Tuesday, January 20, 2015

What Does A Relevant, Connected Educator Look Like-Part 1

When Tom Whitby and I set out to write The Relevant Educator: How Connectedness Empowers Learning we wanted to provide a manual for any educator who had a desire to improve their practice, as many have already done, by utilizing social media and other tools. We both had experienced tremendous growth in our professional and personal lives and we wanted to share how we got there with others.

Being a Relevant, Connected Educator is something, we believe, should be embraced by all educators everywhere. Today, with so much access to information, the way that learning is done is drastically different than it was just a handful of years ago. Professional development in many schools and districts has trouble keeping up with the latest pedagogical trends and some leaders refuse to embrace these methods as viable.

But what does a Relevant, Connected Educator look like? What do they do in their practice that sets them apart from those that don't use social learning as the backbone for their professional and personal learning? We believe there are eight things these educators do differently from the rest. Let's examine the first four.

Practices and Models Lifelong Learning-Most educators would say that they want their students to always love learning and do it far beyond school. Yet many don't practice it or only practice the learning as mandated by their leadership. Relevant, Connected Educators believe in the power that lifelong learning can have and are models of what that looks like. Digital resources has made it much easier for anyone to engage in learning any time, any where they are. And Relevant, Connected Educators plug in, often, to learn new skills, reflect on their practice and share learning with others.

Believes in Sharing and Collaboration-Learning is a very social activity. And think of all the things we wouldn't know had someone not shared knowledge with us. The sharing of knowledge is as old as time. Relevant, Connected Educators know the importance of sharing learning what they know and what they've curated. They also believe in the power of working together with others to improve and empower all.

Willing to Explore, Question, Elaborate, and Advance Ideas Through Connections With Other Educators-Just like sharing has been a part of learning since the beginning of time, disagreement and discourse as been as well. Debates help push our thinking and see all sides of arguments and issues. Relevant, Connected Educators use all the tools at their disposal to not only debate but reflect on their own ideas and explore new ones. Twitter chats, blogs and social communities help bring many ideas together in one place for us to learn from and with.

Views Failure as Part of the Learning Process-Most educators will admit they had a lesson (or in my case, several) that just didn't go the way it should. For one reason or another the expected outcomes didn't match with the actual. Some, would get frustrated and move on or make excuses and place the blame else where. Relevant, Connected Educators embrace failure as part of their learning. And, taking it one step further, they reflect on that failure, sometimes sharing it publicly so others can reflect along with them and offer suggestions or insight.

These are just the first 4 tenets of being a Relevant, Connected Educator. What do you think? How as doing any or all of these benefited you and your learning?

In Part 2 we will look at the last 4 and some ideas on where to get started on the path to being a Relevant, Connected Educator!

Photo Credit: The New School via photopin cc

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Learning Resolutions For 2015

Normally with the start of a new year comes the inevitable New Year's Resolutions. That feeling of starting over can bring thoughts of loosing those pounds put on over the years, exercising more, or spending more time with your kids.

I have followed the resolution path in the past, resolving to eat better, drink less soda or take a picture a day. And usually by mid-January when asked about my resolutions, the response is the same.

What resolutions? 

Many find success with trying to change behaviors or habits. Kudos to them!

This year, I want to flip the script. Instead of the resolutions I make every year that are personal, I want to make some public, Learning Resolutions, that maybe you'll adopt along with me. 

Learning Resolution 1-Reflect More
I have written about the importance of reflection many times before and talk about it often. In this article a study from Harvard Business School is cited which showed that when participants were allowed to reflect on a test, did remarkably better the on the next assessment. A quick search will show many articles, books and papers written on the importance of reflection on the learning process. Just as it is important for students to reflect, educators should take time to reflect, daily on their practice. It's how we get better. 

So I am resolving to share more about my learning and thinking in this space over the next year. In addition to the resources and tools, I want to publicly share my thoughts on my thinking with you so we can all learn together. 

How can you reflect more with me? If you have a blog, share your reflections there. If you don't have one, start one and share your reflections. Don't want to start a blog? Ok. Resolve to talk to your colleagues about your thinking. Dedicate time and energy to not only the act of reflecting but also the act of sharing those reflections. 

Learning Resolution 2-Share More
Twitter has been my learning drug of choice for over 6 years now. I post there nearly every day and spend a great deal of time there reading tweets, gathering resources but also sharing links and posts too. You might have another space where you do your digital learning. And, even though it sounds cliché I have learned a great deal from the time I've spent there. And I am grateful everyday for the learning I get to do these digital spaces.

