Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Going Digital Is About More Than Just Devices...

Going digital has truly made our world smaller. From the desks in our classrooms we can travel to far off places and talk to friends via Skype or share thoughts through blogs or experience historic sites like never before with virtual reality. We can code new apps or design new objects on 3D printers. The digital tools we have available to us for both teaching and learning is (and will continue to have) dramatic effects on both.

And there is a shift (albeit small) in professional learning as well. You are no longer bound by the learning prescribed to you by your district. You can develop your own learning goals and by using digital tools you can seek out experts, connect, learn, share and grow, anytime, any place.

But I believe being digital or using digital tools is more than just giving devices to kids or even providing professional development for teachers. Going digital, rolling out devices, or digital makerspaces shouldn't just be about the new and the flash. Technology and digital devices should allow us to do things that are truly transformational. It should be really less about technology and more about relationships and attitudes.

Technology should never isolate us. Learning is social. Spending time together is how we learn. I will be the first person to tell you I use social media to make connections and learn with so many different people from around the world. But I will also tell you that nothing beats the face-to-face time I get to spend with people at conferences, meetings, or just over coffee. That face time is so valuable to my learning. I learn so much in those interactions. And that type interaction is so important for students to develop interpersonal, emotional and collaborative skills as well. So we have to get out from behind the screen often and learn together and from each other. Not everything has to be done through technology. Sometimes it's a hindrance rather than a benefit.  It enables us to interact easier or across great distances, but there is still room for students (and us to) to work face-to-face.

Unlocking Passions. School shouldn't be preparation for real life. It should BE real life. We've got to do better as educational leaders (teachers and administrators) to help kids (and adults) unleash their passion. Providing time in the day to tinker, explore, reflect, learn and grow helps us all discover who we are inside. Technology is truly transformational and should allow us all to do things not possible before. Technology isn't just for rote memorization of facts, having students take hours or meaningless assessments or judge whether or not they read a book with some low-level recall questions. Kids will do incredible things, if we enable them and get out of their way. Schools should be safe and caring places for them to discover and peruse their passions.

Enable Collaboration. Ideas are made better when they are shared. This is another that doesn't happen enough in our schools, even though technology-enabled collaboration has made it so much easier. Share the good stuff. Let kids build, discover, and problem solve, together. (We should do that more as adults, too.) And share what happens. Let others take what you've done and build upon it and make it better so that can be shared with even more people. Just like before, we can learn better together. Your story is important and deserves to be shared but more importantly, others deserve to learn from your success and failures too.

Talk Less and Listen More. This goes back to the face-to-face time right? And really, it's more listening than it is talking. As educational leaders (teachers and administrators alike) we have to be willing to listen to ideas, suggestions, or complaints and use them to grow ourselves, each other and our organizations. Really, listening should happen much more often than talking, especially when it comes to education leadership. As educational leaders we have to be willing to listen and hear ideas, even if they make us uncomfortable or that we might disagree with. The same is true for students. We have to take the time to listen to what they want to do. What do they want to create? How can a digital classroom or technology-enabled learning environment help them meet their goals?

"Care For" means more than "Care About." This educational leadership quality is an important one. A simple change in our language can have a huge impact and outcome. Saying "I teach math." and "I teach kids math." have 2 differences in meaning. And it so true! We have to care not about our jobs or what we do. We have to care about who we are doing it for. Kids! Just because we may have some amount of digital technology at our disposal doesn't mean its always in everyones best interests to use it. No matter what we do we always have to keep our kids in mind and make sure we are doing what is best for their interests. But most of all, we have to care about kids.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Back To Basics: Device Tips For #BackToSchool

When I was a Director of Instructional Technology it was always a fun day when we could deliver brand new devices to a school. The students and teachers were always excited and ready for the new possibilities ahead.

Then after a few weeks frustration would set it. Students would loose work, teachers had to spend hours trying to figure out which document belonged to whom and we’d see lots of devices in the shop for repair.

