Monday, May 31, 2010

Why is Technology Important in Schools?

I was at the IT Summit the other day and the keynote speaker gave a very convincing presentation on how the world has changed, how the way we learn has changed and schools must change as well. I'm a sucker for such preaching to the choir. So much so that it would do me good to write my next blog post on how the textbook is the future of education, why blogging is a waste of time, that social networking is a fad and why technology is a waste or money. It would be good for balance in my brain to just try to think the other way for a change. Some other blog maybe.

Back to the conference. Will Richardson, like David Warlick before him and Alan November before him, pretty much had me standing and shouting "halelelulea!" by the end. I really felt like I knew what he was going to say next. I enjoyed it immensely, my thoughts validated thoroughly. When he was done a colleague of mine who was attending for the first time turned to me and said, "So technology is just a tool to teach the same things as we have always been teaching." I was amazed that such an inspiring message could be lost on my friend. But she is a great teacher with amazing ideas and high expectations for kids.

Because I have been pursuing the idea of being a 21st century teacher for some time now it is easy for me to judge others. My colleague actually makes me think even harder on what being a 21st century learner and teacher means. This is partially due to the fact that I know she is a great teacher and partly because she demands me to give a convincing answer to the following questions:

  1. why it is important to change how we teach and learn?
  2. what data supports our claims about 21st century learning?

  3. what exactly are the new skills?

It is not enough to know that there is a very large community of learners out there whose blogs and testimonials are hard to ignore (see Will Richardson's list of educational bloggers or twitter4teachers.) We need to further define what 21st century skills are and how technology assists us in teaching and acquiring those. The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) has come up with the National Education Technology Standards (NETS) and Performance Indicators for Students which we use to define 21st century skills in our school division. Briefly, they are:

  1. creativity and innovation
  2. communication and collaboration

  3. research and information fluency

  4. critical thinking, problem solving and decision making

  5. digital citizenship

  6. technology operations and concepts

The Ed Tech Action Network and the ISTE has outlined Why is tech important?. Their reasons are supported by five years of research and is described on their site. They claim that technology in schools is important because it:

  1. improves student achievement in reading writing and math

  2. improves school efficiency, productivity and decision making

  3. helps teachers meet professional requirements

  4. improves learning skills

  5. can help schools meet the needs of all students

  6. promotes equity and access in education

  7. improves workforce skills
For me, the world has changed, my class needs to change. I will continue on in this choir and convince others to join it. I will also continue to look for data supporting the evolution of 21st century classrooms.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Blogging is Good for the Soul, 10 reasons blogging works for me

Who knew I would love to blog? I used to think that blogging was like much of twitter, quasi- communication, spelling challenged with little or no meaning. For sure I have had to come to terms with why I would do this, especially when you consider that most bloggers have only a handful of followers. Wendy James talks about the number of lurkers (people who read blogs but don't ever contribute on their own blog nor do they leave comments). I couldn't see participating at that level as I have this innate need to share what I learn.

In the book "Here Comes Everybody" (Howe), the author edited a wikipedia article that was written in complex and awkward language. The edit improved the article even though his knowledge of the topic was limited. His edit stood the test of time as well. Howe talked about how good it felt to be part of something important. It was fun for him. It is fun for me; it gives me a sense of belonging.

Here are my top ten reasons to blog:

1. it feels good to be part of something larger than yourself (community)
2. gives me a reason to read and learn
3. the way I learn has always been to read and then tell people about it, even if they don't want to hear
4. adding to the body of knowledge in my particular area of interest
5. cements my thoughts around an issue
6. creates a longitudinal record of my personal growth, ideas and learning
7. there is power in knowing that your opinion/work may make a difference, as others blog writing makes a difference to you
8. establish an on-line professional presence
9. fun to take a stand on issues
10. modelling 21st century learning for my students and colleagues

I would love to expand my personal learning network, to increase the number of blogs I follow and to increase the number of people who follow me. In the meantime, it has been very fun for me. Not for you? You'll never know if you don't give it a try.

Using Technology to Support Real Learning First in Alberta Schools

I have just read Joe Bower's blog that summarizes a document (Using Technology to Support Real Learning First In Alberta Schools) by the Alberta Teachers' Association. It states that

"since the early 80's, the Alberta government has spent $1.5 billion on information and communication technology (ICT). Spending on professional development and collaborative inquiry to help educators take advantage of these technologies has been paltry by comparison."