And while I work with educators nearly everyday on the benefits of being a Relevant Educator who utilizes digital tools, I can always do more. So I am going to seek out new ways sharing the benefits of being connected and engage with more people to share my learning. That might mean sharing all my notes from the conferences I am lucky to attend in Evernote, to mentoring new teachers who are using social media to connect. There are lots of ways I can share more everyday!

How can you share more along with me? Starting and/or posting on your blog is a great start. Engaging with colleagues is another. Perhaps you'll attend a conference or Edcamp this year. Make a point set aside time to come back and share your learning with another teacher, your team or your building. Or maybe you collect and curate digital resources? Make them available publicly so others can learn from your resources too. 

Learning Resolution 3-Change The World and Be Awesome, Everyday
Back at ISTE in 2013, my friend Adam Bellow, invited us to change the world. (If you haven't seen his keynote there, do yourself a favor and sit for a hour and watch it. You will not be disappointed.) Adam challenges us to think about how we, through what we say and our actions, can make the world a better place each day. 

Each day I start out with my "Be Awesome Today!" on Twitter. In my only little way I am trying to take what Adam has charged us to do and do it the best I can. But by the end of everyday this year, through my reflections and my sharing, I will ask myself, I did change the world today? And if I didn't, I will think about how I can work harder tomorrow to do it. 

How can you change the world and be awesome everyday? Start with reflecting and sharing. And remember to do what you do, each day with conviction, and ensure its best for your learning but especially the learning for kids. 

So I hope you'll join me in these Learning Resolutions for 2015. What are your Learning Resolutions? What do you want to do better or differently? Leave a comment below. 

Happy New Year!

Photo credit: vanhookc via photopin cc

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Looking Back at 2014 and Forward to 2015

What a year it has been.

And now that it's coming to a close I like to take a look at the most popular posts here and do a bit of looking into the crystal ball to see what conversations might be on the horizon for next year.

First, the most popular posts!

3 Things We Need To Remember For Every Professional Development-I have dedicated my career to enhancing the professional knowledge of other educators so that they feel empowered to conquer any obstacles in and out of the classroom. And in my time in working with educators from across the globe I think there are 3 things anyone who delivers professional development need to remember. This post from January was my most read and one I hope you find valuable.

Why Twitter Chats Matter-For the past 5 years #Edchat has been a staple on Tuesday evenings. Since then hundreds of conversations on Twitter on a variety of topics take place each week. Twitter chats serve to connect educators and learners but they also do so much more. In this post from May we look at all that Twitter chats do for learning and why you should take part.

Let's Build Something Together: Resources for Genius Hour, 20 Time and Maker Spaces-This year has seen a boom in maker spaces and giving time back to students to pursue their passions. There are lots of ways to do that and this post complies some of the best resources our there and offers tips and advice for getting started.

Why Formative Assessments Matter-I have been a long time advocate for the need to shift our assessment focus from the summative to the formative. Pinpointing learning when it happens and how it happens is important for student mastery. In this post from June we look at what formative assessments really are, how they are beneficial and some easy ways to make it happen in the classroom.

Quick Collection of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) Resources-Before I left my role as Director of Instructional Technology for a large district in North Carolina I was instituting a BYOD program. And during that time I collected a mountain of resources to implement BYOD effectively and get the most out of it for learning. This was my most popular app and site focused post of the year.

Favorite Apps For Learning On The Go-I travel a lot so I am usually in a car, on a plane or in an airport. I try to take every advantage I can I keep up with what's happening in the Ed space but also take time to learn something new. This post highlights some of my favorite apps for learning and keeping up with everything while on the move.

2014 was filled with all sorts of conversations, mostly centered around personalization of learning and creating more student centered environments and I don't see that slowing down in 2015. I believe we will see more of the same, hopefully with much more depth in the coming months. I see maker spaces becoming more mainstream and more classrooms and schools embracing all they can do for learning. But I also see a slow down in the number of devices purchased by districts as they take a hard look at the ones purchased in the previous years and evaluate how effective those programs have been. (Something they should have done on the front end.)

But you know I could be wrong, and probably will be! The great thing is these are incredible times to be a learner and educator. New things happen everyday in the Ed space.

Here's to a Happy New Year to you!

Remember to make it awesome, everyday!

Photo Credit: Anders Adermark via photopin cc

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Using @RemindHQ For Leadership

In the past, I've written about how much I love using Remind. So much so, I am an advisor to the company. But even if I wasn't an advisor I think the simple way the service allows for educators to connect to students and parents via text messaging is elegant and so simple to use.

What is Remind?

In it's simplest form it allows for a teacher to create a virtual texting group to exchange messages with members. As a teacher, I would be concerned giving my personal cell phone number to parents or students or having theirs but with Remind I don't have to worry about that. No personal information is exchanged. Group members simply need a code and a special number to text to to sign up. Once they do, I can send messages, voice messages, motivational stamps and more. Downloading the app to have Remind anywhere I am makes it so I can be engaged with my students from anywhere.