The focus on our instructional technology team was on the “stuff” kids could create when we should have started our conversations on the obvious.

Creating cool stuff is great but there has to be basic foundational skills first.

Norms are important when it comes to using technology. (Of course technology allows us to do things truly transformational and we will deviate from the documented ways tools are to be used.) We might believe that students are “digital natives” when in reality they are trying to figure this stuff out just like the adults in the room are. The difference is our approach and mindset. That said, having a basic set of norms in place across classrooms will be important to any successful technology device use.

Digital Citizenship-If there isn’t a long standing conversation and fully-integrated approach to digital citizenship then the validity of any technology implementation has to be called into question. Full stop. Simply teaching one lesson at the beginning of the school year or having students sign some meaningless “acceptable use policy” isn’t enough. There has to be a constant and ongoing conversation about all aspects of digital citizenship.

Digital citizenship is more than just making sure kids don’t cyberbully or know how to spot fake news. There are actually 9 parts to digital citizenship and we don’t take enough time to talk about any of them. Items like health and wellness, actually taking a break from technology. Or raising questions around access and equity so all understand. These are just as important as protecting our personal information and etiquette.

CommonSense Education has an amazing K12 Digital Citizenship curriculum that is free and easy to implement. Lessons cover every aspect of digital citizenship and are designed for every classroom throughout the year.

Naming Conventions-This one bit me and my students more than once. With the advent of Learning Management Systems (LMS) like Microsoft Teams and Google Classroom and other digital platforms it is much easier for students to turn in work electronically. Mine and my students problem was probably one faced by many educators. Because most adults have been using technology for a while now we have developed our own methods of naming files. The problem is many students haven’t developed that skill. (Heck, even getting them to put a name on their paper is still a problem!)

Having a consistent naming convention will not only save you time and energy but will also teach students the same. This works best when you talk about it as a school or a team. Talk about the various assignments and projects you will have students turn in throughout the year. Come up with a constant naming convention that is consistent for all teachers and students. Starting with the date an assignment is due is a visual reminder to the student and the teacher what the assignment is. Include the first initial/last name of the student, assignment short name and the class name and period number. If I am submitting my plant identification notes to my 3rd period biology class that is due on September 1, 2018 I would name it “090118_SAnderson_PlantID_Bio3.” Yours doesn’t have to be exactly like this but work as an instructional team to find what works for you. This saves you from having 30 files all called “Doc1” and also helps with revisions as well.

Folders and General Organization-Following along with consistent naming conventions, teaching students good digital organization skills will be something students (and the adults too) will look back upon and be grateful for. Many digital drives like Google Drive and OneDrive have powerful built in search features that allow you to find what you are looking for if it gets lost. However, if we organize things from the very beginning we don’t have to rely on the search at all. Have students create folders for each class and for each assignment. Use your naming convention strategy to keep things consistent.

Organization goes beyond folders and files. Students need strong curation skills as well to make sure that the other digital information they find can be retrieved. Helping them understand how and having a program like OneNote, Pocket or Diigo to tag and organize sites, articles, and visualizations can save all of us from a lot of frustration.

Saving And Backing Up-Good or bad, saving documents or files has become almost a non event. If we are using Word Online or Google Docs the files are save automatically and everything syncs everywhere automatically. But reminding students that saving regularly should be a part of their workflow is important.

Setting up for offline access can also be a great way to allow students to keep working without having to rely on internet access. If you allow students to take devices home find out how to set-up files and folders for offline access. I was recently in a district talking to some high school students who were taught from early on to sync all their files in their digital notebooks locally to their laptop at the end of every period so that they could keep working no matter where they were. When they got back to school the next day everything synced automatically and went back into the cloud.

Whatever method you use students (and the adults too) should be saving and regularly backing up their work. It’s just a good digital practice to have.

Permissions-With a lot of the creative work that we will have students do using their devices having the appropriate permissions will be key. Students may need access to the camera, mic, USB or other ports. Be on the lookout for those pop up messages. On iPads and Chromebooks they are pretty easy to spot but it can be tricky. Find out the process with your devices to ensure those permissions are set-up for what you need before you need them. Keep in mind if your devices are centrally managed you may have to talk to your technology team.

