Friday, August 28, 2015

Think Before You Flip Your Classroom This Year

For a while now I've been saying something provocative about Flipped Learning.

"It's the worst idea in the history of teaching."

I own that.

I've said it.

I say it that way to get educators attention. Because I like to have a conversation about it. While I am not going to walk that statement back like a disgraced politician I am going to do a little explaining (finally) why we need to think before we "flip" learning.

First a little knowledge leveling.

When I am talking about Flipped Learning in this post I am referring to the method by which teachers create videos (or find other videos online) and assign students to watch them at home, thereby freeing up time in the classroom to go deeper with the content because the students have the content knowledge from the videos. I am sure there are multiple different variations of Flipped Learning but for this post, this is the definition I am working off of.  It's an idea thats been around for a while and some teachers have said they've found success with it.

So what's my problem with Flipped Learning? Seems like, on the surface, it could be great. Kids get the basic understanding of topics outside the classroom and when they come back they can go deeper and do something with it.

But if we look a little deeper Flipped Learning may need some serious considerations before implemented.

Too Much Focus On The Videos-In most (not all, but most) of what I have read and seen on flipped learning there are always way too many conversations on the videos. How to make them. How long they should be. Where to store them. How to ensure kids can access them.

I was in a small group discussion at a conference early this year where the conversation revolved around how to ensure kids could access the videos at home if they didn't have the technology. Eventually they talked about taking the time to make the video and then pass them out on flash drives or burn them to DVDs to all students. While the conversations around equity are important seems to me its the wrong conversation to have. If you are spending hours, bending over backwards to record, distribute and track the videos kids are required to watch at home, are you really gaining anything?

Not Enough Conversations About Pedagogy-In all that I have seen and heard, there are very little conversations about pedagogy when it comes to Flipped Learning. In order for educators to be effective in their content they have to understand pedagogy and how to ensure students are best understanding that content. The truth is, many are content experts but pedagogy needs work. Now we are going to video weak pedagogy those weaknesses just get amplified. Maybe they are using others' content. Are we effectively analyzing the videos first to ensure they are effectively communicating the content in the best way? Are we looking at them with a critical eye?

Or perhaps the direct instruction pedagogy is strong (which these videos are just that, direct instruction, which we know isn't the most effective way to gain content knowledge) but the pedagogy or understanding how to formatively assess that students understanding of the content delivered in the videos is lacking. Now there's all this free time what do you do?

We have to have serious conversations about pedagogy first before we flip. If we look at moving from direct instruction to more student-owned classrooms, where students navigate through content by their own means, we might find that the effort put into Flipped Classrooms, creating videos, and tracking views isn't really needed or necessary.

When Are Kids Supposed To Be Kids? Record yourself in your classroom for the 6-8 hours you are there teaching. Now go home and watch yourself for an additional 30 mins to 3 hours. Do you want to spend that much time listening to yourself? Maybe not. And I would bet your students, while they like you a whole, whole lot, most don't want to listen to you more than they have to.

A student's job is school. Thats what they do for those 6-8 hours. Think about our jobs. No one really looks forward to working all day then going home and working more. Why, then, should students be forced to go home and do more of work by watching these videos? We talk about wanting students to innovate, make, tinker and be creative. And there is mounds of research to suggest homework doesn't help students be better students, so why not let kids be kids when they go home.

Those are my concerns. Yet, I will admit, there might be teachers who have flipped their classrooms and who have addressed these 3 concerns I have. I wish their voices were louder because I think we could all do with those examples.

So while I am provocative when I talk about it, I do that to have a conversation. If you have flipped or are thinking about it, don't just take it at face value. Think critically about what effects it will have on you, your students and your classroom.

photo credit: dora dora 2 via photopin (license)

Monday, August 24, 2015

Rediscovering @CK12Foundation Flexbooks And More!