Remind is very popular with teachers, as you would assume. My wife, a math teacher uses it, along with her colleagues to keep parents up-to-date to team happenings, special projects and reminders. In younger grades teachers are using it with parents and in upper grades many are using it directly with students. The Remind Blog has some great examples of how different teachers are using it to better communicate with students and parents, so do be sure to check that out.

Here lately, though, I've been thinking and working a lot more with school and district leaders. Remind can be a great tool to engage with staff and the community in ways you might not realize.

Here are a few ways School and District Leaders can use Remind:

Keep In Touch-One of the first ways you might be thinking is about keeping in touch with the community. And honestly, it is one of the easiest ways as a Principal or District Leader you can let the community know what's happening. Besides the obvious ways of posting meetings, reminders, and events, use the Voice Memo feature to send short, personalized, audio updates. Or, since you can send attachments, use it as a way to have parents opt out of receiving paper copies from the school or district to save time and money. You can also use it to help bring attention to the great things that are happening.

Staff Reminders and Meetings-I've written about flipping meetings in the past. This allows for more free time for staff to engage in meaningful PD. While it might be easy to turn to email to decimate information, we know email can sometimes be a burden. Remind can work out so much better. Your messages can only be 140 characters you've got to be quick. But since you can send attachments you can summarize meeting notes and items and easily get those out immediately without it getting lost in the inbox.

Book Talks and Article Studies-Remind can be a great way to engage in professional learning. While staff are doing a book or article study, questions or other information can be sent via Remind. And remember, you've got a voice message available in the Remind app. So you can send voice questions, comments and more, extending the use.

Voice Memos-Speaking of the voice messages, these could be used in all sorts of ways. Sending reminders, of course, is one way that comes to mind. But why not send motivational messages each morning. Or well-wishes to your staff. A little bit of voice messaging can go a long way to creating a positive school culture.

As school and district leaders, it's easy to overlook using technology or dismissing technology as "just for the classroom." And for some, Remind would fit into that category. The reality is, Remind is a perfect entry point for those skeptical about how they can use technology as a leader because its so simple to use and there are so many different uses.

Those are just a few of the ways you can use remind as a School or District Leader. What are some others you are doing or you've seen? Leave a comment below.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Taking An Hour Of Code

Recently my daughter and I have been enjoying our Kano computer. If you haven't heard, a Kano is a small Raspberry Pi computer you build yourself. For under a $150 bucks it's a steal because you get to program it to do pretty much whatever you want.

Upon booting it up we were greeted with several screens to no only learn how to use it but if we wanted to play a game or use a program we had code it ourselves. And since the language used in the programing is so straightforward and easy, most (even my 5 yr old daughter) can code it.

She will sit for hours coming up with different ways to make the snake game harder or easier or faster or slower. And she has to remember the different commands and experiment with how, in combination, they work.

The best part? She doesn't even realize the skills she is working on and how they will be ever valuable as she continues to learn.

Coming up next week (December 8-14) is the Hour of Code. Kids (and adults too) from all over the world will take an hour (or many more) and learn how to code or expand their knowledge of coding and coding languages.

This video sums it up nicely.

The theme this year is Frozen. Have you hear of that movie? (I have a daughter who could educate you!) All in the hopes to get more kids, especially girls interested in coding and showing them that anyone has the capacity to code.

You might be sitting back saying, "No way. I can't learn how to code or program. And even more, no way my students can either." It's so much easier than you think and the plethora of resources available to participate are endless.

Here are several so you and your students can participate in the Hour of Code:

Code.org | Learn: Over at the Code.org site they have a ton of ways to practice coding. Everything from learning how to code Angry Birds, to an introduction to Javascript to so much more. Don't have any computers or devices in your classroom? Not to worry! There is a whole section on programing with paper, which teaches the math skills developed through coding.

Scratch HOC 2014: Scratch is a program that has been around for a while. In its simplest form, students take different blocks which represent different programing commands and put them together like a puzzle to make Scratch the Cat do different things. Some kids are taking it to the next level and designing games and interactives to share. Scratch is free to use and download so it makes a great addition to the classroom for Hour of Code. For Hour of Code they have a whole site dedicated to using Scratch to learn how to code and some simple project ideas kids can complete in an hour. And it's not just older kids. There is Scratch Jr. for the younger ones as well.

Made With Code | Monster: Who doesn't love a good monster, especially when you can make it dance and do crazy stuff! On the Google site Made With Code, they've created a friendly monster you can learn to code with. Similar to Scratch, kids take the building blocks to construct the instructions the monster will follow. A very simple and fun way to embrace programing.

