Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Encouraging Authenticity In Learning

In the last several years, a major shift in instruction began to happen. Instead of students having access to handheld technology (tablet, laptop, etc) only part of the school day, more and more students began to have access when they need it. Either 1:1 or BYOD or some combination of both is giving students the opportunity to discover learning or create new information in a variety of ways.

Before I left my position as a Director of Instructional Technology, our district was undergoing this shift (albeit a bit late, but we were headed in the right direction). We were going to allow students to bring their own device to the classroom to use in the course of their learning. But through a pilot program we discovered that the focus of our professional development around BYOD needed to not be on technology. Rather, we needed to focus our efforts on pedagogy and the change in instruction needed when students have access to pretty much all known knowledge at their fingertips.

Now, there are so many ways educators are making the shift, improving their pedagogy and providing innovative ways for students to engage in learning. However, we saw there was one approach that could have a much greater effect on learning.

Problem or Project-Based Learning has been around much longer than any device or technology. The definition for these differs everywhere you go but in essence students are given a problem and options for presenting their solution and understanding of the content that makes up that solution. This was the method we used in our district, as many of the teachers were formally trained in PBL; however, we put our efforts into creating authentic-based learning.

For us, authentic-based learning meant that students were given problems that relate to their life. They were problems their schools or communities were facing, so the solutions they created were practical and meaningful. Many times traditional PBL has students take on a role they can’t relate to. What we found was that when students are working on a problem that directly affects them or their community they become highly engaged in the learning process.

So where you can start?

Buck Institute for Education-The Buck Institute is regarded as the leading source for anything and everything Problem-Based Learning. What I really like about the resources here is that they are easy to access and highly authentic. Not only do they have a huge archive of curriculum resources, they also have videos, webinars and more. This is a site you will spend a lot of time with whether you are new to PBL or experienced with it.

Authentic Based Learning For Students-Kathy Schrock has curated a large collection of resources on everything authentic based learning. From frameworks to assessments and more, you will find a lot of great content here.

As you can probably guess, this method of learning isn’t dependent on technology. Many of our teachers were trained knowing they would gradually ease into BYOD. However, technology does enhance this type of learning. It provides students with more access to real-time information, as well as the ability to connect to more resources and create the information needed to make an argument. There’s a deeper level of engagement you can’t get offline.

If you are in a classroom or school that is moving more toward mobile devices for learning it’s important to know that your pedagogy has to change. Simply using devices to look up answers or take assessments isn’t anything that could be done without them. Look for ways to use the devices for learning that wouldn’t be possible without them.

Authentic-based learning is just one way. What are some of the ways you are using devices to take learning to another level?

Disclosure: This post was written as part of the University of Phoenix Versus Program. I’m a compensated contributor, but the thoughts and ideas are my own.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Learning Beyond The Classroom Walls

When I decided to pursue a Master’s Degree in Instructional Technology, I started out like many students do. I sat down at my laptop, went to Google and started searching. Eventually I landed on a program at an in-state university that was one of the first of its kind. Everything was virtual. Not once in the 18 months I was in the program would I set foot on campus. I completed everything from the comfort of my home or the road.

Just a few years ago, programs like the one I completed were very few and far between. There have been correspondence courses for a number of years but these normally led to certificates and rarely led to actual degrees. Today, students of all ages have virtually an unlimited number of options to not only obtain degrees in any number of subjects, but to learn from some of the leading thinkers and doers around.

Take online degrees like the one I got. More and more traditional colleges and universities are providing these as an option for both traditional and nontraditional, working students. Many students can now obtain full degrees, from bachelor’s to PhD, all from a laptop in their living room, rather than a stuffy classroom in a building named for someone few remember. This idea of anytime learning extends far beyond K-12 and has far-reaching effects in higher education as well.

Traditional colleges and universities are also facing a new generation of learning options through MOOCs. Massively Open Online Courses are just that - virtual classes on many topics where you might be in a class with your neighbor or someone from Sub-Saharan Africa. These courses touch all continents, and in many cases are taught by the same professors and educators who are teaching them in prestigious colleges and universities around the world. And, in the case of courses offered by colleges and universities, they are free to take. Who wouldn’t want to learn about Economics or Physics from leaders in the field, for free?

Where can you discover some of these innovative courses?

Lifehacker U-This is the first site I visit when I want to see what’s new in the world of virtual learning. The folks over at Lifehacker put together some pretty comprehensive lists of free courses on a wide variety of topics, including Computer Science, Astrophysics, Dinosaur Paleobiology or The Importance of Play In Everyday Life. There’s course for almost anyone!

Keep in mind there are a few things to consider before enrolling in online courses, so do your homework. You might want to consider what the course outcome will be, if the courses lead to degree or certification, or if there is additional course work you’ll need that isn’t offered online.

It’s not easy to convert a face-to-face course into a virtual experience. So make sure you also research whether the professors and educators leading the course are certified to teach online. It doesn't hurt to ask if you can sample the course to ensure it will meet your needs, too.

Online and virtual courses are certainly a convenient way to engage in learning, whether it’s to further your education or just to learn something new. Just be sure to find the one that’s right for your needs.