When I started teaching in the 80's, we had Apple IIg's (I think) and we used floppy discs from the Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium to play math blaster and reader rabbit. I still see teachers using technology as "drill and practice" or as an electronic encyclopedia for research. The Alberta report states that

"technology has been used to supplemenent traditional teaching rather than transform the pedagogical process"

they go on to say that

"in other fields, digital technology has transformed the relationship between the provider and the end user, driven by the need for greater productivity and efficiency"

Many of us have felt the need for greater efficiency and productivity in our schools for a long time. The report also says that the effective use of technology in the classroom is more efficient than reducing class size or increasing preparation time for teachers.

In Alberta, technology is not being used as well as it should. Indeed, 50-60% of teachers feel comfortable with using technology in their classrooms. Social studies, science and language arts teachers are more likely to be comfortable using technology. There is not enough professional development, technology is expensive and teachers are not willing to take the risk of changing the way they have done things for years. Lower income and aboriginal Albertans have less access to technology in classrooms.

Coordination of efforts to use technology effectively in Alberta schools has been a problem.

"Too often, Altberta's efforts to integrate technology in the classroom have been fragmented, sporadic and backward-looking rather than comprehensive, strategic and transformative"

In my school and my school division, I often feel like there is no sense of urgency, no comprehensive, strategic and transformative plan.

In summary, there are many reasons technology is not being used optimally in Alberta.

1. schools are not organized to support transformative changes
2. teachers do not have the skills to use technology as a tool for transformative learning
3. access to technology varies greatly spent on technology and not professional development, innovation and transformative change
5. teachers moderately confident about using technology
6. so many learning outcomes that teachers rely on time tested methods instead of risk taking change
7. culture of compliance in schools that inhibits innovation
8. little recognition for teachers who use technology innovatively

The report goes on to say that 21st century schools should:

1. focus on meaningful learning tasks that challenge students to achieve results that are meaningful to an authentic audience
2. take a project-based approach to curriculum delivery
3. provide equitable access to learning resources and tools
4. focus on teamwork, collaborative learning and networks
5. encourage students to participate, both face to face and on-line, in the local and wider global community
6. provide students with ready access to a wide range of digital resources
7. encourage teachers to participate in communities of interest and to pursue professional development
8. restructure the day from several short periods to one to three long ones
9. engage students in the process of learning but also in the design of learning

This report helps us all to focus on the task at hand, to use technology to transform our schools and the way people learn. Thanks Joe and the Alberta Teachers' Association.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Forgive Me, It's Been Wonderful Jayne!

I am a grade eight teacher in Saskatoon, Canada. I have had a long and fun career, teaching from grade 5 to 12 over many years. I have had the opportunity to work with great people and great administrators. The school I am proud to be at now is Confederation Park Community School. It is truly a great place to be. Our school's touchstone statement is "sharing our gifts through respect, responsibility and postive relationships." Guided through the process by our principal, Jayne Hudson, we took significant time to develop this statement. I believe we work hard to live it.

Jayne Hudson has been the principal of our school for the last number of years and is retiring this June (who knows what she'll be involved with now!?). She is a person blessed with many gifts. She has been a great inspiration to me and to all of us. She has all the great qualities of a true leader. She is passionate about doing what is right for kids, parents, teachers and the community. She is tough as nails when she needs to be but a loving mother figure by nature. She leads by consensus but will let you know in no uncertain terms where she stands on important issues affecting students, parents, teachers and the community. She sets an amazingly high standard of professionalism, compassion and exemplifies dignity in her every action. She recognizes the sacredness and dignity of every person and every relationship.

Even though our principal for next year is a gifted person and professional in her own right, Jayne Hudson will be missed by our school and our board. I do not believe she will retire in the true sense of the word, she simply has too much to offer schools and new administrators with her wealth of passion, skills and experience.

As you know, I am interested in educational change management. I was reading the book "Transforming School Culture", (Muhammad) the other day and was pleased to find the author list the characteristics of great leaders. He must have interviewed my friend and principal before he wrote this list! Here it is. It describes her to a tee. I challenge you to rate yourself as a leader in your field based on the criteria below. She:

1. doesn't make promises she can't keep
2. backs people when it counts
3. takes responsibility and is publicly responsible when times are tough
4. holds regular celebrations
5. stays away from the limelight, she is humble and unassuming
6. does not violate the rules she expects others to follow and for which she holds others accountable
7. uses "we" or "you" in describing accomplishments and plans
8. does what she promises
9. does not ostracize "fundamentalists" (people who are reluctant to change)
10. knows her staff
11. leads teachers in learning
12. knows her school and community
13. is a lifelong learner

Jayne, it has been my extreme pleasure to have worked for and with you. You are a cherished colleague with a shared passion for kids and a true friend. I wish you well in the future and may our paths cross often. Enjoy your grandchildren (but don't forget there is still much to do!)

