Why is innovation in education so crucial today?
I had to promise myself as I wrote this post that I wasn’t going to have a negative outcome or perspective. I’m sure other teachers in #IMMOOC are thankful for these online opportunities to share their thoughts and be inspired. I’m also sure I’m like others, who still see a minority of the teachers in their district participating outside them in such an online forum or who would use words such as imperative or crucial when talking about the need for change or innovation.
There are so many questions that come to mind when trying to answer the question we have been tasked with for our #IMMOOC blog prompt. As Jo Boaler was sharing her difficult path to achieving what she has with her books and her inspirational lessons for students in Youcubed, I was struck by how we all seem to have to overcome colleagues around us who either disagree with the need for innovation or even worse are indifferent. I think that we live and work in a confusing and challenging system in education. We can’t even agree on the meaning and defining of key terms. The lexicon that we start from in education such as teacher, learner, knowledge, and preparation has become politicized and redefined to the point where it becomes more divisive to discuss the very words that describe us.
What is a teacher?
Thinking of what it means to be a teacher, it is hard to believe that there are still those that expect the teacher to be a transmitter of knowledge and for whom the lecture model is still relevant. And there are those of us think the opposite is true and who see our role as a facilitator, and think that the minimizing of direct instruction to allow for students to build their understanding by actively choosing and filtering information that is relevant for them is the best way to “teach” our students. Thinking of these distinctions in relations such as whether you are Behaviorist or a Constructivist carry with them too much abstraction and seem remote from the day to day functioning of a classroom. That being said, how do we explain that for example at one 5th grade classroom you will see a teacher asking her students to memorize the 50 states names and capitals and the testing of them multiple times with multiple choice or fill in the blank questions, with a final research report, which merely asks students to restate in their own words what they read from a few websites versus a totally different experience happening for a 5th grade class next door. Next door a teacher may have his or her students creating a virtual field trip and asks the students to plan a vacation across the US incorporating math, science, and language arts, which allows students to choose a variety of experiences and ways to present the information. One group of students may be able to recall by memory a name connected to another name, while another group of students may have learned skills for finding, filtering information based on relevance and interest to the choices previously made. A teacher should optimize, enhance, challenge, nurture, empower their students to be curious, engaged, love learning and driven to better understand the world around them. Innovative ways to teach must continue to be available for those that truly understand what is required of a teacher today.
We can’t agree on what is learning or what a learner is?
We still have some teachers who don’t understand depths of knowledge and who are rewarded for their students performing well on standardized tests. They think a student writing correct answers on tests and worksheets still shows understanding. What they don’t realize is that given a new context, the chances are that these same students would struggle with applying, synthesizing or judging the concepts they supposedly have mastered. They also don’t understand that the skills we don’t test for such as the ability to collaborate, create, problem solve, empathize, and think outside the box should be prioritized over memorization and simple comprehension.
What makes a good test?
We know that these days everything we do is supposedly supported by data, big data. The problem is is that certain types of tests are easier to capture data from than others. Computer adaptive tests are changing this landscape, but much of what we desire involving performance tasks and higher levels of thinking have to be scored by hand. Even a lot of the tech tools that are considered innovative and an easier way to capture data rely on multiple choice type questions that a machine can score. We should be asking in many instances why we need tests at all?
So if the definitions of key terms that we use daily with our colleagues or the district where we teach are so open to interpretation then it’s easy to see that innovation in education is critical, but change is not going to be widespread or extensive without choice.
Choice comes before change.
I always think that for the students educational experience to truly be relevant and meaningful that the hierarchy within a school district which begins with the superintendent needs to change. That the superintendent needs to change his/her relationship with the instructional directors. That the instructional directors need to change their relationship with the coaches or coordinators who create the professional development for the teachers. And if this structure is altered to empower teachers then the teachers will have choice in order to have a chance to do something amazing with their students. Couros even point this out in the introduction this week, that teachers need to break the rules sometimes in order to be innovative with their students. The mind numbing professional development meetings in which teachers are checking emails and not paying attention and for which there is a person standing in front of them talking ad nauseum about some irrelevant requirement or instructional material needs to go away. Meetings should focus on innovative choices a teacher can make that involve professional growth for the teacher and an amazing experience for the students.