Happy learning!

Disclosure: This post was written as part of the University of Phoenix Versus Program. I’m a compensated contributor, but the thoughts and ideas are my own.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Connecting Students To The World

I can remember it like it was yesterday.

I was in sixth grade and sitting at a desk in my language arts classroom. We had been doing an integrated unit in all our classes about cultures around the world. We’d been looking at all sorts of places that, at the time, seemed exotic to me. I had “traveled” all over the world through the books, articles and stories we read. But that day, sitting at my desk was special.

I had gotten a letter from my pen pal in Asia.

We exchanged letters a few times throughout the school year. We learned about each other and what our lives were like. It was one of the neatest projects I can remember doing in school. (I wish I had saved the letters!)

Today, those places that seemed so far away and exotic aren’t really all that distant. Technology has flattened our world and made it possible for students, no matter where they are, to connect, just as I had through letters, in ways I never dreamed of when I was in school.

There are many technologies that you could pick up today and instantly break down the walls of your classroom. But I think there are two really simple ones that can work in any classroom, whether every student has their own device or there’s just one computer for everyone.

Blogs
Reading and writing blogs is one of the simplest ways to connect your students to the world. These spaces are often the places where students today are discovering that there is a world beyond their own. In a friend’s classroom, students wait eagerly each morning to see all the dots appear on a world map that show all the places where people read their classroom blog the previous day. There is power in those dots! In lower grades, a blog that is written as a class is a great way to get started. In upper grades, students can maintain their own spaces. Either way, they get to see that their words do travel far! Check out Getting Started With Blogging In The Classroom for ideas.

Skype
It seems that Skype is one of those tools that is talked about as an afterthought, but it really should play a key role in breaking down global barriers and connecting your classroom to the world. Skype in the Classroom has made it so easy for educators to “advertise” their classrooms and partner with others in countries everywhere. There are also places to look for experts to bring in virtually. My favorite, Mystery Skype, brings in a visitor from an unknown location, and using their investigative skills, students have to guess where they are from.

Whatever tools you use to connect, do something. Students need to see that their world is much bigger than your classroom and is filled with possibilities, just like my teachers had showed me by having me write to my friend in Africa. And today, it’s easier than ever!

What tools are you using to connect your classroom to the world? Leave your suggestions below.

Disclosure: This post was written as part of the University of Phoenix Versus Program. I’m a compensated contributor, but the thoughts and ideas are my own.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Ensure Success This School Year

When I was in the classroom I always looked forward to back-to-school. Getting my classroom ready, that feeling of the excitement for a new year left me with the anticipation for great things to happen. But heading back to school and getting in the groove was less about content and more about ensuring we had a successful school year. 

Whether you've been in school for a few days or a month or two, there are a few, simple things you can do to find that success. 

Establish Relationships-Getting to know my students was the first thing I did every year I taught. There was always that pressure to get starting with the content but I found that if I made connections with my students, I could more easily teach them. I understood who they were, their passions, and their interests. Take the first few days to learn who your students are. The time taken will pay off in the end. And keep those relationships going. Schedule time to talk with students 1-on-1 as often as you can. Even a simple conversation in the morning or in the hall can prove to be beneficial

Setting Goals-As an educator it’s important to reflect on the previous years, the high points and the low points. Use those reflections to build personal and professional goals for the new year. Maybe you want to learn a new technology skill or challenge yourself to grade differently. Whatever your goals, make them actionable and reachable. Students can do the same. Set aside time to have students create learning and personal goals they want to accomplish throughout the year. Develop a plan to check in regularly and report back. Using something like Google Docs or Forms makes collecting and sharing those goals easy. 

Get Connected-One of the most important ways an educator can grow and learn is to get connected. Joining Twitter, reading blogs and contributing to an online community are all ways that you can hear about the good things that are happening in other classrooms/schools and learn from others. These places can also serve as a virtual sounding board when you run into a problem or need a solution. October is Connected Educator Month so there are many opportunities to learn how to be a connected educator including book studies and free webinars. And speaking of books (shameless plug) you can check out my book, The Relevant Educator: How Connectedness Empowers Learning that can help guide your connected learning. 

Celebrate The Good Things-For some educators the thought of inviting parents into the classroom is a terrifying one. Parents want to be involved in the classroom and should be. Make contact with parents as early as you can. I would always beg my principal for my class list early so I could write and send home a personal note to each of my students and parents before school started, welcoming them to my class and letting them know a few things about me and our classroom. This continued through the year. I tried to write a note twice per year for each student that got sent home in the mail. With email and texting services like Remind, it’s even easier to make those connections. Starting off with the positive makes having to discuss the tough points easier because you’ve established that relationship and dialogue in a positive way first, rather than a negative one.

Create A Virtual Classroom-My school website was the way that I let the world know what were learning in our classroom. I could post notes from class, any files students needed, use the calendar to post homework and curate a list of resources for students to use outside of class. It’s important today to create a virtual space for your classroom. Some districts provide a website for educators to do this, while others allow them to create their own. There are a wide variety of products out there (like Edmodo) to do this so spend some time finding one that suits your needs. You’ll also want to examine how you can extend conversations from your classroom to the virtual spaces as well. Taking your classroom into the cloud allows you to create a private space to post questions, comments, blogs and more. These online spaces allow learning to happen not just in the schoolhouse but after hours as well.