Friday, May 21, 2010

What Would Google Do?

I recently read a book by Jeff Jarvis called, "What Would Google Do?" . I found it fascinating as previously I really didn't quite get how people got paid for posting amazing/ridiculous content on the web. (As it turns out, according to Sturgeon's Law as stated in "Crowdsourcing" (Howe), 90% of what is on the web is crap, which implies that 10% is great and hopefully these are the people who are getting paid!) After reading Jarvis' book I understand why Google is so successful at what they do. They are a purely democratic search engine that lists pages according to their popularity. Google uses a program called "pagerank" that puts your post or page at the top depending on the amount of "Googlejuice" it receives. If it receives a lot of Googlejuice, they will put advertising on it and you're in the money!

How Google operates as a company closely reflects what is going on in the world of business, social networking, entertainment, etc. Jarvis says, "We live in a new society built on connections, links, transparency, openness, publicness, listening, trust, wisdom, efficiency, markets, niches, platforms, networks, speed and abundance." I easily see a connection between these concepts and how schools should look at the world of teaching and learning. I believe that this book is a must read for all educators, as are books like Wikinomics, Here Comes Everybody , and The World is Flat.

Here are some of the major ideas put forth by the author and their implications for education:

1. "Give people control and they will use it" Jarvis points out that Google's success is largely based on the fact that they are purely a democratic data manager. They don't meddle with controlling the data or charging people for it.

It seems to me that traditional education is all about control by the teacher over the students. Self-direction and self-assessment are things that teachers struggle with. We have classes of 25-30 students and have trouble finding a way to let them loose and learn. The other day I was trying to facilitate a learning activity involving microscopes and the internet. We were looking at slides of microorganisms and also looking on the internet for video of the same organisms, all of them moving, reproducing, eating, living creatures. Our board has blocked both Google Video and Youtube. I was momentarily livid until I found a way around it. Seems to me to be a controlling, fearful, mistrustful approach to internet access for learners. Many of our school boards seem to be struggling with the balance between control and free access to information.

Administrators will point at the few who abuse a more open (if not free) access to information. Which brings up another of Jarvis' great ideas/quotes! He says, "Interactivity has it's limitations. Some people are simply wrong, others are asses. Some need their meds. But don't let them ruin the party." I liken it to teachers who make their class miss their P.E. class because two boys were restless and noisy in class. We need to teach students how to assess and use technology

2. "There is an inverse relationship between control and trust"

Jarvis talks about how Yahoo was more controlling and proprietary about their software than Google. Google has got the lion's share of web search traffic as a result.

The more control administrators and teachers have over students, the less the two groups trust one another. If I let my kids have control over what they want to learn, how they learn it and how they communicate their learning, trust between us should grow. When school administrators block the use of web 2.0 tools they exert a control over teachers and students which is far from empowering.

3. "Collaboration and social networking is here to stay"

Jarvis gives several examples of social networking that illustrate the power of collaboration and social networking. He talks about "meetup", a site designed for people to meet and share common interests. One of the most prolific groups was a group of witches! What a great example of the internet empowering and legitimizing otherwise fringe groups.

Another example is when Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg was in art school. He didn't attend class and was approaching the time of the final art exam. He created a collaborative document with some photos of all the artists' works covered in the course. He included a text box under the art as a place fellow students could put study notes and circulated it amongst them as a collaborative study guide. Everyone added their notes and he passed the course without even attending class. Zuckerberg was asked how others could build a similar collaborative app. He coyly replied, "You can't." The interviewer persisted, and asked Zuckerberg why his application (Facebook) was so successful, he said, "Elegant organization."

Surely, schools can build on the strengths of many. Lesson plans and ideas need not be proprietary any more. If the entire M.I.T. curriculum (including exams and answers) is on-line, why do we cling to the old idea that what we create is ours and better than what we could build in community. Many forms of collaborative documents are available for us to use and to build solid communities of practice. We also shouldn't have to attend meetings to collaborate!

4. "The world is made up of niche markets, not primarily content or mass markets"

There will still be a place for GM where cars are mass produced. The internet has enabled niche markets to flourish like never before (as outlined in "The Long Tail", Anderson).

For educators, we should be encouraging our students to discover their interests and not be so curriculum bound. The world is enabling niches to flourish, are we in our schools?