Words are not the only way we communicate and understand the world.
Today in my position as tech coach I worry a lot now that with the use of technology has become for many teachers merely a substituting of one set of tools for another. Gary Stager in a recent post challenged the widespread use of Chromebooks as a primary student tool. Teachers seem to love Chromebooks because it works so well with the Google suite of productivity tools that are at heart presentations of primarily words. Chromebooks work well until tasked with trying to process video, compile a complex coded program, create a 3D design for printing, or mix a multiple track sound track in a multimedia project. All the alternative ways that students can communicate such as using visual thinking incorporating coding or video are subsumed under poor processing power. I think it is wrong to give our students a “junior” version of a computer that reinforces that a word processor is the best way to make meaning and show understanding of the world.
The best teachers shield their students.
Sadly, as adults we are continuously aware about what is wrong with the educational system we have to work in. A teacher has to make a choice that they will protect their students from the mind numbing lessons, standards, and testing which could rip out of the heart of a classroom all the curiosity, meaningfulness, and opportunities for empowerment that the teacher tries to give his or her students.
I will forever cheer and praise those teachers for whom taking a workshop or class such as IMOOC is imperative!
So why is innovation in education so crucial today?
Our language to share meaning is breaking down. Isn’t it curious that we’ve discarded cursive, that, thankfully, we don’t have computer labs whose sole purpose for some teachers was to teach typing. That the use of notebooks is being embraced not because it’s about writing by hand, but of how information is better processed by the brain and retained. Not only are notebooks to store information with words, but also to create visual representations such as sketchnotes to take notes and process information. We’ve come this far, and now it’s time to go where the outcomes are obscured. We can’t go back and even the certainty of the words that our profession uses to define itself is no longer possible to fall back on.
Without innovation we allow the deterioration of meaningful learning and relevancy for our students. We would support those in education who trivialize and make secondary in their lives the sacred work we have been entrusted with. We reinforce the notion that the status quo is acceptable and that mediocrity doesn’t harm or hold back our students. We have one way forward and that is through innovation.
When thinking about a learner focussed classroom, the activity called Genius Hour is frequently mentioned. Genius Hour encapsulates a way to begin individualizing our student’s learning, and to do so in a project type of environment.
What is Genius Hour?
As we know, there are many ways to be innovative in solving problems in the world. Many companies have realized that as their employees have been given responsibilities for their positions their total skills, abilities, and interests are not always part of their job. The same is true for our students in which we have a set of lessons and activities that we ask them to do and yet there always seems to be those students who appear to have interests that they are passionate about that can’t seem to be incorporated into the day to day work. To solve this problem, companies such as Google, created what they called the 20% time policy. This policy allowed employees to devote 20% of their work day to projects that the employee would most benefit Google. Shifting this concept over to education the idea becomes one in which the student is allowed to work on something they are passionate about that would most benefit their own learning. As A.J. Juliana points out:
“Genius Hour is a time given to students in classrooms around the world to work on inquiry-driven and passion-based projects that are built on intrinsic motivation.”
During the projects students explore their creativity, develop habits for learning, and gain experiences that connect directly to fostering growth mindsets. The best projects also incorporate ways to improve or help the lives of others in the world.
What are some key classroom management needs?
There are many resources to read and glean information as you’ll see below on the Padlet. The key to having a successful Genius Hour in the classroom is to:
- Begin by connecting students to their passion, or what they want to learn about.
- Have a clear essential question that requires students to research, process, and filter information to gain an understanding in their topic.
- Set clear milestones or goals along the way. Students should understand the sequence of steps to follow.
- Have a shared classroom tool for students to reflect on what they are learning during each step of their journey and what they will do next.
- Give students time at the end to create a presentation of what they learned and what they did.
Here’s a Padlet with links to get started and learn more about Genius Hour.
Here’s a Genius Hour Hyperdoc presentation for students to get them started and keep track of their project..