Whatever you do remember. Teaching and learning is not just about content. Kids need to know you care about them and their learning. Establishing relationships, showing you are a true life-long learner and celebrating them are just as important (and sometimes more-so) than how to multiply fractions or who the 13 President was. 

What are some ways you ensure success in your classroom? Leave a comment below. 


Photo Credit: seeveeaar via Photopin CC

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Learn More About Chromebooks From Intel

Tech integration in the classroom has become a hot topic in recent years. Educators are presented with so many device options for the classroom, but recently, Chromebooks have gained momentum. More and more districts are moving to Chromebooks as a cost effective option to put technology in the hands of more students. And because everything is in the cloud, Chromebooks don’t need any special software and can be easier to maintain for technology departments.

The folks over at Intel Education are excited to help educators get better acquainted with Chromebooks. Their new site http://Intel.com/ChromeEDU is filled with helpful facts and information about Chromebook performance, as well as a contest to help keep things fun!

Over at the site you will find out answers to all your Chromebook questions including things like what battery life is like, how durable they are and how you can expand what your Chromebook can do by checking out the Google Play Store for Education.

One of the best parts of the site are the resources you’ve got access to, including using Chromebooks in primary grades, how they remove some common barriers to technology integration success and all you need to know about getting started with them.  

But why read all about Chromebooks when you can get one of your own! After you explore the site and learn more about these devices you can decide which feature matters most to educators. Is it speed? What about battery life?

In order to win your own Intel-powered Chromebook, simply follow @IntelEDU on Twitter, then tweet your favorite feature in a Chromebook is with the hashtag #IntelChromebooks. Once you’ve followed and tweeted, you are entered to win! Contest ends 9/30/2014, so act fast!

Be sure to check out the Intel Chromebook site and learn how Chromebooks influencing the technology integration landscape.

Thanks to Intel Education for sponsoring this post.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

100,000 Thank You's

When I made the decision to leave the classroom to pursue my career in Instructional Technology I didn't know where it would take me or what I would even face. I was leaving kids and that bothered me somewhat but I knew that working with teachers was a calling for me and I was making the best choice for my career.

Fast forward to today and as I reflect on all that I've been able to do, I know there is no way I could have done it alone. Over the past 6 years I've had some incredible opportunities I never thought I would have as an educator. I've presented at conferences all over the country and the world, even keynoted a few, worked with educators in just about every state, have 1 book published and 2 more on the way. But most of all I have learned with and from countless, passionate folks from all corners of the globe.

I recently crossed the 100,000 follow mark on Twitter. Anyone who's heard me talk about Twitter knows I don't really talk about numbers. When it comes to social media the quality of the interactions are more important than quantity. I am humbled that even a few people have followed me and read my tweets. Everyday I get to interact with so many great educators! I can't buy that kind of professional development or learning anywhere.

When I started on Twitter I did it to share blog posts with the teachers in my district and I saw the power it had the first time I got a comment on one of those blogs from someone in another state. The power our knowledge can have when we share with the world is important. As educators we have a responsibility, I believe, to ensure all kids everywhere have the best possible education. My end goal with all social media is to show just how powerful it is when we connect and to help as many realize their own professional potential.

So here are 100,000 thank you's. Not only to those that find value in what I am sharing but to those that have dedicated their lives to ensuring that kids everywhere find their passions and share them with the world!


photo credit: Avard Woolaver via photopin cc

Friday, August 29, 2014

Checking Out @WeLearnedItApp

Learning has been (and should be about) authenticity. Students should have the opportunities to investigate, discover, research, examine, etc, content that is meaningful to them; learning they can make a connection too.

The influx of digital devices as definitely made bringing more authenticity into content easier. Students have access to all known knowledge at their finger tips. But we still face challenges. How do we organize that information? How do we best share it with peers? How can we invite parents to see the work that has been done? As a teacher, how do I keep track of it all?

Enter WeLearnedIt.

Adam Bellow of EduClipper fame is back with a new iPad app that allows teachers and students to organize those authentic assignments more easily and share resources across devices.

WeLearnedIt allows teachers and students to create digital portfolios of work. For teachers, they can create multi-layered activities that allow you to pull content in from a variety of places like the web, a built in-whiteboarding tool, Dropbox or Google Drive. Students then pick up that assignment through their device and complete it. For them, they can bring in content from a variety of places also, adding to the idea that learning comes in many of forms.

When assignments are turned in teachers can do all the grading in the app and share feedback with the students all in one place. No need to fuss with papers home or lugging boxes of projects. Grab your iPad and get to it!

There are loads of free features but you can take it to the next level through paid school or district accounts that allow you to add rubrics and share data with other teachers, administrators and parents.

You can tell Adam wanted to create something that would really relieve the problems that come with trying to organize and present with digital materials. And I think he's got a great app here.

There is so much more you can learn about WeLearnedIt. Check out the webinar coming up on Sept 4.