“STEM and the Humanities Classroom” and “Changing the Game”

This morning, I was fortunate enough to present at #wetech14 in West Essex, NJ.  The two sessions I presented were on STEM and the Humanities Classroom and the Changing the Game: Helping students move from Entertainment Technologists to Educational Technologists.Screenshot 2014-03-01 at 1.13.10 PM

And

Screenshot 2014-03-01 at 1.15.15 PM

Advertisements

Holiday Gadgets!

It’s the Holiday season, and with that the world of gadgets and gadgetry is on full display.  Within the lives of our students, and probably our own families, there is a greater dependence on gadgets than we have ever had before.

If you are looking for some last minute items for those on your lists, I’ve put together some reasonable choices, including options for less than $50.

  • The Apple Insider Gift Guide: while not a singular product, this list is geared toward those of you who are Mac fans.  Tons of things here for the iPad!
  • The Chromecast: Google has created a device that plugs into the back of your television that allows you to stream content from any device that uses Chrome as a browser.  Have an iPad?  Via Chrome you can send your screen to the television across the room.  Have an Android phone?  You can stream from Google Play, Google Play Music, Pandora and Netflix right to your television.
  • Anki Racers: the rise of toys that are controlled via phones and other handheld devices continues.  More and more, we see remote control helicopters, cars, and all sorts of things bundled with apps.  Anki Racers are no different.  Here is a quick video to detail what these toys do:
  • Nest Home Temperature Management: We have now entered a world in which you can control the conditions in your home from wherever you are.  Via an app on your phone, you can start adjust the temperature prior to your arrival at home.  Think of that, get in your car at the end of a workday, open the app and set the thermostat to your desired temperature and arrive home in a warm, toasty house.
  • Makey-Makey: two graduate students have it in their mind that we are all inventors.  They set out to prove this through their creation of the $50 device called Makey-Makey.  No bigger than a credit card, this product does some amazing things.  If you’ve got a child in the family that loves to tinker, this one is perfect.  Check out their video:
For more lists of great holiday gear, be sure to peruse CNET’s lists here.  They have something on here for everyone.
Also, a quick note about Warren Buckleitner: Warren is the publisher of Children’s Technology Review, a monthly publication that reviews new and noteworthy entrants into the learning and technology field.  To see his work, please be sure to go to his site.  Also, I recently got to see him present an array of learning toys.  Here is his presentation:

Five Research-Driven Education Trends At Work in Classrooms | MindShift

A few weeks ago during the October 14th PD Sessions, I had a conversation with a group of people about cultivating perseverance and “grit” within our students.  That no matter what their DRA2 level, or their NJASK score, the future success of our students could quite possibly be their ability to work through difficult tasks without giving up easily.

 

On the heels of that conversation, this article from KQED came out: Five Research-Driven Education Trends At Work in Classrooms . In it, the author of the article talks about that very feature:

 

Paul Tough’s book, How Children Succeedpopularized the ideas of grit and perseverance. Now those ideas have made their way into a U.S. Department of Education’s Technology office reportas well as the Common Core State Standards, which many states are already implementing. The idea that failure is an opportunity to learn and improve, not a roadblock to achievement, is often referenced as one of the most important life skills a student can take with him beyond the classroom. 

Angela Duckworth’s research on grit has shown that often students, who scored lower on intelligence tests, end up doing better in class. They were compensating for their lack of innate intelligence with hard work and that paid off in their GPAs. Duckworth has even developed a “Grit Scale” that allows students to self-report their “grittiness.”

 

 How does the work you do in the classroom help your students move through their frustration and towards a solution?  

What Happens When You Get Out of the Way.

Thursday, I had the good fortune of meeting a few students from Westfield High School as they presented to a room full of teachers, board members, superintendents, and other administrators.  They were accompanied by their two teachers, their principal and their superintendent.  What’s striking, if you’ve been around superintendents and administrators, is that the students dominated the room, and very few people in the room had questions for the teachers or the administrators from Westfield.  They wanted to know what the students thought.  

 

Their topic?  How a shift in their teachers thinking and approach to teaching radically altered the ecosystem of learning in their classroom.  

 

The two teachers had looked at their two separate subjects, English III (American Literature) and U.S. History II (Reconstruction-Present), and thought that they should team teach the class with a double period, calling it American Studies.  Eighty-minutes of instruction with the same group of students, all the while wrestling with the themes in literature and history as they played out across the last one-hundred-fifty-plus years.  The class, anchored by themes rather than chronology, was different for one more reason: student access to information.  

 

 

 

The two teachers had received a grant to outfit their class with twenty iPads for the first year of the course; couple that with their districts move to bring-your-own-device, and the course shaped up in a much different way.  To hear the students describe it, was quite amazing:

 

This isn’t like OK, here is the worksheet I used to give you and you can use the internet to answer the questions.  It was more like, here is the question you have to answer, gather your information and figure out how to apply the research to these bigger, higher-level research.

The students were given the freedom to collaboratively take notes, gather and share sources of information to add to the class resource list, all in the name of finding out how to best make sense of the guiding questions and overarching themes.  It was a truly impressive demonstration of students using tools that eliminated the walls of their classroom and brought the world into the room on a daily basis.  

