Monthly Archives: February 2013

The New Superpower! Computer Coding

Code Literacy is something I’ve written about in a prior post as an important digital skill for students and adults alike. In this video, some of our most  successful creatives, (founders of twitter, facebook, microsoft, dropbox, and others), talk about how coding can be easily learned by anyone, and can give you creative superpowers you may have never considered. Bill Gates started playing with coding at age 13.

Here is a great article on beginning to understand code by Edutopia.

Also, here’s a post by C.J. Westerberg with a lot more resources and opinions!

1:1 Devices. Capacity Building can Make or Break Success

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Update: A great related article by Alan November: Why Schools Must  Move Beyond 1:1 Computing 

I’ve been involved in a 1:1 device pilot in my district, so naturally I’m following other teachers online as they are doing the same. We are learning a lot from each other, and from that point of view, most people seem to be successful. BUT then I started thinking…those people who are online sharing their experiences are the people that already have a technology foundation or they wouldn’t be online sharing. My sample of teachers/schools was skewed. So I went out in search of districts in general.

Using those criteria changed the picture. Certainly there are schools and districts that are finding success, but it seems that the most success is in districts that lay a foundation. Without the foundation of how to integrate educational technology in a meaningful way, how to connect to other teachers for collaboration, and how to teach the skills needed to be safe and successful, 1:1 devices can be not only distracting, but can take away valuable instruction time. In some cases, without laying a foundation, the devices are little more than expensive encyclopedias and word processors. If teachers do not have training and a network of educators to work with, they only know what they know. And in many cases, that isn’t enough.

I found a great example of a district that created a foundation before moving forward, and it seems that the success overall will be substantial. Coincidentally, the school district is right down the road from here.

Check out what they are doing toward Capacity Building. Their   Professional Development Approach looks wonderful.

A Must See for all in Education

What We Have Done as an Educational Community is Priceless

Change. In education,we are accustomed to seeing changes in philosophy, funding, materials, focus, ideology, scheduling, and leadership. Right now, we are in the middle of the biggest change in our careers, and what we have been doing as educators is priceless.

The difference between this change and the zillions of changes before it, is that now we have a connected community. There should be no district, school, or teacher working in isolation trying to figure it out alone. Since the last major change, we as educators have pulled together. We have organized ourselves on every level, from superintendents to classroom teachers and everyone in between . We have posted our opinions, knowledge, and resources on blogs and websites and twitter. We have shared like no other industry. We have stepped up for our districts, our schools and our students to make education better for each and every learner. We have demonstrated professional generosity on a level never seen before. So it is there that we will learn and grow…and change…together. This change will not be like ones before. We will make it work for our students and for our districts,  and we will make it more cohesive… because we are working together.

What Exactly is Rigor in the Classroom?

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Research is bountiful on the topic of rigor, and this is an extremely brief overview. Having a basic working understanding, and then reflecting on our own strengths and challenges will help us search out exactly what we need.

Rigor is NOT more or extra. It is not more homework or extra problems. This is a common misunderstanding among teachers and parents alike.

Rigor IS part of quality instruction. It is weaved throughout every curricular area. Differentiation is part of providing rigor, as it is with everything we teach, therefore no students are excluded.

Rigor covers the three areas of teaching: Content, Instructional Practice, and Assessment. Here are a few phrases to help you develop a better understanding of how rigor fits into your classroom.

Content

  • Is standards based
  • Includes basic skills and important concepts
  • Applies knowledge to problems in authentic ways

Instructional Practices include:

  • Activities that are engaging to learners
  • High demand thinking
  • Elaborated collaboration and communication
  • Intellectual risk taking

Assessments of various types

  • Assess higher order thinking
  • May include elaborated response
  • Should demonstrate a deep understanding of content

When I look at rigor and text complexity, I can see the natural connection. If we are choosing our standards aligned texts to provide complexity, they will seamlessly help develop rigorous instruction and assessments in all content areas. I wrote earlier posts that further define text complexity, and you can find them HERE and HERE.

Rigor is highly dependent on questioning, and again, there is a lot out there on that subject. Lately I’ve been working with Making Thinking Visible routines, a process developed through Harvard, that teach thinking skills. You can find a previous post about Making Thinking Visible routines HERE.

