RVISioning for 21st Century Success

My school has had 1:1 laptops from 1st grade on since its inception 7 years ago. We aren’t strangers to using technology in our classrooms, but at times we have lost sight of how to use it to enhance teaching and learning. I think we became complacent, as we were ahead of the pack from the very beginning, simply because we had the tools. However, in the last few years we have begun evaluating our technology usage and innovative practices – which we now refer to as RVISioning – to ensure our students learn the necessary 21st century success skills. Below are details about some of the ways my thinking, teaching, and coaching has changed as a result.

Photo courtesy of Georgia Southern via Flickr

Learning is Active

One of my best shifts, with bonus ripple effects, is that I now lead workshops or lessons with two objectives in mind. First, that I want the teaching style or technology tool I’m using to be a lesson in itself for teachers to use right away; and second, is of course, the content. A good example is when my team had returned from a visit to Shekou International School and I was tasked to report to the faculty what we had decided about our beliefs around technology integration. I could have made a long powerpoint with images and stories of what we had seen their teachers doing – but I knew that might put some on the defensive, rather than give them ideas. I decided instead to ‘practice what I preach’ by involving them in the lesson with a game and getting them to think about their experiences as students. I introduced Kahoot and asked true or false questions starting with the phrase, Did your best learning experience include. Here is a sampling of the questions that got them thinking (Check out the full game here):

  • You were given the choice of which group to contribute to or which topic to learn about
  • You learned about the topic in a collaborative and social setting
  • You were called out for checking your Facebook or Instagram
  • Your team worked towards a common goal that was real world relevant
  • Your leader listened and gave you meaningful, thought provoking feedback during the training
  • You had to sit and listen, perhaps following or being read a powerpoint, for 20 min. for more
  • Your leader expected and trusted organized chaos in the learning environment
  • Your instructor was obviously excited and passionate about the topic and task

My underlying message, that I hope was obvious, is that it’s not about the technology tool, it’s about our teaching practices. If educators could try to keep in mind how they learn best, rather than using common ‘teaching’ practices used on them during PD days, our kids would be much more engaged. Luckily, I have an easy going, reflective admin team that thanked me for “raising the bar.”

Photo courtesy of Jennifer3266124 via someecards.com
Photo courtesy of Jennifer3266124 via someecards.com

Learning is Social

To promote more peer teaching across the school, we’ve agreed to use Twitter to share articles and ideas we come across (#RVISionaries), as well as to share what we are doing in our classrooms. Also, along the line of making our practices transparent, last year I led several sessions on screen-casting which has resulted in lots of ‘bite-sized’ lessons from Google Extensions to ELL tips posted on our faculty website where teachers can refer back as needed throughout the year.

One of my projects this year is to help learn and disrupt our Personal Growth Plan model. The elementary principal asked 5 awesome teachers to work with me on this project and allow me to observe their classroom practices in order to get a feel for how the model works as is. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned from COETAIL is that learning is collaborative, and therefore I feel like such an important process should be bigger than a few observations and reflections between a teacher and an administrator. With this in mind, we are going to trial more of a Critical Friend Protocol – especially because what’s missing now is the peer observation and peer teaching piece.

Photo courtesy of Sal via Flickr

Parenting with Technology is (relatively) New Territory 

Another project in the pipes is a Parent Workshop about technology use in school and at home. I’ve been fielding lots of parent emails dealing with either preconceived notions or a lack of information about our school’s technology use. This need has been building since we have gone to mostly online homework and a BYOD environment from grades 6-12. We are addressing many of the concerns in school by providing digital citizenship lessons across the school, but our next step must be parent education – especially since many of the negative behaviors start at home.

With a team of teachers, counselors, administrators, and hopefully some students from across the school, I am going to plan and offer a variety of sessions that parents can choose from. Thanks to @jodeejunge and the high school team leader (@brywilks), we already have a great start to, what I’m positive will be, a lot of learning for all involved. Check out the ‘skeleton’ plan below and watch for more details this spring.



Course 5 Project Plans

I went back and forth about what to do for this project, as my aspirations for originality warred with my need to check off a goal for my school’s use of technology. In the end, I knew that learning and implementing MinecraftEdu was what my school needed and therefore made my choice obvious.

Even though I won’t get an originality prize, I am excited to offer this club to kids (and teachers) at school. I have been offering coding as an After School Activity (ASA) for a few sessions now, but they kids are always begging for Minecraft. Similarly, at home, my two kids do their best communicating and collaborating when they are building in a world together.

After my friend @jodeejunge and I learn how to use this as a teaching and learning tool, we are also going to offer a workshop to other teachers across the school and invite them to come see how the kids are using the tool and let the kids teach them how to move around, dig, and build. ASA is an ideal starting point because there will be more teachers available to come and learn implementation of the tool and the pressure of not wasting a classroom minute is far less.

