critical thinking, and creation from 20, 50 or 100 years ago? Obviously, the function, and purpose of those skills remains the same, so what is different? Why are we being told our students need better preparation in these skills? If we have always taught these skills before with success, what makes it different now?

We always taught kids how to write and encouraged them to get published. This was the goal of any good writer, the success of publication. The idea of submitting transcripts to publishers in great numbers as a buffer against the inevitable rejection slips was also advised. For many English teachers their greatest pride came from having a published student. What’s the difference today? The computer is the publisher. There are no rejection slips other than an audience response. Kids understand this, but many educators are playing catch up if they get it at all. I recently listened to two college professors describe their writing program and not once did they mention the words “Blog”, or “Post”. Writing for a post for an audience is different than writing a composition for your teacher to read. This is an area that all educators need to discuss and learn.

We always taught critical thinking, and how to vet sources. We taught which newspapers and magazines were reliable, trustworthy sources. Today newspapers and magazines are disappearing. They are being replaced by 24/7, cable news cycles, websites, blog posts, and social media. There is much more of a need for critical thinking skills than ever before. There are fewer reliable sources to count on. The super-pacs have proven that sound bites and images are more persuasive than facts. Again, this is an area that educators need to discuss and learn.

Communication has always been taught. We have always had kids stand before the class and deliver reports and presentations. Science fairs in every county in America have kids communicating their data on poster boards. That happens with such frequency that Poster Board manufacturing became an industry in this country. How many job seekers will put “great poster board skills” on a resume’? Yes, I know there are other important things kids learn from this beyond the poster board, but why not take them beyond the poster board? Again, this is an area that educators need to discuss and learn.

Creation is the highest point on Bloom’s Pyramid. Some educators think that it is the peak of the pyramid because it is so hard to get to without mastering all the other skills. Some people may not think everyone is capable of getting to that peak of higher order thinking skills. We might find that the reason many students don’t reach a point of creating is that we have always limited the means they had to do so. We were only equipped to receive prescribed reports, oral projects, and an occasional video project. That has all been blown up by the evolution of technology and social media. Justin Bieber was barely in his teens when he launched and promoted his creations into a multi-million dollar industry. He did not use a report, oral report, or a video tape to do this. When it comes to creation, we as educators shouldn’t limit our students. Again, this is an area that educators need to discuss and learn.

Technology has evolved at a rate which has changed our culture as a society, and has had a profound effect on education. Society’s demands on what it expects from contributors has evolved, so that what we turned out as literate in the past, is no longer literate in today’s world. Even with that being said there are many who doubt it. There are schools that refuse to recognize technology as a factor in education. Again, this is an area that educators need to discuss and learn.

I am not attacking educators on this. Our society in general needs to discuss and learn. We need more people to be connected. Technology is not going away or standing still. It will continue to evolve whether individuals accept that or not. If it is a factor in our society as a tool for: communication, collaboration, collection of information, critical thinking, and creation, then we must teach our citizens how to use it as a tool. Our kids will be required to do so in their world, which is not here yet. It should change priorities in education as to what we teach and how we teach it. Authentic learning and critical thinking are now huge factors because kids are learning and interacting without the benefit of a classroom or a school.   Education must not be limited by standardized testing. Our responsibility as educators is too great. These topics of discussion would best be served through leadership. Education administrators may need to prioritize these discussions over those of budgets and tests. These are the concerns that need to be driven by Professional Development. This is an area that educators and parents need to discuss and learn.

 

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My friend, John Carver, a prominent education leader in Iowa, Skyped me the other day just to kick around some ideas in education that he was considering.  John and I often have discussions about education. Of course my favorite thing about our discussions is that John often likes what I have to say. As always, things came around to the role of technology in education. John has been a leader in the 1:1 laptop movement in Iowa schools.

During the course of our discussion we both agreed that there is a need to clarify and agree on quite a few of the things that many of us take for granted. These are things that we all assume are commonly understood in education. The most obvious being an agreement on what the goal of education is. It has been my experience in my observations that if you ask 50 educators, “what is the goal of education?”, there will be as many as 49 different answers. Of course point of view has a great deal to do with one’s definition. Students, teachers, administrators, and parents would each approach it from their own perspective, but that would be true of anything.

There is no subject however, that this is more obviously less definable than when we attempt to define technology. Ironically, many believe that the definition is universally agreed upon. I often argue that when it comes to using technology that there is not a generation gap, but a learning gap. I do believe that. The idea of what anyone considers technology however, is very different depending on a person’s age. This may be a reason for a slow adoption of technology as a tool for learning. I have written about this before, inspired by a Sir Ken Robinson video. The idea being that, what we consider to be technology, is totally dependent on when it was introduced into our lives.

There is a book and a movie that immediately come to mind that underscore this: A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court; and Back to The Future. In both stories the main characters introduced tools from their culture that were no longer considered technology, to a culture unfamiliar with them, and therefore astounded at their existence as well as their capabilities. That is a concept that we easily understand, as long as the future is brought back into the past. It gets tricky trying to apply the same idea from the present moving forward.

Let us consider the automobile. When it comes to travel today, beyond using our feet, the automobile is probably our transportation of choice. Rarely do we refer to it or even think about the car as technology, because it has always been with us. We were born after that technology was invented, so it has become a tool of our everyday life. We don’t research its worth or try to decide whether people should use it or not. It is here to stay and evolve without another thought other than how to make it better or cheaper. The same is probably true of TV’s and Phones. We have them. We use them. We always expect that they will be with us in some form.

Now let’s address computers. Much of our adult population can readily remember when this technology was introduced. They have a memory of the first PC’s and Mac’s. They can track memories of rotary phones, princess phones, car phones, and mobile phones. These were all invented within their lifetime. Most adults knew where they were when “Al Gore invented the Internets”. This, to them, is technology. They reserve the right to use it, or not, since they know the benefits of what came before. Not too many are holding on to rotary phones, but I have not yet given up my land line (My Choice).This attitude accounts for the experience of many, many educators today. They grew up and learned without technology. It was invented in their lifetime so they have a choice to use it or stay with the tried and true of days gone by.

Now let’s look at the student perspective. There isn’t one kid today in our modern culture that doesn’t have access to a computer. Most kids today live with cellphones, if not Smartphones specifically. If you don’t know it already, a smartphone is simply a complex computer with phone capabilities.What many adults don’t get is that computers and smartphones are not considered technology by kids. They are not in awe of the capabilities of these tools. They expect it. It is part of their world. Educators should not be so arrogant as to think they have the ability to decide whether or not kids can use these tools for learning. The kids do it with, or without adult permission. Any educator has the right to choose to live in a cave, however, they do not have the right to drag their students in there with them.

As long as these technologies exist and continue to move forward, we as educators have an obligation to teach responsible and thoughtful use of these tools. We as educators have a responsibility to be relevant in what and how we teach. I do not know if kids’ brains are wired differently as a result of all that is new in technology. I do know that what astounds me with these tools, is thought to be expected by students. They sleep with their Smartphones. Just ask them. Their perspective to this technology is the perspective we must deal with, and not our own. Our perspective becomes more irrelevant each day.

I love this video. If you have any doubts of what I have just said, watch this video. This is how a one year old approaches something that we all take for granted, a magazine. The child’s perspective however, is one that assumes the very technology that many adults have yet to accept. Learn from this small, but tech-savvy, one-year-old. Click here to view the video.

I now will send this post to my friend, John Carver to use any way he sees fit. I welcome you to do the same. Of course your comments are welcomed.

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