I can’t believe it’s already been a few weeks since I attended the first Raspberry Pi Academy in Mountain View, CA. The organization and structure of the weekend really help take my understanding to the next level. The experience was everything I had hoped and more. The team really helped us the teachers now as learners begin seeing through a hands on experience the value of using such a device to involve our students in critical thinking and problem solving.
From that point on I knew that we would have an interesting time of learning. I also felt supported to be a learner and not have the pressure of being graded or have to worry that my understanding of Raspberry Pi would be judged.
My first experience was to use Scratch to make an LED light and blink at various rates and intensities. This wasn’t so difficult and everyone in the room was able to succeed.
Later on we would slowly get into more advanced concepts and that’s where my failure rate increased but at the same time the level of support from people in the room increased to ensure that I was able to do whatever the activity that was asked of us.
After a few rotations I was paired with a partner and we were tasked with creating something that involved a motor and other materials that were available. We were
able to make a version of the toy eight-ball where a person would ask a question and receive a random answer.
By the end of the first day I was quite exhausted but excited by what I had learned.
All the educators did a brainstorm on things they were interesting in learning more about using post-its on a whiteboard and these were later organized for the next day.
The next day we were given several presentations and then we were given a further set of instructions to help us complete our final project. I decided that I wanted to do a weather station using a Raspberry Pi Sense Hat that we had learned to use a short time before.
I followed several online sets of instructions and even with no real Python coding experience was able to get the readings and display them on the Sense Hat as well as send them to my Twitter account.
T: 28.95 P: 1027.16 H: 34.04
— Derrall Garrison (@derrallg) February 28, 2016
If someone had asked me at the beginning of the weekend if I would have been able to do such feats with the Raspberry Pi, Python programming, and a Sense Hat I would have told them they were wrong, but there it was.
And at the end of the day I was a certified Raspberry Pi Educator 🙂
Make sure to check the latest listings to see if there is a Pi Academy or check#picademy on twitter in your area. In fact as I write this there are still openings in the next USA Pi Academy. Make sure to apply now today March 25th is the deadline. I guarantee you will have one of those life changing and amazing experiences.
I was frustrated yesterday as I was reading an article from one of the educational sites that I enjoy called Edudemic. I usually read what they’ve posted once a day and I almost always read articles involving ideas of how to create PLNs or guides for social media and educators no matter what the source. Yesterday I got to the bottom of the article and saw a graphic by Silvia Tolisano that I have shared many times and itself is based on an original graphic by Alex Couros as Silvia points out on her Flickr page.
The graphic is attributed to Teachers Using Tech and when clicked on takes the viewer to the blogger’s article on PLNs and again incorrectly attributes the graphic to another good writer Lisa Nielson. The link is to an article on creating a PLN but the graphic isn’t on this page.
Why did I take the time to trace back this series of wrongly attributed graphic? I’m bothered when I see information wrongly attributed to someone else rather than members of my PLN who worked hard to share and create interpretations and representations of what it means to be a teacher to put it simply. Maybe I’m the only one bothered by this?
I’m bothered that I still see teachers around me using Google image and having their students do so without thinking about or sharing the source. Can’t we as educators do better than this? Ultimately I hope that some day the image files themselves will have the attribution embedded within the file.
In this particular instance we have an educator who works hard as a consultant creating an image and also licensed the graphic so it could used and shared by other educators.
Sylvia did her part, creating, sharing, and licensing so others could use it without worry. If Edudemic is considered a commercial business than they need to be more careful. Can’t those others that repurpose this content do their part? How do we make sure this doesn’t happen?
The ISTE 2012 conference was a varied ecosystem, it felt like a hierarchical free zone in which both the intellectual highs of research based learning and teaching pedagogy are presented and fervently discussed alongside the appropriation of hipster bravado and merriment. They coexist because learning was still extent for either approach to presenting. Just as our students need variety and a shifting of traditional learning with more accessible and motivating playfulness. It reminds me that in our classrooms we have the traditional text, a container of meaning which both students and teachers can feel is safe side by side with having our students use the Internet for finding information in which another layer of sophistication or lens needs to be applied. We have teachers wearing ties and following traditional methods but also incorporating gaming, media, remixing all happening at the same time.