 

Cross-posted at digitalswregional.blogspot.com

 

If you are interested in knowing more, please feel free to check out the teachers’ site here.  

 

Some quick thoughts on reading

I’m at a session sponsored by the American Reading Company, and in the course of their presentation, we’ve stumbled upon some interesting discussions.  The presenter is moving through three of the shifts that the Common Core brings about:

  • Shift I: 80% of our reading is spent on fiction and stories, we need to shift that to 50% non-fiction or informational text and 50% fiction.
  • Shift II: Reading and Writing grounded in evidence from text, both literary and informational
  • Shift III: Regular practice with complex text and it’s academic language

At various junctures, he asks us to think about the changes that each of these shifts bring about for students, for teachers, and for school and district leaders.  The audience, consisting of supervisors of Language Arts, some Principals and Vice Principals as well as some teachers, has hit on the fact that we need more “text” in classes, and by that they have taken to mean that we need more books.  I’m struggling with this a bit.  Here’s why.

When we first got into the room, the presenter asked to list all of what we read in the past twenty-four hours, his point being to prove that the majority of what we read these days is informational text or non-fiction text.  However, as we dove into discussions about these shifts, and heard from folks saying that they see the need for more “texts” for students, it dawned on me to ask the group how much of what you read in those twenty-four hours was on paper?  How much was on a screen?

That’s significant.  The way we access text is different when we access it on a device.  Even a device as basic as a Kindle or a Nook, there are features that change the way we read and how we access text.

Are we thinking about that?

Plus, before we begin pushing more text into the classroom, much thought has to be given to what those texts are.  Looking at the books in the baskets in the front of the room, I see many books that are tradebooks or basals.  I’m not so sure that our diet as readers should consist of all that form.  Personally, I would have gone nuts.  I cut my reading teeth on long-form magazine writing.  Rolling Stone, Sports Illustrated, National Geographic, and even those wonky J.Peterman catalogs totally saved me from the doldrums of classroom reading.

Additionally (and now this is bordering on rant) one of the issues many districts have in changing the complexity of text (Shift III) is that they rarely have an exact picture of where there students are reading.  Part of the pitch today is the ARC’s IRLA system, which is analogous to DRA2, Guided Reading Level, Lexile, or SRI.  Whichever flavor your school or district uses, having an understanding of where your students can read is so paramount to beginning the work required by the Common Core.  How many of our schools have teachers that have and use this information?  It’s incumbent upon school leaders to make sure this is happening.

The Annual Westchester Trip

Each October since 2007 I’ve made my way to TechForum Northeast for a day of learning and sharing with colleagues from all over the Tri-State Area.  In previous years, I’ve had the pleasure of learning from and with the likes of Alan November, Chris Lehman, David Jakes, Scott Meech, Kathy Schrock, Ryan Bretag, Diana Laufenberg, Lisa Nielsen–well, the list could go on.  

This year, I was fortunate enough to be the Keynote speaker to open the conference, an honor which I hope I lived up to.  However, aside from that experience, this year’s conference left me thinking about a great many things that I hope to spend some more time on the coming weeks.  Among them are a few below:

  • Jerry Crisci, the Director of Technology from the Scarsdale Public Schools, spoke about a project he began this year in Scarsdale called The Center for Innovation.  Sparked by his and his colleague’s interest in fostering a culture of innovation and thought-leadership and funded by the Board of Education, Jerry has created an ambitious agenda to get this project up and running.  In a conversation with him, he sparked what I hope is the seed of some future projects for me: his team, in the early stages of the Center, visited several places that were at the core of innovative practices like the MIT Media Lab and several startups in Silicon Alley in New York City.  This got me thinking of a great question to pose to teachers within my district: If we keep telling ourselves that we are preparing our students for the workplaces of tomorrow, do we know what workplaces currently look like?  If not, I think we should.
  • Pinterest has taken hold within the education community.  In a roundtable discussion after lunch, several of us talked about how we curate content for ourselves and for our colleagues, and pinterest really came out as the tool with the lowest entry point.  Russell Wray, (a wicked smart guy from West Windsor-Plainsboro) showed the group how they easily worked with a few teachers to create a few hashtags within pinterest that they easily aggregate through Flipboard on their iPads.  Genius!  
  • ifttt.com continues to blow me away with web-automation.  If you have no idea what I’m talking about, go check out the site and set up some recipes.  David Jakes showed us some outstanding recipes to use to make out workflow simplified.  
  • In that same roundtable, David asked a great question that has me thinking a great deal as well: at what point do we begin to expect students to curate for themselves?  When do we expect students to begin accumulating information in an organized form and keep it for ease of access for later use?  

I wanted to thank Judy Salpeter and the rest of the team at Techlearning for making this event happen yet again, and I’m looking forward to taking what I’ve learned and applying it to some of the projects I am working on currently.  

They See Us.

(This was the basis for my #140edu presentation called “They See Us” delivered on July 31, 2012 at the 92nd Street Y.  Slides for that presentation are found here)

My wife and I haven’t finished a conversation in nearly eight years.