A while back there was a push to move away from traditional textbooks and move to something more flexible and nimble. (Still true today!) Something that could adapt with the ever changing knowledge base educators and students could pull from along with being more personal. Digital devices ushered in an era where all this (and more) is possible.

I can remember many an afternoon spent in high school science and math classrooms talking about CK-12 Flexbooks. These were online, high-quality, completely customizable textbooks that, in addition to having some really great content were completely free to use and change. Teachers jumped at the chance to integrate them because they could supplement other content into their text and take advantage of them being digital by adapting them on the fly.

I'll admit. I had forgotten about them...

That is until recently when I had the chance to rediscover the awesome that is Flexbooks and found there is so much more!

Flexbooks-There are the tried and true Flexbooks I came to love with my high school teachers but their offering has expanded to include many more science and math areas, english and history too. You'll also find Engineering, SAT Prep, and much, much more. And it's not just high school. There are Flexbooks for middle school and even some for Elementary Math. They are still fully editable and you can use different concepts from different sections to create your own customized text. All the content is Common Core aligned so you can be sure its high-quality and timely.

Simulations-A new feature are some pretty sweet physics simulations. Sometimes it can be difficult for students to understand physics concepts or impossible to replicate them (like an actual rocket launch). With the simulations students are introduced to the concepts and then can test various aspects of them. And these can be included in a Flexbook too!

More Instructional Materials-In additional to all this there are flashcards, lesson plans, assessments and other materials that can truly make your digital learning a complete experience. There are also apps for Apple and Android devices that can provide an even more rich experience. Using Google Classroom? You can create your materials and share them instantly to your Google Classroom classes. And check out the Blog there to see how other districts and classrooms are reaping the rewards of CK12 materials.

Are you new to CK12 or, like me, are you needing to rediscover the awesome? Check out their Back To School Promotion where you can build your own, personalized box of CK12 materials to get started this year. Science and Math job posters, sample Flexbooks and a B2S checklist are just a small amount of what you can get there. And remember it's free!

If you doing BYOD, 1:1, or some other digital initiative, CK12 can be a great addition to your classroom. Check it out!

Monday, August 3, 2015

A More Holistic Approach To Technology Planning

When I was a Director of Instructional Technology I was deeply involved in the technology planning process from one end to the other. Regularly I had to sit through presentations of new products, listening with a skeptical ear while instructional promises were made. I'd also council administrators who felt that the next flashy thing they saw walk through their door, their school had to have. And often I would evaluate our programs and purchases to ensure we were headed on the desired course or if we needed to make a u-turn.

Typically the technology planning process can go wry in many ways:

Lack of True Planning: Sometimes a rush to make things happen can cause the entire planning process to come off the rails. For whatever reason (funding running out, keeping up with the district next door, or a general sense of urgency) the normal, rational process that many would take when it comes to undertaking major technology initiatives is lost in the desire to get things done and make them happen as quick as possible.

No Measurable Outcomes of Goals: When spending the amount of money that normal technology initiatives take it is critical to the success that there are MEASURABLE goals and outcomes. It's all well and good to have those goals that make us feel good but we have to have something measurable that we can judge our successes and our failures against. And these are not test scores. These are not behavior intervention reports or referrals. We have to look at the type of technology we are integrating and decided what outcomes do we want to see? Instructional? A change in pedagogy? Something else?

Focus On The Stuff: Stuff is fun. Stuff is flashy. Stuff is what we are sometimes judged against. If the focus off our initiative is on the stuff it will be easy to loose focus on what really matters; the learning. Often the beginning of the planning process starts with the question "What stuff do we/can we/want to buy?" rather than looking at what needs to change and how technology can support that change?

What is needed is a plan and a more holistic approach.

So what would that look like? What's involved in a more holistic approach to technology planning?

Form A Team: One of the most important aspects of the technology planning process is having many voices represented. Technology and technology systems touch so many different people, it's important to ensure they all are consulted and have a voice in the initiative. It's not just your technology staff or school or district administrators. It's looking at the Special Education department, or the Transportation department, or the Food Services department. But it's also students, parents and the community as well. Consider who the technology could touch and invite representatives to the table for conversations.