Care and Maintenance-Lastly, devices are a generally a large investment by any school or district. Therefore making them last, problem-free, should be a constant reminder. And these are good habits to form now rather than dealing with an issue in the future.

Sometimes we expect kids to respect the technology we give them but they need to reminded. Keeping liquids away, not throwing them or just tossing them in a bookbag, keeping the keys on the keyboard, keeping them charged, anything you’ve seen or experienced yourself make for great talking points. Have students brainstorm a list of care and maintenance tips and help them take ownership of their devices.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Supporting Writing In Every Classroom With ThinkCERCA

This post is sponsored by ThinkCERCA, an online platform designed to empower teachers to personalize literacy instruction across disciplines.

Just as literacy is a part of every classroom at every grade level, writing is a powerful component of the curriculum. Writing is generative in nature and helps students uncover thoughts bubbling in their heads that haven’t reached the surface yet. Writing also allows students time and space to think critically, wrestle with explanations of their understanding, and helps to vocalize their learning in coherent ways. Writing, like reading, is not only important in a student’s school years, but is essential in their personal, professional, and civic lives.

Adoption of the Common Core Literacy Standards emphasizes the equal importance between reading and writing (10 Anchor Standards each) and also the need for all educators, no matter the discipline, to take an active role in teaching reading and writing. This call to action has school leaders exploring options to support their staff members in this endeavor and while there are curriculums, professional books, and learning opportunities in reading; there are much fewer choices for staff development in the teaching of writing.

Fortunately for educators everywhere, ThinkCERCA has developed a set of Writing Across the Curriculum Guides that are free to download and include support for administration and content area teachers. Focusing on argumentative writing using the CERCA framework, educators can develop a common language to help students succeed in Writing Across the Curriculum. Again, this is free to download and a great place to start. (For those districts looking for additional resources and supports, ThinkCERCA offers a paid platform which can reinforce the district’s writing focus and includes standards aligned- rubrics for feedback from teachers or peers.)

The ThinkCERCA Writing Across the Curriculum Guides comes in a set of 5 to support the following areas:

  • Administrators
  • Math Teachers
  • Science Teachers
  • Social Studies Teachers 
  • ELA Teachers 

The Guide for Administrators clarifies the Why and helps provide beginning steps for the How. Citing research on the current reality of student writing across the nation, as well as the need for support to ensure students are college and career ready, these guides go a step further posing suggestions on how to best support their staff members during widespread adoption.

In the Math, Science, and Social Studies Guides; educators will find a short section on the What when writing across the curriculum specific to their discipline. The guides are interactive, providing videos and links to further resources for clarification and demonstration examples. Along with a brief introduction, each guide contains ideas and prompts specific to each discipline all while developing a shared understanding and using the CERCA Framework. The prompts and ideas, while anchored in Argumentative writing, provide multiple sub-genres which would fall under this type, to provide choice.

In the ELA Teachers Guide, ThinkCERCA provides advice and support for those educators who find themselves as the resident expert when implementing a writing across the curriculum initiative. Along with focus areas and how best to support colleagues in student growth, there is a list of resources for narrative and informative writing. Finally, there is a long list of prompts divided by discipline area in which the ELA teachers can use to launch a cross-discipline writing project with colleagues.

Writing happens (and should happen) in every classroom. So take some time and explore the Writing Across The Curriculum Guides that ThinkCERCA has to offer!

Download the Argumentative Writing Poster HERE

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Research Isn't Sexy...But You Need It Anyway

For some time now Shaelynn Farnsworth and I have been reflecting on our own learning and professional development practices, looking for gaps in instruction and aiming to improve our craft. One of our longest conversations has been around research. In the work we do, we are constantly reading and attempting to understand the research behind the popular instructional movements of today. What we find is that much of the educational research available today isn’t used, isn’t cited, and really isn’t sexy.