Another bonus to starting in ASA is that we can get a school set of servers and accounts with the activity fee; we all know how difficult it is to get approved for purchases in the middle of the year! After reading several COETAIL Course 5 project reflections about Minecraft, I found Alex Guenther’s post that talked about how he created numbered accounts for his grade 7 students. From there we found a helpful tutorial that showed us how to number the accounts and attach them all to one email address.

With so many fantastic resources from educators who have been right where Jodee and I are now, I feel confident that we can make this a powerful learning experience for ourselves, our students, and other teachers at our school.

The Future

First off, this is a huge topic with endless answers. Although I agree with A.J. Juliani (and Elon Musk) that these types of changes need to be thought through using first principles thinking rather than analogous thinking, I’m going to start with the latter first.

Photo courtesy of Scott Swigart via Flickr
Photo courtesy of Scott Swigart via Flickr

What I wish I had had, and what I want for my own kids, is for education to take shape around them in response to their strengths, rather than them having to adjust and fit into the mold of traditional education, perhaps denying what it is they are good at in order to work on what the system thinks is important. I know lots of teachers, who became teachers, because as kids they felt school wasn’t relevant to them or even that they weren’t smart enough to be successful at anything else. The things I could have done if I had known what I know about myself now!

Photo courtesy of Kit Keat via Flickr
Photo courtesy of Kit Keat via Flickr

Yong Zhao says each child is a Rudolf. Unique individuals, with unique strengths, just waiting for the right opportunity to develop it. If a new situation (fog) had never come along, the other reindeers wouldn’t have realized that Rudolf’s big, red nose was a gift and not a burden. Our students need exposure to authentic problems, collaborative situations, and life beyond the classroom so that they too can realize how important it is to develop their strengths and contribute with their passion.

Sir Ken Robinson says there are two kinds of people in the world: those that endure what they do, and those that what they do, is who they are. But what if school is so narrow, that many kids never stumble upon their passion? Robinson explains that for many, school dislocates people from their natural talents, and that like Rudolf, we must create circumstances where they show up.

I suppose to figure out where to go in education, we must agree on the purpose of education? While I could cite tons of resources about the many different perspectives on this question, I’ll bring it back to my kids. The reasons I want my kids to get an education is to prepare them to be successful in the future. This education includes skills and knowledge to get a job, how to work with people in said job(s), and how to learn in order to develop their passions or tackle a new challenge.

Also, for my own kids, I would have no problems with them not learning to read until 1st or 2nd grade if instead of literacy cramming, there was more room to maintain their natural curiosity and love of learning, while developing their inquiry and problem solving skills.

Peruse the article 110 predictions for the next 110 years  and the video that A.J. Juliani says “changed his perspective on what his job was as a teacher,” and see if you can stop your head from spinning. The world will be a much different place for our children.

To wrap this up, I’ll try to bring these ramblings back ‘down to earth’ and into the classroom. I think that what we need now to head for the future is to put learning into the students’ hands. We need to spark our children’s curiosity and their need for learning with student centered, real-world-applicable teaching methods. Taking learning beyond the classroom, using gaming, introducing kids to the world of MOOCs, and connecting students to others students and professionals around the globe are just a few strategies that will help make students into learners.

Side Note: Be on the look out for A.J.’s upcoming blog posts on Why We Learn (and how it is changing), How We Learn (and why it is changing), and Our Future and The Purpose of Schooling.


Flipping is a Flop

Original photo courtesy of Agribusiness Teaching Center via Wikipedia
Original photo courtesy of Agribusiness Teaching Center via Wikipedia

I have never formally tried to flip my classroom, and before this week’s research I wasn’t clear about my beliefs around reverse instruction or a flipped classroom. I will say that although I have used tools like Khan Academy and BrainPop to supplement instruction in class and out, I never got the sense that a full on flip was worth my time.

After digging in to the pros and cons, I feel that this is one of the many “technological” ideas that flops because it is still used to the things we have always done; just as Marc Prensky describes as “doing old things in new ways”.

One of the first posts I came across,  The Flip: End of a Love Affair, was written by a teacher who had formerly loved the idea of a flipped classroom. She explains her change in thinking brilliantly:

The reality is that many if not most teachers who opt for the flipped classroom strategy are not pursuing a student-centered approach to teaching and learning. The traditional model of learning is simply being reversed, instead of being reinvented. The lecture (live or on video) is still front and center.

Learning isn’t simply a matter of passively absorbing new information while watching a lecture on video; new knowledge should be actively constructed. When we shifted to a student-centered classroom, my students took control of their learning, and I quit lecturing. I haven’t lectured in almost two years.