Examination Of Current Landscape: Before even thinking about a new initiative it's important to look at where your class/school/district is currently. You have to get a sense of what is out there now before deciding to do anything new or different. Some questions to consider:
  • What aspects of the current technology program work really well?
  • How is pedagogy keeping up with technology integration? Is there a need for more technology or is all that is needed is a deeper focus on pedagogy?
  • Is the technology that is currently in classrooms being used as well as it could be or even at all? 
  • Taking that all into account, what really needs to happen? 
Putting In Place Measurable Goals And Outcomes: Remember, we talked about the need to look at measurable outcomes. I am a big fan of SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-Based) Goals. This method helps to hone your focus and decide on what really matters. Some may not like the SMART approach and have one of their own. Great! Whatever method you use it's important to consider the desired outcomes. Some examples:
  • Number of Classrooms with High-Speed Internet Access
  • Equitable access to devices for students and teachers
  • Equitable access to high-quality instructional resources
  • Development of Next Generation Professional Development
Professional Development: When considering anything to do with technology, most often the PD is much, much more important than the stuff. Large amounts of dollars are spent on the stuff, but I argue an equal amount should be spent on the PD needed to integrate this stuff successfully. Consider the current PD landscape and how it can be leveraged or changed to meet these new needs. This is an area that needs a lot of time, attention and input.

Reflect and Examine: Through out this process, from visioning, planing and implementation there has to be time set aside to reflect and examine how things are going. Where are you as you progress towards your goals? What's missing? Think of it like formative assessment for the planning process. It's easier to catch things that could derail the project as they happen rather than waiting until the end and then looking back.

These are just a handful of things to consider. The technology planning process can most often be complex and challenging. However, it can be more effective and meet more desired outcomes if we step back and consider what we are doing, why we are doing, how we will get there and how will we know we've arrived. 

Photo credit: ORDCampers at MSI Fab Lab 20.jpg via photopin (license)

Friday, July 17, 2015

Creating A Professional Learning Collection With @appoLearning

Last time you read about this new site I had been checking out, appoLearning. I have really enjoyed getting to know this new platform and even create a collection myself. And I think for educators it can be a great way to organize sites, apps, videos and more so they are more easily shared with students, colleagues, even parents and the community.

Before we take a look at my collection I've been working on, lets think about why we would even want to create a collection in the first place.

Curation is a super important topic to me. We are teaching in what might be the most incredible times ever, due to the shear amount of information we have access to. Websites, apps, videos, games, you name it, there is probably countless number of resources for it. The more and more we rely on the knowledge of others (as we should, in addition to creating our own new knowledge with it) we need a system to organize and share that information.

And for students it's equally as important a skill to have.

But sometimes we all just need a little help. Be it to find good resources that others have curated or an easy platform to curate and store that information ourselves.

Thats where appoLearning can help, a lot.

I've been working on a Professional Learning Collection. I get asked all the time about the best places for educators to learn from other educators on their own time. So creating this collection will be an easy way to share all the places I've gathered over time to share with others.

Creating a collection couldn't be easier. You sign in with your Google, Twitter or Facebook account. Then give your collection a title, a description and decide if you want it public, private or viewable by anyone who has the link.

A note about the privacy settings. This can be really helpful. Some of your resources you'll want to share with the world. Others, you might have resources that can only be viewed by the teachers on your team or grade level. And other times you might just want to keep a personal collection. The choice is yours!

Once you've set up the collection you then need to add the resources. Remember you can add any type of resource. For mine I have websites, apps and some videos. All you need a link.

And you aren't limited to resources you bring in. Use the wisdom of the other users of appoLearning. You can search from the entire collection of resources already uploaded to appoLearning and make incorporating them easy too.

appoLearning will figure out what kind of resource it is and some basic information. Then you can fill in the rest. Give it description, tell what grades it's good for and tag it so its easier to find. The more information you can provide, the easier it will make to find it in search.