A prior post with a book suggestion: Increasing Rigor in Your Classroom

Here’s a fun place to check for classroom rigor ideas: Classroom Rigor n Pinterest 

You’re in a Global Project. Now What?

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There are so many great organizations and global collaborative project options, so just jump in! Once you get your feet wet and figure out the terrain, it’s time to make global projects work for you by specifically addressing your curriculum. You’ve opened up your classroom to the world to allow your students to connect and learn with kids all over, but curriculum standards are different around the world. It is easy to make the project not only collaborative, but also individual to suit your needs.

I’ll take a project my class finished recently to demonstrate how to tailor a project to fit your own needs. Using Data to Understand the World was a collaborative project between Illinois, Alaska, Taiwan, Canada, Costa Rica, Ireland, and Australia.  It spanned grades 3-6. On the surface, it was a project to compare geography throughout the world by tracking data (temperature, precipitation and sunlight), and then discussing topics (animals, plants, and land forms). Each participating teacher agreed to provide the data and to participate in a conversation among classes. I could have left it there, but I used the project as a backbone to integrate my curriculum. In our district, the 5th grade curriculum includes:

  1. Ecosystems (Science)
  2. Compare and Contrast (Language Arts)
  3. Informational writing (Language Arts)
  4. Data and graphing (Math)
  5. Culture (Social Studies)

So to address those things, I included these aspects:

  1.  Ecosystems: I used my science text-book as we worked. Then I assigned deeper investigative research on the relationship between sunlight, location to the equator, hemispheres, and the ecosystem.
  2. Compare and Contrast: Students chose two countries to compare and contrast animals and discussed how geographical location effected animal population.
  3. Informational writing: Students chose a country’s plant posting and wrote an informational piece after researching.
  4. Data and graphing: We used the data from around the world each month to graph and chart. We learned about mean, median, mode while comparing the counties and relating that to distance from the equator. I used my math book to teach these lessons while we worked.
  5. Culture: throughout the project, we discussed culture as we Skyped, discussed, interacted with kids and teachers.

In addition, we used edmodo.com as a place for students to interact directly. I taught digital and global citizenship, collaboration, and technology while we worked online.  Schools participated on different levels and to different degrees, so I used that to frame my collaborative connections.

I chose Using Data to Understand the World in this example, but this can be done with any global project. So far this  year, we have worked with iEARN and Flat Classroom, and through kidblog.org. This individualization can be done with any project, so start small. Also, take advantage of the other teachers out there. Educators that are online in global projects are  there to mentor and help as well. There is an amazing network of teachers online that welcome questions with open arms, so don’t be shy! Professional generosity is abundant. Jump in!

Here are some great places to start:

iEARN

Flat Classroom

Global Classroom

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Directing Change While Riding an Elephant

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Switch, How to change things when change is hard, takes a fresh and powerful look at something everyone in the education field, on any level, is facing. The authors start with this premise: We all have two forces inside us at play: the elephant and the rider. The rider is our rational side: the planner, the willpower, the analyzer. The elephant is our emotional side: the doer, the motivator, the energy.  We must appeal to both in ourselves, and in our organizations, to effectively create change.

The rider provides the planning and direction, and the elephant provides the energy to do.  The riders use the analytical side to inspire understanding through spreadsheets and presentations. The elephants use the emotional side to inspire motivation to act and to continue on.

If you reach the riders in your organization but not the elephants, you will have understanding of the situation, but without motivation to do anything. Often the item gets tabled to discuss yet again. If you reach the elephants in your organization but not the riders, you will have passion but without direction. If the rider isn’t exactly sure of the direction to go, he tends to lead the elephant in circles.

Faced with directing change in your organization, these things can guide you:

  1. Direct the Rider. What feels like resistance is often lack of clarity. Provide crystal clear direction.
  2. Motivate the Elephant. What looks like laziness is often exhaustion. You can only go on willpower for so long until you are exhausted. It’s critical to engage people’s emotional side.
  3. Shape the Path. What looks like a people problem is often a situational problem.  When you shape the path, you make change more likely to happen no matter what the rider and the elephant are doing.

There is so much information in this book that this simple review cannot do it justice, but if you are faced with creating change in your organization, you may want to check it out. It goes on to give clear examples of these principles in play, and specific scenarios modeling how to use these guidelines. It also appeals to both the rider and the elephant, so it’s an excellent ‘group read’ for any organization going through change.