A Flipped Classroom, a Slanted Classroom, or even a Fliperentiated Classroom are all variations of teacher-centered teaching. With these models it might feel like at first you are ‘getting more content covered,’ but in reality the kids aren’t learning more.

Furthermore, The Teched Up Teacher makes the great point that

A kid who does not do their homework normally will not watch the lectures at home even if you hold them accountable.

This is even more detrimental in a flipped classroom because now the kid can’t participate in that really cool activity you planned.

So flipped or not, you still have the same student motivation issues because school doesn’t feel relevant to their lives and as Rob Langlands says, “WTF?’

The exception to this is if teachers can flip their thinking and their classrooms as Jon Bergmann, one of the first “flippers,” describes

We started flipping our classes after a conversation with our assistant superintendent. She saw how we were recording our live lectures with screencasting software and told us how her daughter loved it when her professor at a local university recorded his lectures, because she didn’t have to go to class anymore. That’s when we asked the question, “What then is the point of class time if we make it so they can get all of the content by watching a video?” The obvious answer was that we could make class time more enriching and more valuable.

My thinking flipped from my class being about the content to being about the process of learning. I have said for many years, “I don’t teach science, I teach kids.” But today I want to change that and say, “I don’t teach science, I teach kids how to learn.” This was a seismic change in how I thought about my role as a teacher. I realized that I needed to get away from being a teacher who disseminates content, and instead become a learning facilitator and coach.

Photo courtesy of Dan Foy via Flickr
Photo courtesy of Dan Foy via Flickr

So all in all, it seems to me that a better use of time as an educator would be to learn strategies to create a student-centered classroom where inquiry and authentic ways of learning were at the heart. PBL, blended learning strategies, student video creation, peer and global collaboration, and many other techniques are ways that a teacher can use tools and strategies to funnel the right information, strategies, and motivation towards her students. And, like the educators stated above, the real trick is to teach kids how to learn so that when they don’t receive lectures from you in class (or on your YouTube channel) they will still know how to find the answers to their questions and solutions to their problems.

Taking Learning from Blah to Ah-ha!

In the  Introduction to Project Based Learning booklet, Buck Institute defines standards-focused PBL as a systematic teaching method that engages students in learning knowledge and skills through an extended inquiry process structured around complex, authentic questions and carefully designed products and tasks.

Many teachers cringe at the thought of Project Based Learning because what comes to mind is an end project that does not add enough value for the extra time to be worth while. Another fear is that projects create chaos in the classroom and that the teacher won’t be able to maintain control over the learning outcomes, assessments, and rigor.

When talking with teachers I often reference the visual below to assure them that PBL is a twist on what they are already doing, and won’t require abandoning the many effective strategies they already have in place.

Image courtesy of New Tech Network via newtechnetwork.org
Image courtesy of New Tech Network via newtechnetwork.org

John Larmer, in an Edutopia article, explains that many of the (fill-in-the-blank)-Based Learning models that have cropped up over the years are, at the foundation, very similar.

The term “project learning” derives from the work of John Dewey and dates back to William Kilpatrick, who first used the term in 1918. At BIE, we see project-based learning as a broad category which, as long as there is an extended “project” at the heart of it, could take several forms or be a combination of:

  • Designing and/or creating a tangible product, performance or event
  • Solving a real-world problem (may be simulated or fully authentic)
  • Investigating a topic or issue to develop an answer to an open-ended question

So according to our “big tent” model of PBL, some of the newer “X-BLs” — problem-, challenge- and design-based — are basically modern versions of the same concept.

Project Based Learning and Problem Based Learning are the most often interchanged terms. BIE has “decided to call problem-based learning a subset of project-based learning” because project-BL can be framed as a project “to solve a problem.”

Image courtesy of John Lamer via Edutopia.org
Image courtesy of John Lamer via Edutopia.org

We’ve been dabbling in PBL for about a year now in our elementary school and I thought I’d take this week’s learning and direct it towards a regionally collaborative project I created last year for 4th grade called Together in the GCC. The project was successful last year on many levels, but when reflecting after the project finished, the participating teachers felt that a more authentic end product would be helpful for the students to maintain their interest and use the information they gathered throughout the project.

The lynch pin to a PBL unit is the authentic task presented at the beginning to guide learning and motivate participants with a meaningful context. Knowing Fiona Al Rowiaie is a long time resident of Bahrain, I asked her to help me brainstorm an authentic task that would require knowledge of the GCC countries and Council, as well as take the project from a globally collaborative project to a PBL-globally collaborative project. There has been talk of a train to connect the GCC countries, so we decided to start there.