And thats it! Easy peasy! Collections are only as complete as you want. If you find a new resource, come back and add it. One not relevant anymore, delete it.

As we mentioned earlier you can create collections for a yourself, your students, your colleagues, you could even create collections of resources for your parents and the community. The possibilities are only as endless as what you can create.

Remember, all this is free. So give it a go!

Oh and check out the Professional Learning Collection. Tons of places to improve your practice on your own time!

Friday, June 12, 2015

Curating Content with @appoLearning

Curation, as many of you know, is near and dear to my heart. (Heck I even wrote a book on the subject!) And especially now, for teachers, its becoming increasingly important as more and more digital devices begin to enter the classroom. Finding the right apps, videos or other digital resources can be tough. And keeping it all organized can be even tougher.

I was excited to learn about appoLearning. This is a great resource where educators can find and share all the digital resources they are curating. All of the resources found there are vetted by other educators so you can trust that what you are search for will be the best of the best.

Recently they unveiled Collections. And this is something I am really excited about.

appoLearning Collections enable teachers to create, annotate and share lists of hand picked digital resources, including YouTube videos, iOS and Android apps, and websites, around specific subjects, topics or lessons. Collection creators can easily:
  • select from thousands of expert-vetted, standards-aligned resources from appoLearning search
  • and/or add their own resources (including anything that is URL-addressable including videos, apps, websites, assessments, Dropbox links, Google Drive links, Evernote links) and upload their own files (Photos, Lesson Plans, Videos, PowerPoints, PDFs, etc.). 
Collections empower teachers to continually manage the use of great digital resources into their classroom and to share these with peers, parents, students, and administrators.

Creating a Collection couldn’t be easier.

Click or tap “Create a Collection” to get started. From there, login via Facebook, Google or Twitter to get started. Once one has named, described and tagged a collection, there are three simple and fast ways to build it.

Some things to remember:

  1. Resources for any Collection can be pulled from the thousands of digital resources already vetted by appoLearning experts. Simply type in the search term on appoLearning, or browse by subject, grade-level, device and Common Core Standard, to find a list of vetted resources. While searching, one can also filter to show only FREE options. Simply press the “Add” button next to each resource to add to a collection. Click the “View” button to go back to the collection at any point.
  2. Add in resources from other collections by simply pressing the “Add” button for individual selections or the “Add All” button to grab the entire collection
  3. Digital resources that are not included in appoLearning search can also be added to a Collection. Simply paste the relevant URL - any URL, including those that point to a website, YouTube, iTunes, Google Play,  Prezi, Pinterest, Vimeo, Dropbox, Google Drive, etc., - of the selected educational resource, and it will be instantly added to the appoLearning database and included in the collection.
  4. Files can also be uploaded to be shared via a collection.Simply drag and drop the file - any digital file including photos, videos, lessons plans, quizzes, powerpoints, pictures, Smart Notebook software and more - and it will also be added to your appoLearning Collection.

We know that one of the most important parts of the curation process is sharing and sharing a Collection is easy. Each collection has its own unique URL that can be shared via email, messaging, or any social media channel.  appoLearning includes an embed feature to include the collection on a website in addition to one-click sharing for Twitter and Facebook.  .

All appoLearning Collections can be found via the search box at top of the Collections page or by using the tag navigation to the left of that page. So you will be able to see what others are creating and use those as a starting point for your own collections too.

You are probably thinking to yourself, what’s the catch. There has to be a subscription or a feee to do this. Nope. appoLearning Collections are free of charge.  As you begin to plan and organize your lessons for the upcoming year (after some well-deserved time off!), I encourage you to start creating and sharing your own Collections of resources to understand how easy - and addictive! - it can be.