Take literacy instruction.

While trying to capture the success in student achievement scores in literacy from the research and studies done in the 1980s to the early 2000s the RTI (Response To Intervention) process and framework were created (Vellutino et al.). RTI was developed to help schools replicate the gains witnessed in this research. Today, RTI has morphed into MTSS (Multi-Tiered System of Support) but very few districts have seen the increased in student-achievement that was initially experienced.

What happened?

While the RTI framework was adopted and utilized throughout the nation, the actual reading strategies and interventions used to achieve this growth were left behind. Implementing only half of the research (RTI Framework) while substituting different interventions and reading strategies have produced only limited results, leaving many administrators, teachers, and students frustrated. We know what works in literacy, and there is research behind it (most reading research is in the Psychology field) but still fail to dig into it, much less use it. (Kilpatrick)

Education research is vast. It spans across disciplines, instruction, leadership, and many other components that contribute to a school. The problem has become that research has been co-opted by publishers, organizations and individuals to sell one-size-fits-all quick fixes, programs and books. Many will ignore the fundamental findings of the research and insert their own ideas and practices that help these packages fly off the shelf.

With the abundance of research available, why do very few practitioners use it? What barriers exist that slow the transfer into the classroom? And what can be done to support administrators and practitioners in their quest of research-based methods?

We believe that there are 5 main barriers that exist which impacts how or if educators use research. While there could certainly be more added to this list, we feel these were the top 5 problem areas.

  • Access and Abundance: Digging deep into research is typically done during college. Free access to databases, extensive libraries, experts for days. But upon graduation access is limited and met with the dreaded paywalls when locating many peer-reviewed articles, journals, and research. On top of limited access, the abundance of research out there is overwhelming. A simple search on Google Scholar with the keywords “Struggling Readers” lists 500,000 results. It is no wonder educators do not know where to begin when sifting through the research.
  • Lack of Research in PD: There is no doubt the access to professional development is more abundant now than ever before. But that comes at a risk for individual educators and district leadership. We want to provide and participate in high-quality learning, however, much isn’t grounded in any realistic or research-based practices but instead they are the ideas that someone read about or heard about or tweeted about. Anyone today can learn about innovation, makerspaces, augmented reality, really any instructional practice, create a slide deck and share it with the world. Instructional practices that impact student learning are based in more than tweets and blog posts. As learners and leaders we have to model and understand where these ideas are coming from and that are they based in sound research. 
  • Time, Or The Lack Of: Time is a commonly mentioned barrier for educators. From new initiatives, faculty meetings, lesson planning, and connecting with students; time to do everything well is a deterrent for many educators when it comes to research. 
  • Research is Written For Researchers: Most research is written for other researchers, not necessarily the practitioners in the field. With this in mind, it is no wonder that many educators find it inaccessible because of the jargon used by a specific group of professionals. This jargon is filled with technical terminology that is understood at both a literal and figurative level by the group but leave the rest of us guessing. (Education Jargon Generator
  • Distrust and Disconnect Between Theory and Practice: First, disconnect. There often times is a gap between theory and reality when reading research done by professionals in the same discipline but with little to no educational background. Ideas, studies, and strategies are examined with a skeptical lens and doubt is raised when research seems isolated or without consideration of the whole child or educator demands. What many educators do not realize is the disconnect within education research itself. With no agreed upon definition of research-based, no common training methods for preservice educators, and both qualitative and quantitative inquiries producing complementary but still fragmented results, the disconnect, cognitive bias, and skepticism of authority is not only confusing, but creates a sense of distrust among the education community. Educators are more apt to believe other teachers implementing a program or using a specific framework over the years of research with statistics and data.  (D.W. Miller