Image courtesy of SpLoT at en.wikipedia
Image courtesy of SpLoT at en.wikipedia

We settled on a final project for teams to propose a GCC train route with 10 stops. The team would need to identify the 10 cities they think are best suited for the train stops within the 6 GCC countries. When choosing the cities, they would need to consider the cities’ geographical interests, cultural interests, population, industry interests, historical interests, and environmental interests. Teams would create Google Maps with the stations and present their route and city choices in a video. The videos would hopefully include visuals and evidence to persuade the audience of their route. There are too many kids to have one overall winner, so we will have several groups vote on the winning proposal. We will however, collect and report the most popular choices for the train stops; and who knows, maybe sometime soon we’ll get to see how close we are to the ‘real’ decision?

We plan to allow 2 weeks for the teams to create and share their final project; therefore the first 3 weeks would be targeted towards gathering and sharing information about the cities in the GCC countries in order to equip students to make informed decisions on the train stops.

This project will take place after Winter Break, so I’ll check back in to report our progress and reflections.

An Interdependence of Environment and Technology

Before I began teaching internationally, I worked at Walter Bracken STEAM Academy in Las Vegas. I was lucky to land the job right out of college, and from the first day of my first class, I was an elementary teacher who had to be a technology integrator, an ELL specialist, and a special education teacher. Public schools in the US are notoriously under funded and under staffed, especially in huge and diverse school districts like Clark County. My visionary principal, Katy Decker, made the decision to ‘cash in’ positions like assistant principal, technology integrationist, and ELL specialist in order to free up money for technology tools, innovative projects, and online subscriptions. It was the expectation that all the teachers taught in ways that met the needs of all their students. Because our students were mostly first generation Mexican-Americans, some with learning disabilities, and all were motivated by gaming, gardening, socializing, creativity, and ‘grown-up stuff’ (aka authentic learning tasks), it made sense that we taught in ways that met the students where they were. The campus included high speed wi-fi, 1:1 iPads, 1:2 PCs, science and art labs, Lego lab and maker space, gardens, and ‘Exploration’ classes built into the schedule. But spaces alone wouldn’t have been successful without the positive interdependence between the environment, the curriculum and the teaching styles – all three are necessary components.

CC image courtesy of Soem Live via Flickr
CC image courtesy of Soem Live via Flickr

It was also helpful that the majority of the team was fairly new, and hadn’t learned to teach in traditional settings. The culture of support, open doors, transparent practices, and excitement around learning, engineering, and innovation made it hard to fail, even as a new teacher.

Looking back, I realize this formula isn’t as easy to achieve as Ms.Decker made it seem. One of the key factors was that teachers welcomed change and felt comfortable being uncomfortable in their practices; ruts are what was feared most. Bob Lentz, in an Edutopia post on Blended Learning Strategies, explains how teachers are often responsible for stagnation:

The answer is ugly: teachers themselves slow down this evolution when they aren’t sufficiently trained to use technology or resist the idea of change altogether. According to a 2009 survey conducted through The National Center for Education Statistics, 99 percent of public school teachers have computer access throughout the day, while only 29 percent of them are using computers “often” during instruction. Such a wasted opportunity!

Creating the environment (including the campus, the classrooms, the curriculum, and the culture) that communicated the school’s beliefs and practices was also essential. I struggle with this every day in my new school as the technology integrationist. “Where does tech live?” is the question that I struggle to answer for those still on the fence; because, how do I tell them it’s much more complicated than typing instead of writing without them running for the hills. For technology integration to not be more work, it must be used to do new things in a new way. Adding in technology, but not changing your practices, is exactly what it sounds like – adding! – and no one has time to add to what their already doing.

Reproduced by permission of the publisher, © 2012 by tpack.org
Reproduced by permission of the publisher, © 2012 by tpack.org

Knowing from what I’ve experienced and from reading and studying the topic, real change – real technology integration – must begin in the environment. Although I feel that the environment includes the availability of tools and the teacher mentality, a school and technology integrationist must first tackle the school’s approach to learning within the curriculum. If the curriculum is taught in discrete subjects, rather than cross-curricular, inquiry and project based units, teachers will have a hard time finding the TPACK sweet spot between content knowledge, pedagogical knowledge, and technological knowledge that is “Underlying truly meaningful and deeply skilled teaching with technology.”

With that in mind, that is how I choose my starting point when I began my position last year as the technology integrationist. Although I’m sure some at my school wonder why I have spent much of my time learning, training and helping transform units into cross curricular, student-centered, project based learning, I know this is where my time will create the most payoff when persuading teachers to become the tech integrationist. If the outcomes and learning processes of these new units directly depend on technology tools and innovative strategies, then it won’t be a time consuming add-on; it will will be a natural part of the unit – a non-negotiable –  embedded.