5. "Customer service is a key component in the survival and success of modern businesses"

We live in a world where "your worst customer is your best friend". Jarvis gives an example where he complained about Dell computers on his blog and ended up getting quite a good response from Dell. He gives many examples of companies who have VP's searching blogs for the name of their companies so that they can respond to their concerns. The internet has given consumers much greater power to communicate with companies. Customer service is changed forever.

Are schools in touch with what their communities are saying? Surely, communities are talking about what happens in your school. Are we inviting criticism, providing good customer service, adapting curricula and welcoming collaboration? I think we could do a lot more along these lines. Schools seem to think we are not a business: because we are professionals, we pay more attention to our colleagues than to our customers.

6. "People are motivated by having creative input in a company and need to be given time for it"

Jarvis talked about Google having "Fedex Days" one day a week where employees were allowed to work an entire day to create something of their own. They are allowed control and freedom to create something and expected to share with fellow employees. Fedex days has resulted in products like Googlemail and Orkut. Other companies like 3M produced "postitnotes" in the same way.

Perhaps educators should follow Goggle's lead and give learners 20% Fedex time! Do we make time for students to follow their own creative passions and create something unique in our classrooms?

7. This is an "era of magnificent upheaval- rethink, reimagine and reinvent"

What a great time to be alive! So many things are changing, so many things possible. The internet is the may be the most significant invention since movable type and the "Gutenburg Press". Companies like Google and many others are creating and/or adapting in a fantastic time of sweeping change.

Are educators realizing that we are in an era of magnificent upheaval? Are we rethinking, reimagining, and reinventing?

We should be!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Change Leadership

Wow! So many exciting things to write about! Back to the purpose of my blog. I have intended from the start to write about educational change management. I intend to share what I have learned from my experiences as a teacher and what I am learning from my reading about educational change. As a teacher of many years, I know how busy things can be in a school at the best of times, much less at the end of the year with report cards to do and camping trips to plan. It sometimes seems that the planning that takes place in a school is crisis driven or event driven. Indeed, staff meetings often reflect either crises or big upcoming events and seldom are predominantly focused on system and school instructional initiatives.

I have just finished reading "Change Leadership", by Lahey et. al. In their book, they claim that education as a whole tends to be crisis/event driven and not always directed towards improving instruction within it's classrooms. It is my belief that too many of today's teachers and school boards have not come to grips with their goals as to how their classrooms are going to look differently as we are fully into the 21st century. Specifically, how are we going to integrate
technology and the new competencies (collaboration, communication, critical thinking, creativity, etc.) into the process of renewal, as the Saskatoon Board of Education has called it. If we cannot answer this question, we are indeed in a crisis situation and need to adapt quickly.

The authors coin the term adaptive challenge as,

"one where the necessary knowledge to solve the problem does not yet exist. It requires creating the knowledge and the tools to solve the problem in the act of working on it."

I believe many educators find themselves in a new age and don't really have the knowledge or the tools to adapt to the 21st century. We all need help with the process of renewal, with using technology effectively in the classroom and changing the way we do things to suit the skills of the future. Our boards need to help to chart the course for us by setting goals that we can understand, contribute and aspire to.

Among the most important of the ideas that the authors address is the fact that change doesn't happen without people in the organization believing in the need for change. In leading change,

"by far the biggest mistake people make when trying to change organizations is to plunge ahead without establishing a high enough sense or urgency".

I believe all school boards need to put a greater sense of urgency on the process of determining how we will evolve into 21st century schools. This is accomplished by setting goals for organisational growth and setting goals for personal growth. As I attend conferences and read blogs and books, I am very satisfied with a sense of personal growth. It seems to me, however that what is lacking is a stated organisational sense of urgency for all of us to pull together to bring our schools into the 21st century. Sometimes it seems futile to try so hard in my classroom (and fail everyday!) when it doesn't seem like what I am trying to do reflects the organisation's goals. I found a great quote in Change Leadership to support what I am feeling;

"A genuinely dual focus is not interested in personal reflection or personal disclosure for its own sake. However bravely undertaken, however personally illuminating the journey, personal learning among school professionals that is not tightly joined to the organizational changes designed to transform the quality of teaching and learning is not a dual focus; it is only a parallel focus. Improved teaching so that all students can develop the new skills required for them to succeed must be visibly connected to our individual learning agendas. The optimal example for the leader to share should clearly demonstrate a personal learning goal that, if not accomplished, will put at risk the collectively owned improvement priority, or the ability to carry out a publicly understood strategy for accomplishing that priority."