Items To Consider

  • Comparing Sources: One source isn’t gospel. Do your homework. Be open to opposing ideas. Don’t be married to an idea because you agree. If the research isn’t there, it’s not there. Be a critical discerner of information and ask lots of questions when you participate in professional development or are in a presentation. Ask where the research is and investigate yourself. Can you draw the same conclusions? Compile a list, according to your discipline, of leading theorists in the field to cross-check what you hear and read.
  • Research-Based Is A Convoluted Term: When designing activities that include techniques or strategies that have been research-proven, you can then call it “researched-based”. Since there are varying degrees of improvement (statistically significant yes, but how much) and are there approaches that work better and have a higher effect size, it is important have a basic understanding of the research. If there isn’t any then that doesn’t mean you can’t use it. It just means you have to be more skeptical of the results, long term. 
  • Be A Researcher: No, this doesn’t mean you need to know about standard deviations or methodologies. What it means is be a student of your students. Gather data and examine what’s happening with student learning. What does the data show? Are the practices you are using improving student understanding? Are the results what you expected? What went wrong (or right!)? Be a reflective educator. 
  • Always Remember To Keep Students First: Even research can get it wrong. You know your students. Always do what is best for them, even when that means going against what others say. 

Resource/Reading List:
The Black Hole of Education Research-D.W. Miller
Why Don’t Teachers Use Education Research In Teaching?
Research Proves...Very Little
Using Research and Reason In Education
Free Education Research Databases-CSULB
Unpaywall 
Digital Promise Research Map

Friday, June 8, 2018

Effective School Communications In The Summer

As the end of the school year approaches my daughter’s backpack is filled with fliers from her elementary school. Everything from summer reading lists to stacks of classwork that are finally being sent home. Nearly every night my inbox is full of emails from the school reminding us of this and that. It seems like they are trying to pack everything we need to know for the summer into the space of a few days.

And in a few days all will be silent. The phone won’t ring. The inbox will be conspicuously empty. When the last bell rings on the last day of school it seems like the door to the school shuts and so does how the school (or district for that matter) goes on vacation. Rightfully so. It's been a long school year and everyone needs a break.

Relationships go a long way in the educational environment especially to help students to continue to be successful. And building those relationships as any Public Relations person will tell you takes constant work. The summer time is a great time for teachers and leaders to keep the relationship building going, without being invasive or overdoing it.

Here are some tips to keep the lines of communications open over the summer while formulating a new plan for next school year.

Review Last Year’s Communications-When things settle down it's a good idea to go back and look at all your various communications from the previous school year. Pull reports on phone calls and emails. How many were listened to? How many emails were opened? This can give you a good idea on if there is engagement with messaging or message fatigue. This is also a good time of year to do a short email survey to parents to check for things like message frequency (too much or too little), preferred method of delivery, and other ways they’d like to be communicated with like social media.

Just like we’d do as teachers, evaluating our year, looking at how you communicate with parents (and the community) and how you can improve is a great first step.

Avoid Phone Calls In The Summer-It may seem tempting to record a message and blast it out to everyone. However, some families schedules are different in the summer and it can be hard to get them to listen to messages on the answering machine. Others won’t even want to be bothered by their phone ringing in the first place. (It is one of the least desirable ways parents want to be communicated with after all. Only 42% find it effective in a survey from SchoolMessenger.) Use your other forms of direct communication like email and/or text messages instead.

Review Websites and Apps-There is no doubt keeping a website up-to-date is a challenge. Many schools and districts don’t have a dedicated webmaster and so the job falls to someone else with other duties. Summer is a great opportunity review what your digital footprint looks like. Updating images, removing stale content and getting things like calendars and Back-To-School information ready to go. Look at analytics. Where are visitors going? Can you make it easier for them to find what they are looking for.

Research shows us that the “summer slide” is somewhat accurate. Hattie ranks the Summer Vacation Effect at an effect size of -0.02. (Remember 0.40 is expected student growth in a school year.) So just by being out for 8-12 weeks in the summer can cause students to loose some of their gains.

Keeping learning and engagement with learning going over the summer is not only critical to relationship building, it’s important to keep kids moving forward. How can you use all your methods of communication to give gentle reminders that learning never stops, even in the summer? And what if we could use our methods of communication to encourage learning while making those methods sticky so they are useful during the school year?