In one day I went from seeing Gary Stager adamantly pushing for the classrooms many of us desire in which invention and creativity solve all the learning goals that my students must achieve during the course of the year with authentic problem solving. In particular the robot ballerina stands out as Stager pointed out the mirroring of robot by the little girl's body movement as an important developmental cue. Afterwards I went to the Hollywood Squares session in which educators dressed as stars and the questions asked had to do with recalling or figuring out key statements made from various Youtube or TED presentations.
One of my favorite sessions because it seemed so relevant to the needs of my own district and its inability to push for innovation outside individual classrooms was Suzie Boss's session. I loved the session because it focussed on a district's model for bringing innovation and a creative focus for the students even with a varied demographic environment. There were principals present and she Skyped in Pam Moran the superintendent. I created a Storify session to save some of the discussion. Hopefully this sort of presentation is a harbinger of positive change for larger systems such as districts that all together embrace a different way of thinking.
My perspective overall was fairly restricted as I had family that would wait until I could get away and take them to one of the many fun family activities in the San Diego area. I would usually leave in the late morning or early afternoon so there is much I missed, but still I then would periodically check in on Twitter following the #iste12 hashtag.
The nexus for me as usual was the Blogger's Cafe, where those who are there are accessible and amenable to interaction, but the whole sails pavilion seemed to promote the informal and social type of interactions with people that the Blogger's cafe is there for.
I had volunteered to help at the Newbie Lounge which Beth Still had organized as well as donated to her "Send a Newbie to ISTE" project. and as a result ended up talking to various people. I spoke with an educator from South America, also spoke briefly with the founder of Edshelf, Mike Lee, and finally was able to meet @cybraryman/Jerry Blemengarten
The flipped classroom label was so prevalent that I couldn't get a sense of who was really up and modeling the best or most innovative methods, but I did meet Ramsey Musallam who has the website Flipteaching and
who has done his graduate work on the subject and has a large set of research information accessible and linked off his website.
Along with the rockstar sessions and the discussion about who are the rockstars I had a sense that people are experimenting with the image of who a teacher is and how we represent our selves. It was interesting to see the #edubros inviting Ken Robinson to join them and their was the group ESSDACK out of Kansas with Kevin Honeycutt and Ginger Lewman and their techtoos and lanyard/badge bling that teachers need never fear about being relevant, dynamic, and fresh to our students.
I was glad that companies (such as Classdojo, Classconnect, Educreations) who progressed under the Silicon Valley education start-up support/funding group Imagine K12 were well represented. I spoke to someone from Class dojo and saw that Classroom Connect was dispensing hugs and love to anyone who wanted it by the trolley station outside the conference. Hopefully more young startups which foster those types of direct relationships and interactions will continue to foster more innovative software or apps that we can use in our classrooms. I didn't see Voicethread on the vendor floor which is too bad.
There were a lot of people I missed either because they weren't there or because I just never crossed paths with them. These people made the conference feel like a somewhat incomplete experience by my not getting to interact face to face with them.
There have been several good blog posts that have popped up in my RSS reader or were shared. Of the posts I read so far I think John Spencer gives voice to two critical areas of need to moving more schools forward which is professional development and giving teachers the opportunity to fail. With all the cut backs and hight stakes testing we must invest time and effort in both these areas. Also Jeff Uttecht posted about the need to realistically help the systems around us evolve after listening at a conference such as ISTE to more radical proposals for change that involve revolution. I wish his ideas didn't resonate with me and that we could just dump all the useless obstructions to where we want to take our classroom, but he is right. Both these posts remind me of the importance of going back and working with the teachers around me for whom small incremental steps either with technology or student centered learning are what they need to see. We are in a system which values consistency and staying the course. Once something works there is hesitancy to change.
Responding to Vicki Davis and her #istebig3 tag requests and my top three takeaways or things I want to continue to learn and pursue
1. I love common core
At a national conference I was able to begin discussing standards that are going to be affecting almost all teachers in the U.S. Who's to say that as new ideas are created at a national level that foundations and organizations which promote authentic project based learning, that teachers cannot join together with them to create a more powerful and influential voice towards moving our classrooms in new directions.
