Category Archives: Technology

Sometimes it’s hard to pay attention …

… and sometimes, even if you try, you can’t ignore what is right in front of you. Bowden’s poem “The Inner Net” has come across my virtual desk a few times. As he claims, “the problems of our world used to be too big and too distant to know of its widespread existence, but with the internet, our world is small… We can now get crowds around a cause.. connect ignorance to knowledge… donors to non profits… injustices to those who can stop it.”

This, coupled with Graded’s recently refined mission, represents a call to action if I’ve ever heard one. The curriculum review cycle has led to some uncomfortable conversations with colleagues. No one doubts that we have a lot of work in front of us.  As we examine how we can best serve students for actively participating as global citizens I am fascinated by the implications it has on our role as teachers, leaders and more importantly, as partners in learning.

I have fallen in love with a new Bill of Rights, The Bill of Rights and Principles for Learning in a Digital Age, partly because it was signed by one of my favorite thought leaders, John Seely Brown (author of A New Culture of Learning) and partly because it says out loud what I have had trouble to articulate: “We believe that online learning represents a powerful and potentially awe-inspiring opportunity to make new forms of learning available to all students worldwide… We are aware of how much we don’t know: that we have yet to explore the full pedagogical potential of learning online, of how it can change the ways we teach, the ways we learn, and the ways we connect. And we worry that this moment is fragile…”

The principles of this Bill of Rights echoes the best of what I believe learning within a digital landscape can embody.  It can be an environment that fosters character, nurtures an autonomous learning disposition and empowers people to act. This year especially, Graded has been presented with opportunities to connect with others across the globe through the GIN conference and Innovate2013. We only need to embrace “the learner-centered dialogue around the rights, responsibilities, and possibilities for education in the globally-connected world of the present and beyond.”

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It all started with my PLC…

One of the greatest parts of this position is I still get to dig into my own learning with colleagues – and a whole network of educators. Although I know my primary responsibility is to oversee the structure and support all the PLC’s at Graded, I just need to give a special shout out to my PLC on Digital Tools and Metacognition, as they have inspired some provocative steps of how I can support teachers in a blended environment. I’m focusing on three case studies across divisions to determine how digital tools support teachers’ reflection and leads to deeper practice in the classroom.

Case Study 1 : Kelli and I have been thinking about how to build a culture of thinkers in the first grade classroom. Here’s the journey so far…

  • Kelli and I started imagining what a classroom of thinkers would look like – Turning to Project Zero, we read an article about the practical application of thinking routines in the elementary classroom.
  • We used twitter to capture the most salient points of the article so we could pull a summary through coding using hashtags

Twitter Anchor

  • I went into Kelli’s room for an observation of the learning environment of a common instructional routine, the readers’ workshop. Even though she’ll be instructing toward “thinking” at different times, we’ll use this as our baseline to chart the shift of the student culture.
  • It just so happened that I checked my twitter account at the start of a #PYPchat that was sharing ideas about building a culture of thinking! (You can explore twitter chats and schedules here.) I jumped in and shared Kelli and my thinking – and the strategies in play. In exchange, other educators from around the world were sharing what they are doing in their classrooms.
  • I curated the best ideas of the chat, using our anchor tweets to align strategies and resources through Storify – the central tool that I am investigating as part of my PLC inquiry.

Storify with Kelli

 

What is emerging is a cohesive narrative that integrates research, classroom practice, Graded’s expectations for Teaching and Learning, and the voices of 30 other educators pursuing how to nurture a culture of thinking within similar environments across the globe. I’ve been reflecting a lot on how this changes my role – and the skill set I need to continue to build to best support teacher’s growth and student success.

It also begs a response to the question, “So what?” What impact will this work have on the success of Kelli’s first graders’ as thinkers? I know from the initial stages, we were able to build a much richer toolbox of strategies than Kelli and I would have been able to accomplish as partners. I hope by organizing our thinking and linking it to the goals we set from the beginning, we’ll be able to determine importance among the chatter of ideas and see deeper transfer to the classroom. The power, however, resides in Kelli’s commitment to creating the best environment for students. In a mere two weeks, Kelli’s claim, “they’re just not thinkers” has changed to “my kids are geniuses”.  I look forward to sharing reflection as the story unfolds – and appreciate the tools that support holding the story, creating an opportunity for our learning to be in service to Graded’s classroom and beyond.  I’m deeply grateful to colleagues like Kelli that inspire and energize me.

Are you talking back?

I’ve been working on my workshop for Learning Forward’s Summer Conference in a couple of weeks. I think the best part of putting together a workshop is the deep reflection that it triggers about my work and my learning.  As I gather resources, I keep finding that each piece is connected to another story of learning. An example of this is the growing use of TodaysMeet in my work and the support I provide teachers in the classroom. Introduced to the tool by Blair’s bold move with the high school (see his reflection here) I’ve used this backchannel in a number of ways. I don’t have time to highlight the role  backchannel can play in learning during the workshop beyond how we will be using it, so wanted to capture a few ideas to pass on to participants if they choose to dig a bit more deeply.