Here are some ideas.

Leveraging Reading and Literacy-Nearly every school sends home a reading list. Either selected books they’d like students to read or ideas on topics, all with the goal of keeping kids excited about reading. We can use our various communication channels to keep that encouragement up, rather than relying on a piece of paper.

One of the best examples I’ve seen of this is my elementary principal friend Amber Teamann. During the school year she would fire up Facebook Live and read bedtime stories every so often to her students. It was short, only about 15-20 mins but imagine as a kid having your principal read to you. Facebook Live is just the easiest and fastest way to get it out. It’s recorded so parents can play it any time and it models good reading for students as well.

You could take the same concept and invite students to record short book trailers or book reviews to be posted to the school social media pages and/or website. Or, going on step further, do a live weekly review with a few students of the books they are reading. Think of it like Reading Rainbow but local! Remember, you can do all this from a mobile device. No special equipment needed.

If you don’t have time to do videos a bi-weekly email with events at the local library, quotes from students on the books they are reading or librarian recommendations can go a long way to continue to encourage students to read over the summer.

Getting Ready For Next School Year- As we’ve seen with the research (and no doubt experienced ourselves) many students experience setbacks in their learning over the summer. Not because they want to or are trying too. It’s just how kids are. But it doesn’t have to be that way. As we’ve seen there can be some simple things you can do to keep the learning going but also use those critical forms of communication.

Building on the idea of a bi-weekly email that focuses on literacy and reading you could expand it out to provide items like grade specific activities. For example one week you could focus in on math skills (perhaps the skills the majority of students are weakest in) and the next some fun local history students can learn about with their parents. These activities should be fun and easy to do at home.

For your Science, STEM and STEAM students there are loads of activities and experiments that are easy to do with stuff found around the house (like this list of 20 STEM Bucket List activities). Or the summer time could be a great time for kids to experiment with coding. Scratch is a great place to start. Grasshopper and Swift Playgrounds are all mobile that are really engaging too. (Common Sense Media has an extensive list.)

For those kids who just want to get out an explore and keep moving, work with your Physical Education teachers to provide for suggestions on exercise routines, yoga and other ways kids can stay active. You can also work with your Health Education teachers to round up healthy eating advice or meals that are perfect for summer.

The point of any of these activities is two-fold. The first is to help build those relationships with parents. Just because it’s summer and students are out of school doesn’t mean that learning has to end. (Sometimes it can be more fun in the summer.) And the second is to think about the ways we use communications in our schools and districts. How can we make it sticky? How can we be innovative in our communications practices while still being able to pass along critical information? Ultimately, how can be all be better communicators during the school year?

Happy Summer!

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

What 15,000 Kids Taught Me About Creativity

When I walked into the Houston Convention Center a few weeks ago I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had never attended a FIRST LEGO League World Championship. Walking through the doors I was in awe. 15,000 kids from nations all over the world gathered to show off their robotic and LEGO creations and compete for the title of World Champion. I heard multiple languages, adults reminding kids about how they got there and some of the craziest chants you’ve ever heard.

I thought was here to watch kids problem solve with robotics, not go to war.

But it was war. A war of creativity.

There is a lot to learn about FIRST, the organization behind the meets, what they do and how they do it. Essentially they help promote student interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) through robotics and LEGO competitions. This year more than 516,000 kids from over 90 countries entered, starting in local meets to hopefully move to the World Championships.

What really struck me is the competition isn’t haphazard. It isn’t what group can create a LEGO robot that can throw a ball the furthest or a robot that can just do something basic. Not at all. The teams are given a theme, this year it was water, that they have several problems that they have to build using LEGO or other robotics to solve. Moving water from a distant well to a local community, storing the water for the long term, even figuring out how to build a working water treatment system that removes waste. (Fortunately, it was just rubber balls and not the real thing.)