2. I want a classroom of inventors, creators, engineers
I want to continue to work towards making authentic learning experiences in which my students are directing their learning in meaningful ways. I hope I'm able to glean more ideas from sources that promote problem solvers, makers, and doers.
3. I am a curator.
As I was thinking and documenting what was happening around me trying to collect it and keep from being overwhelmed, Miguel Guhlin posted a couple of posts about content curation tools and I realized during the school year that my use of paper.li, scoop it, pinterest, tweeted times, Zite, related to the curation and sharing of content. My sense of accomplishment and purposefulness was just as great as if I was creating new content or generating new ideas. At the conference I'm always trying to give voice on twitter to concepts that I want to remember.
I was saddened to read that all of Richard Byrnes sessions were rejected for ISTE which I'm guessing was the primary reason he was not attending this year.
Finally I saw that Chris Lehman did a short post on why ISTE still matters to him. He mentions (and I would include him in) the group of educators that have given so much to where we are and they will continue to be important leaders in where we are going. I didn't have a chance to really see many of the new voices that have emerged in my PLN this past year, but it was another ISTE conference which I can carry with me through the next school year for inspiration and to keep my passion renewed.
My first day at ISTE was spent at SocialEdCon reconnecting with friends of my social networks in particular Twitter and Plurk that I haven’t seen face to face in a long time. I tried to follow what was happening in the unconference discussions sessions but for the most part seeing and talking to people was my primary interest. That’s one of the aspects that makes these firstSteve Hargadon facilitated unofficial sessions before the actual conference so attractive. There are moments when hearing Darren Draper leading a session on the use of social media with students would catch my attention or hearing Angela Meiers thoughts on how to make social media more meaningful. I would stop a conversation or turn my head to hear more details but it was connecting one to one catching up and confirming or asking questions about what I’d read from my PLN that was most important. For many people I recognized them by their faces, some by just hearing their voice (Peggy George) and some I had to look at their badge to make sure. Seeing someone that triggers a memory or you feel like you should know them makes for an experience unlike any other, especially given the fact that these are the people who inform, share, illuminate, clarify, question, lead much of what makes me the educator I am.
And at a certain point I created a Storify event for the #socialedcon hashtag.
There’s really no way to explain an event such as this if you’ve never participated in one or don’t have a large group of friends or connections that are virtual and yet are some of the most important people you feel connected to. Later during the conference I’ll run into some of these people but this is the event that for me is a must attend event at any ISTE conference. Where else would you see a professional meeting take place in which everyone goes and gathers for a group photo regardless of what level you participated. It’s about the people. People connected in a particular moment in time.
Everyone included (Peggy George taking the picture).
One of the disadvantages in my district when using technology is the lack of emails for students to use. This was especially true when I tried to set up Evernote accounts with my students as I set up our pilot using Evernote for Schools. In order to overcome this disadvantage I decided to use QR codes as a way to share without using individual email accounts. I’ll post later on how I did my work arounds, but for now I just wanted to share our activities that took place over the day. Given all the issues we confronted and having never tried to group my students this way, we had a great messy learning activity that I had warned the students ahead of time was going to be “organized chaos.”
The project evolves around forms of alternative energy (normally we are working on this in April for Earthday which just shows how far behind I am this year). I typically have students express the form of alternative energy they want to learn about, and then to create groups I have a sign up by randomly pulling names. This time I decided to try asking the students to form groups based on sharing their brainstorm ideas first and letting them collaborate with more freedom to choose their partners. I was hoping to give students that felt strongly about one type of alternative energy and wanted to create the focus of the project around their invention or solution, form groups with them being a leader.
I asked the class to create a public notebook in Evernote that would then be shared via a QR code. We used Google’s URL shortner so that we would have a QR code as well as a URL because we can’t always get the iPads with other teachers checking them out fairly often. This way we can always fall back on the computers in our classroom if we need to.