I feel from time to time like I have a parallel focus instead of the dual focus! At the same time, it is very rewarding to be pursuing what you feel to be the right change, on the right road. Indeed, part of the idea of 21st century learning is to develop personal learning networks and to impact organisations from the grass roots. As the authors say,

"when adults stop growing within an organization, so do the children."

I suppose I can be a change leader in my classroom, my school and my school system. Lahey et. al. speak at length of the importance of change leadership. They give some advice for change leaders:

  1. set an example
  2. embrace the fuller picture
  3. encourage others to take up their own personal work
  4. create organizations that increase personal capacities
  5. welcome contradictions
I will continue to be a change leader and will hope to have a dual focus. At times it will seem parallel and that I am going it alone. At times I will feel like I'm failing, at times I will know I am failing. At least I'm trying!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Take the First Step

In the book"Change Leadership", by Wagner et. al., the authors compared schools with a flying airplane. The whole plane needs to be rebuilt while it is still flying (paraphrase). For those of us who see the need for the plane to be redesigned, this can seem to be overwhelming. So much needs to be done and as soon as possible. How can we keep up when change happens faster than we can? We definitely can't keep up if we don't see that we need to set goals and do something!

I attended the IT Summit with a friend who had never attended one before. He, like me, left feeling quite swamped with what educators need to do. Another friend stated that technology was just a tool to accomplish the same goals as in the past. Wow, I believe they are missing the point or they are overwhelmed and don't know where to start. All the familiar roadblocks enter one's heads when you ponder the road ahead. (How long till I retire, again?!!) My advice for both of them was to start somewhere! Aim and take a step forward. Decide on what that step is and go for it.

I knew I needed to change my practice and approach (and my timetable!) if I was going to reside in a 21st century classroom. After getting a clear picture of where I wanted to go I decided that I would adjust my timetable to include inquiry learning and to incorporate a blog into our daily routine in the classroom.

Inquiry learning is messy and hard to do. It takes so much time to do it well. The foundation of inquiry learning in our class is that the students' develop their curiousity. We spend a lot of time on asking questions; research questions and essential questions. Essential questions in our class are called critical thinking or just thinking questions.

Our blog is a work in progress and will improve with time and reflection. I am proud of what our students have created and posted on our blog. We practice collaborative writing on our class wiki and many links are available that reflect 21st century ideas. We have some connections to other classroom blogs and know that we need to continue to develop on-line learning networks for the blog to be authentic. I look forward to improvements in the way we do inquiry and how effectively we blog.

At the IT Summit I heard Will Richardson speak. He made the statement that if you can't get the kids into 21st century learning, at least we as teachers need to try to learn as 21st century learners. The biggest idea here is that we develop personal on-line learning networks so that we can direct our own learning. He started a blog 9 years ago and has thousands of followers in his network. After hearing him talk, I thought the next logical step for me would be to produce a professional blog of my own. A small step in trying to contribute and develop my personal learning network.

What was your first step in transforming your classroom? Have you taken it yet? What will you do next?

Some readers will not know how to follow this blog. If you care to follow my blog, simply select the follow link. I need to find out how to get it sent to your e-mail!! I will need some help with this as I am relatively new to blogger.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Why Educational Change Management?

Why another blog to further clog up an already crowded blogosphere? I am a teacher of 28 years with a passion for change in education. For the longest time, I have asked myself the question, "Are we preparing students for the future?" Not just in recent years. Have we as teachers being doing well as a whole. I had that sinking feeling that I was not and we were not.

Recently, I have read a ton of books about or directly related to educational change such as Alfie Kohn's, "Schools Our Children Deserve", "Wikinomics", "The World is Flat" and, more recently "What Would Google Do?". All of these books and many more tell me that educators need to "Reinvent Education in the Age of Technology" (Collins).

For three years now, I have attended the IT Summit in Saskatoon. Every year I walk away thinking that while we have pockets of excellence in 21st century teaching and learning, it seems our division is slow to set definite goals to adapt to 21st century learners.

This blog is and attempt elicit change in the way we think of and practice education the world over, but more particularly, the Saskatoon Public School Division.

My goal is to attract readers and contributors from all walks of life and all locations, but I would especially like to get educational stakeholders in the city of Saskatoon and the province of Saskatchewan to be a catalyst for educational change in our schools, so that our goals we set, skills, attitudes and literacies we teach are more oriented to meet the needs of 21st century learners.

I plan on basing my entries on research; blog posts, current books, conferences and conversations. I look forward to developing a large community of readers and rich conversations about educational change in our school division and others.

I look forward to your comments and to writing regular posts on what I am learning from colleagues and research.

You can view my own personal platform for 21st century learning in my classroom at :