Walking around for 2 days I could not get over the entirety of it all. It was loud. It was exciting. I talked to kids from all over the world about their participation and what it meant. I talked to parents about how they felt learning transferred to the classroom. And I talked to the FIRST leadership about what this competition means for the future.

See, most of these teams compete on their own time. The vast majority build and study, test and refine, outside of the classroom. They are doing on Tuesday Nights at their synagogue or Thursday afternoons with their Girl Scout troop or on the weekends with a bunch of friends because they want to win.

But, what they are doing when creating their robots for competition has a direct effect on the classroom. And, I believe if we embrace the type of authentic tasks, problem solving and collaboration that I saw at the World Championships, we’d be providing students much more valuable skills. We’d be creating an environment where creativity can flourish.

Authentic Tasks-The leadership teams at FIRST and LEGO Education spend months coming up with the theme and the tasks. They want these kids to see the impact their work can have on the real world and that is at the cornerstone of all this. Next year the theme was revealed to be Space. We don’t yet know what the tasks will be (that's a closely guarded secret) but we can guess it might be about long term space travel, colonization, gathering of resources or something else entirely. Like with water this year they wanted the kids to really look at what was happening in the world. Research the problems and come up with innovative solutions. I heard a story about the teams from Puerto Rico who used their knowledge learned through their research to create basic water treatment for their local communities after they were devastated by Hurricane Maria.

I’ve written about the need for authenticity in learning before. Students crave it. They want to see what they are learning applies to their world and beyond. They want to make a difference. They need authenticity. And they shouldn’t have to look to an after school group to find it. It should all start in the classroom.

Problem Solving- If there is anything out there that is a better example of kids problem solving I haven’t seen it yet. These kids spend a year working on the theme, researching, talking to experts, prototyping, experimenting and refining to solve the problems given in the theme. They aren’t just learning that the problems exist, they are actually trying to come up with creative solutions that can have a lasting impact. I heard a story about an all-girls team last year that used what they had learned to create prothstetics in their community for kids who couldn’t afford them. They are taking what they learned and making lasting change.

Kids don’t want to come to school, listen to some boring teacher lecture for hours and answer test questions. They want to be challenged, authentically. They know there are problems that exist in the world they might just have the solution to them. Real-world, authentic problem solving shouldn’t just take place outside of the school. It should be the basis for how we teach and what they learn. Don’t give them problems that already have solutions, let them find solutions to problems we’ve yet to solve.

Collaboration- No single participants here. Everything is done as a team. These kids work together for a year or more on these themes. They have to find a way to divide tasks, communicate with each other, work together and figure out what each of their strengths are to make a winning combination. Teamwork and collaboration are at the heart of the FIRST and LEGO missions. What is even more impressive is as teams are eliminated from competition, they aren’t. Winning teams that advance to the finals choose other teams to work with them. So everyone has a chance to be a part of a winning team.

Collaboration has long been talked about in the classroom. Allowing students to work together helps them see other points of view and determine their role in the creative process when working with others. It isn’t just putting desks together and saying students are working together. It’s fostering an environment where risk taking is a part of the process, where students can share without fear and most importantly it is where all ideas are considered and celebrated.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Why All Educators Need SAMR And TPACK

Lately, the work I’ve been doing with teachers and leaders has centered around the engaging and effective use of technology. In addition to developing a guide for how teachers can plan better using technology and what leaders can look for when doing walkthroughs, I have had many conversations around the transformational use of technology. Specifically, what does that  look like?

On its surface technology can make learning more fun and engaging. Allowing students to create podcasts or work on websites, write blog posts or use 3-D printers certainly engages students and shows them what is possible. However, what is lacking from many of the discussions is what pedagogical impacts the use of technology can have on learning. Moreover, if there isn’t a clear understanding of what types of activities promote the most student gains, then the use of technology is just flashy and in some cases, makes learning less effective.

Sure, learning should be fun, but if it’s not effective then what’s the point?