CodeAcademy: Geared towards older students and adults, CodeAcademy is a great place to learn pretty much any programing language. Lessons are interactive and fun. And they have an app so you can learn where ever you are.

HOC Teacher Resources: Of course, there are many more resources to explore and learn how to make coding more of a presence in any classroom. The Code.org site has a great section for teachers with more sites, plans and ideas than you can shake a stick at!

I hope that every kid gets a chance to enjoy the satisfaction and fun coding can bring next week!

What resources do you have that you can share? How will your students participate in the Hour of Code? Leave some ideas below.

Photo Credit: kjarrett via photopin cc

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Overcoming The Barriers To Creativity And Innovation

It's been a few weeks since I returned from Doha, Qatar and the World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE). If you aren't familiar, this conference centers around scalable, actionable ideas for the future of education worldwide.

It is, by far, my favorite conference I get to attend each year because of the level of conversations that are had there. With some conferences the focus is on hot topics or what will bring in the biggest crowds. At WISE the conversations are on the topics that might be controversial or need to be addressed for education to move forward.

But there is always a focus on actions. 

The theme this year was on creativity and innovation and they were in full effect. In addition to some great keynote addresses on why creativity and innovation need to be cornerstones of education moving forward, there were thought provoking conversations around the future of universities and the value of college degrees, how important play really is to learning and more. There were makerspaces for attendees to build computers and work with Legos and opportunities for more unconference events to allow anyone to share ideas or resources. 

In all the conversations and sessions there were a few barriers to creativity and innovation in learning that kept being repeated over and over that we must overcome on a global scale. 

Emphasis on Standardized Assessments-As to be expected, many conversations centered around our global fascination with data and comparison of students. PISA, rankings, etc, where all cited as examples of our focus being on the wrong thing. One area I believe we all can agree upon is data is important. We need to know what our students are learning, when they learn it and how they know they know what they've learned. I also believe we can all agree that many of the data points used in education worldwide don't hold much meaning, other than to say one countries education system may or may not be better than another. 

To overcome we have to move this reliance on the wrong kind of data to the kind that truly matters. We must focus our efforts on the data that matters. What does that look like in your classroom? Formative assessments must be the norm. Relying on formative assessments to tell you what students know and don't, provide for an environment where kids can be creative and innovative. Sure, you might still have the typical standardized test at the end of the year, but students will be better prepared because your focus was on their learning, to ensure they are where they needed to be. And you will have provided an environment where kids can explore, reflect, grow and follow their passions through learning.

Lack of Fundamental Changes To Teacher Education Programs-Another, perhaps surprising area that was mentioned as a barrier, was the inflexibility of change in teacher education programs. Remember, this isn't just a U.S. problem, this is a global problem. Many of the programs worldwide still teach future teachers using outdated methodologies for a variety of reasons. In the U.S. there are many reasons but it is the lack of pushback from districts saying they need a different kind of teacher that is the main driver (or lack there of). If that is the case, why would programs need to change? This lack of change is turning out teachers in many locations that aren't prepared to use technology, amplify student voice or use the right kinds of data. 

This lack of change in teacher education programs is something that will take more than blog posts and conversations. It's going to take districts, Superintendents and others to better articulate the need for teachers to be prepared to be facilitators of learning rather than lecturers in the front of the room. Students need (and deserve) teachers who can, again, create those environments where they can explore, reflect, grow and find their passions through learning.

Leadership Crisis-As my friend Thomas Murray often says, what we have in education is a crisis in leadership, and I tend to agree. Despite many challenges and barriers, there are some teachers who exemplify what it means to promote creativity and innovation in learning. And an often cited reason for their success is a leadership who "get's it." A leadership who either gets out of the way and lets the teachers do what is best, or is hands on and pushes teachers to be better for their students. 

So if we have a leadership crisis, that begs the question, what do we do? As a classroom teacher it may be difficult to change the minds of leaders who might not understand why creativity should be more important than summative assessments. However, as I tell all who ask me, keep doing what is best for your students. The crisis in leadership can begin to be solved by schools and districts spending more time on the right kind of professional development for leaders. The kind that focuses in on those areas they need most like technology integration, understanding innovation can be part of learning and how to be a coach and instructional leader rather than a manager.

As you can see these are complex problems with no easy answers. One thing is for sure. Creativity and innovation should part of the learning process. And while there are no quick fixes, we all need to ensure kids have those opportunities to learn, reflect, grow and follow their passions, through learning. 

What do you think? What are the barriers to creativity and innovation in your classroom? How are you overcoming them? Leave a comment below. 

Photo Credit: Bernat... via Photopin cc

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.