I teach two sections and for one of the groups over half the class created notebooks to share and for the other section only a third did so. The students who didn’t create a notebook to start the project were told that they could join the other students or wait and sign up with the random method I had used before.
I asked the students to express their interest on a form which could also be treated as a type of resume if there was any question about whether a student could join a group or if there were too many students interested in a group I had at least an example of their expressed type of energy they wanted to focus on. Then I had them create their QR codes, grab them in Skitch, make the codes slightly bigger, add the shortened URL from Google, add some sort of annotation explaining what the project was about, print them out, and then I put them up in a place in the classroom.
I chose a particular day for a sort of job fair in which the students could look at the notebooks and then request to join with those individuals, be interviewed, or wait to sign up with others who didn’t see any projects they were interested in. Each student was given a sheet of paper which was a picture of my bulletin board that I had converted using my iPhone and the Whiteboard share app that raises the contrast. Students were asked to look at the bulletin board and circle the notebooks on their sheet of paper that they were interested in looking at and possibly using the ideas for forming into a group.
Students started working and looking at the notebooks they were interested in and began making choices for what they thought would be the groups that could work together. They were told to be up out of their chair talking and asking questions and interacting with the inventors and creators and not just sitting looking at the notebooks only. I also told students to look at as many notebooks as they wanted but to only choose two or three groups or notebook creators which they would actively see if they could join or work with. We only had so much time so choices had to be made. As we began scanning and reading there was a problem loading some of the QR codes even if they used the bulletin board rather than the paper to scan from. Some students quickly realized that some of the QR codes weren’t working at all either because the codes weren’t clear enough on the sheet that I had created or because the codes hadn’t been properly formatted.Some students continued to look at notebooks while some students scrambled to fix the problems. Students were allowed to check out computers at this point if they needed to fix the sharing of their notebook as we realized that it would be easiest if we let the iPads continue to be used for reading rather than trying to create the new codes from.
Within the first hour some groups had already gelled together and were brainstorming their focus while some students continued to struggle with choices or were trying to fix the problems with their notebooks and getting them resolved. As students fixed and reprinted their QR code I would just staple the new code over the old one.
At a certain point we had students using both the iPads as well as laptops who were either fixing mistakes or as we discovered with the notebooks on the iPads, images and text were truncated and not completely viewable. In order to see the full notebook we had no choice but to use the laptops to also view some of the longer notebooks which were missing or we could not view the entire notebook for. The students did suprisingly well with adapting and thinking in the moment. Students that needed extra help were able to either ask me to help them or as many did they asked other students to help them get what they needed done. It was the ideal environment in which students and myself shifted between the roles of learner to instructor and back again fluidly. The lesson and learning activity had become filled with problems and barriers to getting what we needed or expected to do done. The breaking down though rather than creating a more disorganized group of students scrambling to solve their own problems or ignore others had the opposite effect and the students stopped trying to achieve their own individual goals in the activity. Instead they became a room full of concern
ed and helpful individuals join together and understanding that for the activity to be a sucess meant that we as a class achieved the end result together helping each other. We had become a community of learners and those that had needed information or knew how to do certain tasks felt comfortable stepping up to help others rather than worry about their own needs first. The role of student and teacher became blurred and dynamically changed as the need arose. The students took control of their learning environment and I was there if a solution could not be found with what they knew to do. I couldn’t have been more touched and moved by the community and fellowship of my 5th grade students.
I’ve collected some Angry Birds examples that have been shared by teachers and that will hopefully inspire me to continue to bring in student centered learning topics. I’m always challenged to bring into the classroom good examples of what my students are engaged and interested in and to transform whatever it is into a learning topic. I think this game at least is one of the easier to incorporate compared to something like Super Mario.
Pinterest is so visually appealing. There are many websites discussing business or personal applications, but I wanted to stick to ideas and resources more related to how teachers or those in education might want to use it. I wonder if this tool will catch fire with those educators resistant to other social media tools that many of us have been introducing and pushing our colleagues to us. If a more traditional non-techie teacher doesn’t find a virtual representation of what they do with bulletin boards and classroom displays appealing, I’m not sure what will.