Many districts and teachers turn to technology specific instructional models to help their understanding of the use of technology and how to use it for more than just a digital worksheet or typing an essay. SAMR is the most popular and widely understood today. However, it tells just half the story. We also need to understand TPACK.

Wait. SAMR? TPACK? What do these letters mean and why do I need both?

SAMR Model-The SAMR Model was introduced by Ruben Puentedura in 2006. The model describes the life cycle of technology integration, specifically focusing on how to enhance learning through the use of technology.

S-Substitution
A-Augmentation
M-Modification
R-Redfinition

In its simplest form SAMR helps teachers understand how common instructional tasks can be enhanced through the use of technology. Moving a written assignment to a digital document is substitution. Sharing that digital document with a partner is augmentation. And so on. Here is a simple video to understand SAMR.



In many of the districts and classrooms I’ve worked with, SAMR is the go-to model to help teachers better understand how to bump up their lessons and make them more engaging with technology. And on the surface it makes sense. Take what teachers have traditionally done instructionally and show them how, through the use of technology, they can make that learning better.

However, simply relying on SAMR doesn’t take into account pedagogy or context, prior knowledge or even an understanding of the content to be taught. SAMR is also sometimes presented as a one way “ladder.’ Teachers need to “teach above the line” in order to be engaging and effective. That is a fallacy. Some lessons might only need substitution to be effective, while others might need redefinition. Hence the reason we need something else to help guide teachers in making better decisions on the use of technology grounded in sound content understanding and pedagogical skills.

TPACK Framework-The TPACK Framework was introduced by Dr. Matthew Koehler and Dr Punya Mishra in 2009 as a way to help guide teacher understanding on the effective integration of technology in learning, focusing on 3 specific knowledges teachers must have when integrating technology.

CK-Content Knowledge
PK-Pedagogical Knowledge
TK-Technology Knowledge

It is a firm understanding of all three of these that makes for effective learning through technology. Here is a simple video to understand TPACK.


I have spent many years trying to understand and help teachers and leaders understand TPACK. In my work as a Director of Instructional Technology we focused our professional development around helping teachers better understand the pedagogical impacts that the introduction of technology can have. And if we don’t have strong pedagogy, the use of technology is going to just amplify any of those problems. Teachers must be masters of their content and their pedagogy before they can even consider using technology effectively.

So what does this all mean?

SAMR makes learning more engaging while TPACK makes it more effective.

We need both.

TPACK and SAMR must be in the same conversation. It simply can’t be one or the other. SAMR is what makes lessons more engaging. It shows teachers (and students) that technology can be truly transformational and allow them to do things they couldn’t do before. That’s what makes the use of technology exciting and engaging. TPACK is what makes learning more effective. Without a clear understanding of what content is to be taught, the desired learning outcomes, the pedagogical techniques that effectively integrate technology into learning, then how can the learning be effective?

Take for example a fun game that allows for a teacher to ask questions through a digital platform and students respond through an app or a website as fast as they can. I think we can all agree that when we see students using platforms like these they are psyched. They really get into the competition to see if they can get the correct answer the fastest. It’s easy to see that is engaging.

Applying the SAMR model the use of this digital tool would be a substituted (perhaps augmentated) use of formative assessment. I can do formative assessment without technology. The use of the digital tool just makes it easier for me to ask the questions. If the teacher stops at just creating the quiz, taking a moment to explain an answer and moving on, they could be seen as weak in pedagogy.

The work of Hattie tells us that formative assessment, if done correctly, and over time, can be a huge mover in student learning. Simply using technology to ask questions and get kids excited, while engaging, isn’t effective. This is why we need TPACK. I want that teacher to see that the use of formative assessment is a powerful tool that does more to help the teacher than the student. And when we look at that data over time it can help guide our instructional decision making process. That’s strong pedagogy and a strong understanding of how these technology tools are supposed to be used. That’s TPACK.

TPACK and SAMR aren’t exclusive. They both need each other. TPACK helps us focus on our pedagogy and our content, while SAMR helps push the boundaries of what is possible with truly transformational technology integration.