  • During a workshop of 143 teachers during the opening days of school, I had a backchannel room set up for six roving administrators to capture the questions and insights of the small group dialogue.  This not only gave everyone in the workshop access to other group’s thinking, but it provided a script for me to reflect on what we were thinking as a staff. I was able to pull out key themes that emerged and use it as a formative assessment tool to determine next steps to move us forward.
  • In the 7th grade science classroom, we built out a room for students to use while watching and critiquing each others’  public service announcements that they created as part of a unit of study on climate change.  Using a rubric that students had built out,  they captured evidence while they watched the video, providing a deeper reflection and more explicit feedback. They were also able to ask the presenters questions while they were assessing and play off of each other’s questions while giving feedback. Aaron, the teacher, then used the script to analyze quality feedback, highlighting examples of quality feedback real time with students so they had the opportunity to deepen their observations right away.
  • In the IB Language and Literature class (grade 12), we built out a room for students that were leading a Socratic Seminar. The room took on multiple dimensions. The goal of the room was originally for the student leaders to capture the questions and comments of the seminar for a number of students that would be missing class due to travel. However, it shifted to the leaders using the room to support each other in facilitating the workshop. Sandy, the teacher, was also in the room, coaching students’ in real time. Admittedly, this was the most fascinating use of  backchannel. It provide a visual lens into students decision making in ways I’ve never been able to access. Students wrote comments such as, “they seem to be stalling out on this question, let’s build on Tess’s comment and introduce a new question.”

Although just a brief snapshot of the role backchannel can play, I continue to see more and more potential with this tool. Its power lies not only in providing the teacher (or workshop leader) access to participants’ thinking so they can adjust instruction immediately, it deepens participation and connects thinking in unique ways.

Thanks for not taking me out of class…

The chatter of flipped classrooms continues to infiltrate blogs, twitter feeds and mainstream media. Thought leaders continue to weigh in on the pros and cons of a model that was already in play when I was working on a business minor at Indiana University.  I skipped attending the lectures, which I could catch on a university television station, and instead spent time attending small discussion groups to work through case studies and make sense of the concepts delivered in 45 minute lectures. It really didn’t feel so revolutionary at the time.

I’ve been tracking a few Graded teachers as they explore this same possibility with their students this year. I applaud teachers’ efforts to examine how they can move from the front of the room and instead use class time to engage students in making meaning together.  Thoughtful work is happening.

In an effort to support teachers in working through this model — as well as alleviating some of the tensions of leaving class to be of service to Graded’s organizational learning – I “flipped” our last PLAC (Professional Learning Advisory Council) meeting to get a deeper sense of the nuances of the learning environment that results from flipping the classroom.

I spent a lot of time thinking through how to best instruct colleagues in engaging in the independent task before we would meet. This was not just a video to watch, but an examination of a professional learning plan that will define our work in 2012-2013. I provided both written steps and a screencast that walked them through the steps, as well as a screencast that presented the plan, much like I would have done if we were together.

Colleagues had a week to do the work,  tracking their thinking and questions as part of the google site that held the plan for linking our learning.  I would jump in to comment on their ideas and answer questions that may hold up their progress, fostering a bit more dialogue than just a simple check in. Before our meeting, I had evidence that every member of the team had read and reflected on the presentation.

When we met face to face, I provided time to anchor in the presentation, taking time to read comments and questions that emerged before our meeting… then we jumped in to the work. And admittedly, I was dazzled by the level of critique in such a short time. Using wallwisher to capture their comments, so they could see each other’s thinking and skip repeating ideas and I could organize trends of comments to respond to as part of my reflection, I was armed with critical feedback to inform revising in less than an hour of meeting time.  

The debrief with colleagues highlights why this is a model to continue to explore:

  • It was a positive experience; we had the chance to learn at our pace at home
  • Appreciated the comments that were there as models – I knew what it should look like to participate
  • If you are confused, what do you do?
  • What is the trade-off to investing time in advance? Loved that our face to face meeting was shorter as a result
  • We didn’t just read and watch the presentation, we started the process in advance – we didn’t need to repeat the comments; moved on to deeper thinker
  • I was committed to the group – the comments drove that commitment
  • I think the quieter members found it powerful to take the time in preparing; different mode of communication with writing first
  • Having the time to process was important – there was a lot here that I just needed time to think about
  • Valuable to have both — wouldn’t want to have just this model
  • We knew the protocol; we were part of a community already and felt linked because of the thinking we have done together this year
  • This format should have a distinct purpose – it’s not for everything and I wouldn’t want to do it all the time
  • Thanks for not taking me out of class…

My goal remains to model learning that can link directly back to the classroom. There are many things I would refine when using this model again, and recognize that it was the strength of the culture of this learning community that led to this round’s success. Some good questions continue to percolate as part of reversed instruction – especially in terms of when does it best meet the needs of learners.

Lifting the Lid on Graded’s PLCs

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I spent a good chunk of this morning planning a workshop I’ll be facilitating at ASB-Unplugged. Entitled Re-imaging PD… Again?, the workshop has acted as a catalyst for reflection on the success and challenges of our PLCs at Graded. In a brief 18 months, our structure has grown from a fairly traditional implementation that is organized by subject area and grade level teams touted by the DuFour’s to one that is designed to accelerate a shift in our collaborative culture — to break down silos of practice to honor the expertise that exists across our campus and to honor the learning needs of teachers (McLaughlin and Talbert, 2006).

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Graded’s PLC Survey – January 2012

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Graded’s PLC Survey – January 2012

The part of our PLC’s that I haven’t been completely transparent about is the design and integration of digital tools. As educators, we are being asked to re-imagine schooling that is a far cry from our own learning history that often emphasized rote memorization, compartmentalized knowledge, and surface understanding of content. Our PLC structure is based on an assumption that for teachers to actively engage students in new technologies, they must have the opportunity to engage in ongoing professional development that mirrors such experiences. Before we can teach, I deeply believe we need to don the student hat first. In an analysis of your PLC pages and a review of presentation videos I discovered a rich array of tools that teachers chose to serve their learning needs first. Not only do they reflect a clear purpose, but they have the potential to impact  our learning culture  in ways that deepen our collaborative practices.

Hats off (student OR teacher) to Graded faculty.  I hope to continue to build a structure that serves the learning needs (student OR teacher) of Graded well.