The folks at appoLearning are getting tremendous feedback from teachers on how to make the product even better, as well as a lot of special requests for how schools and districts can best take advantage of the platform and technology.

You can get started right away, or contact them for a personal demo so YOU can become that teacher everyone turns to for recommendations.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Evaluating Technology? Here's What To Look For...

In my former life as a Director of Instructional Technology I worked with school leaders to make the best choices when it came to technology. We would spend great deals of time looking at funds and how they could best be used to make an impact on student learning.

I believe many districts do that. However, often, when the hardware is installed and the software has been trained on that is where conversations end and responsibilities shift. The problem with that approach is that how do we know that what we purchase is actually being used appropriately or even being used for that matter?

I began looking at technology after the purchase. How could we help school leaders better understand the technology they purchased and could they determine how effective it was really being used in the classroom.

With that in mind I development 5 questions that school leaders should be able to answer on a walkthrough. Now keep in mind, it takes time to develop an understanding of all these. And while you should be able to see some, you may not see all. And that doesn't automatically mean the technology is useless or is being used ineffectively. It just means that more time may need to be spent on understanding the purpose.

Who is using the technology? Is the technology being used exclusively by the teacher? By the students? Is there a mix of both? While this will be dependent on the type used, there are situations to be mindful of. Take, for example, the Interactive Whiteboard or any front-of-classroom display. Is the teacher the only one engaging with and interacting with the technology? If so, than we might need to look at pedagogy. We would install $10,000 teaching stations that would only ever be touched by the teacher. There's something fundamentally wrong with that. So look at the lesson and look at who is using the technology. Could something better be happening?

If you took the technology away, how different would the lesson be? This observation aims to get at the pedagogy and how the technology is being used. Ultimately technology should enable students to do something they couldn't do without it. I can communicate with students around the globe by having a pen-pal but by using Skype or Google Hangouts I can do it much quicker and reach a greater audience and potentially have a greater impact. Take a long, hard look. Could you do the same lesson and it have the same impact without the technology? If in English class students are using their laptops to just write a paper, that technology isn't very transformational. But if those students are creating podcasts or book trailers or something else entirely, than the technology might really be necessary and transformational. Think critically about how it's being used and would the learning be the same without it.

How much variety with the technology is there? When you see students using the technology are they always doing the same things. Are they just using Wikipedia or the calculator? Are they always on some type of self-diagnosing software or are they doing something different, using different sites, apps and programs? Variety is the spice of life and the spice of learning. We shouldn't pigeon hole kids into using PowerPoint because that is the only technology we know. Kids need to have opportunities to use several different types of apps and sites and demonstrate knowledge in a variety of ways as well whether the teacher knows them or not.

What opportunities do students have to collaborate with or through the technology? Students need the chance to learn with and from each other. And, again, technology enables us to do that much, much easier. Are there opportunities for students to share and reflect with each other and their teacher? Are they using a social network like Edmodo or Schoology? Are they maintaining blogs? Or are you just seeing one student using the technology individually. If so, depending on the purpose it may be time to evaluate how students work together through or with technology.

What opportunities do students have to create new knowledge or products with the technology? Learning really happens when students can take some piece of understanding and actually do something with. Either create a meaningful product or some new knowledge with that understanding. And, again, technology makes that creation much easier and in some cases more meaningful. When you see students using technology are just merely doing recall and low-level learning. Or are they truly creating something meaningful?

These questions should lead to deeper reflections with school leaders, teachers and students on how technology is being used in the course of learning. They meant to provide a starting point for conversations. They aren't the end all, be all when it comes to technology use in the classroom.

Interested in an infographic for this post? Download one here!

What do you think? What do you look for when evaluating how technology is used in the classroom? Is it these? Is it something else? Leave a comment below.

photo credit: Tracing relations via photopin (license)

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The 3 Things Digital Classrooms Really Need

My first experience with technology in the classroom was the good ol' Apple IIe and endless hours playing Oregon Trail and Math Blaster. That evolved to an after school coding club in high school where I learned how to make a square and a flower using BASIC. I got my first personal computer as a freshman in college (1998) and finally got Internet at home when I came home at the Holidays the same year.

And look at where learning is today...

The classroom is becoming less about the physical space it occupies and more about the cloud. Today, many teachers are beginning to shift their instruction from stand and deliver to more interactive, engaging and participatory styles of teaching and learning.

To add to the physical changes happening in the classroom, they way students interact with each other, both in the class and outside the class, is shifting as well. With 1:1 and Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) programs taking hold across the country (and the world) students have access to just about all known knowledge at their fingertips.

This Powering The Digital Classroom movement brings many challenges to overcome and demands several creative solutions to provide more engaging content for students, diving into how students are learning and having students reflect on how they know what they know.

Engaging Content-It is clear that students want to be more engaged with their learning. If we look at the world in which they live they are surrounded by screens, games, music and more. So why not take cues from their world and make the learning environment a bit more familiar to them? And that means more than just allowing them to use a cellphone as a calculator or a laptop to create a presentation.

Traditionally the classroom has been a place of comfort for the teacher rather than the student. Teachers-created lessons that were easy to deliver, yet for many students the lecture style of teaching that takes place in many classrooms doesn't suit this generation of learners. If you are bored teaching the content, think about how the students feel.

Digital devices have the potential to change that.

With the access to devices students can have access to a multitude of variations when it comes to their content. Teachers are no longer limited to transparencies on the overhead. Students can watch videos, examine live Tweet streams, talk to experts via Hangouts or perform virtual experiments otherwise not possible.

Understanding How Learning Works (Or Doesn't)-With the proliferation of tablets, mobile devices and laptops, students can be more connected to their learning than ever before. The use of these devices makes its easy know what students know, the moment they know it.

Formative assessments were a large part of my classroom. By the time I gave a test or a quiz at the end of a unit, it was too late. I needed to know how well my instruction was working, or more importantly, not working. Embracing formative assessments helped me do that. Through mostly non-digital means I could quickly understand if my students were struggling with concepts or if I needed to bump up my instruction because it was too easy.

Now, digital tools like virtual polling, online sticky notes and others allow us to not only guage understanding in the moment, we can record that data easily and use it to make better decisions in our classroom. We can see how student understand changes over time with the click of a button and share that information with the student so they better understand their learning as well.

I truly believe Formative Assessments have the power and the potential to radically change how instruction is done in the classroom, when the data gathered is used to inform decisions about teaching and learning.

Reflections On Learning- Since I started teaching one thing I embraced early on was reflection. It was important to me to examine how I was teaching, how well I was or wasn’t doing, and how I could improve my craft. Many times these reflections took place with the voice in head. Now they take place for the whole world to see on my blog.

Blogging is a huge part of who I am as a professional. It allows me to think out loud with whomever will listen and get their feedback and wisdom. My blog is a place for me to share new ideas, think openly about issues that matter to me and serves as a place to learn as well.

Blogging in the classroom takes many forms. From the class blog that is maintained by the teacher, to the group blog where each student has an opportunity to contribute posts, to students having their own blog to openly reflect on their learning and share their struggles with their learning.

Teachers are not the only ones who benefit from blogging. Students benefit from this type of reflection as well. Because blogging and microblogging have become so easy,  and now students have access to their own devices, this type of reflection is possible. And students have a variety of platforms to choose from. Teachers are seeing blogs as a way to encourage student conversation and to open a dialogue between students.

These are exciting times to be in the classroom, whether that room is a physical space or in the cloud. When we Power Up The Classroom with Engaging Content, Meaningful Assessments and Reflections Through Blogging, we can truly leverage the digital tools at hand to create innovative and creative learning spaces.

What do you think? What will a transformation to fully digital classrooms require? Leave you thoughts below.

Photo Credit: Learning Neighbourhood 2011 via photopin (license)