What I mean is that the same conversations keep happening on a fairly regular basis–a sort of marital Groundhog day in which, our thoughts, still as profound as they were back when we first met, are never fully finished.  Rather, they are partly made then broken off as one or another emergency shrieks in from the outside:

  • Charlie poured the water from the tub into several of the small mini-Tupperware cups that Audrey set up for him on rim of the tub.
  • Parker got a bug lodged so far back in his eye that we actually couldn’t see it anymore.
  • Audrey hasn’t found the matching dance outfit and leggings to wear to the playground, because, everyone knows, and they really do, that you always wear leggings, a dance outfit, and rain-boots to the playground.  Sheesh, Dad.


We’ve practiced the art of relationship bookmarking–a highly adapted social skill in which you can pick up the fragments of interrupted conversations, often days later, and not have missed more than a few gist’s or so.  We have it down to an exact science.

Both of us being educators, our friends, parents and extended have some unique expectations for our kids.  They live with the stigma that they probably will do well in school because we are teachers and that they will love school because we obviously did. They also get the unique perks of having parents that are teachers: an odd love of stickers that smell or shine, the perpetual reliance on a 10-month calendar that no one else in the world above the age of 22 uses.

And we are hyper-aware of this, and our experience with our two oldest children and school has been rife with situations where we ask ourselves if the problem merits further looking into or whether it’s just a blip that the teacher shouldn’t be bothered with.

And it is those blips that began the stunted conversation that led to me being here.

It’s true that you are never the same once again as a person after having a child of your own.  I’m not here to argue that point.  What I do believe now is that after our children were born, our ideas about teaching changed.  It’s not as if having children suddenly opened up our empathetic pathways and we saw the light, but rather that certain things sharpened.

Our aspect ratio changed.

We realized we had some things to more consciously consider as we went back to our work as teachers.

Be present

We learned that we needed to be present when we were home.  We learned that the example we set in terms of our attention span and the gadgets that we have is of the utmost importance with our kids.

The same is true for the students we have.  We wanted to make sure our students feel like they have all of us, all the time.  There have been countless examples we remembered where a student wanted our attention and we just didn’t give it, or gave it with the most horrible body language.

We could see the message were sending when we were either plugged into our devices or too preoccupied with our own lives to be present in theirs, and we didn’t like it.  We are consciously aware of how much they matter and that what they say has value.

Be the teacher that you would want your child spending 45-40 hours a week with.

Both of us now work, and our kids are either in school or in childcare while we are there.  A typical day for us gives them a full eight hours in the care of another in one day.

Our children spend close to 25% of their week in the care of their teachers.

As we prepared for this, we really began to see how many of our students’ parents were in the same position.  How would that shape the work we did?

The time they spend with us has to be a time that is sacred, anticipated and adored.  Everything from the things we learn about to the space we learn in have to be designed with the idea that our job is to make them matter.  To make them love to learn and be with us.  Parents drop off their most prized possession every morning to us and say, “please take care of them and teach them,” and it’s our responsibility to to do just that.

Make the work matter

Parker, our seven-year-old, loves math.  Neither my wife nor I can figure out a) why he likes it so much, and b) where those tendencies stem from as not one of us can think our way out of a matrices or balance an equation to save our lives.  However, even he was struggling with measurement last year.  He muddled through that unit, with my wife and I being of whatever consolation we could, but did not truly grasp the concepts.

Then, in June, after school let out, our neighbor’s son learned from a cousin of his that you could make wallets out of duct tape, and he and Parker began asking if my wife if she could teach them how to do it.  Enter the world’s newest teaching tool–YouTube– and within minutes the three of them were on their way to learning how to make wallets out of duct tape.  But, each video stressed the need to be precise in the length of each piece of tape used to make the wallets.  Guess who learned measurement?

We both realized that the work we ask our students to do in school should at least make an effort at reaching kids where the duct tape wallets did for Parker.  Does it matter to them in a way that would push them to learn more about it on their own?

kids can see through it from a very early age.

Deliver the Goods

If you say you are going to do it, do it.  Nothing eats at me worse than when I make a promise to my kids that I don’t deliver on.  It doesn’t matter if the reason for not delivering is a natural disaster, seeing them disappointed is difficult to bear.

A wise colleague of mine told me when I arrived in a new district to spend the first year listening to the various constituents within that district and ask them what is one thing I could do to make their jobs easier.  Then, after listening, spend the next year trying to make that one thing happen for that group.

We need to be wary of the promises we make to children, because we as adults have learned that there is disappointment all around.  But the children we teach have not.  Let’s not be their first lesson in it.

 

Not the Drop-Off!

Bob: Hey, you’re doing pretty well for a first-timer.
Marlin: Well, you can’t hold on to them forever, can you?
Bill: You know I had a tough time when my oldest went out to the drop off.
Marlin: They’ve just got to grow up som – THE DROP OFF? THEY’RE GOING TO THE DROP OFF? WHAT ARE YOU, INSANE? WHY DON’T WE FRY THEM UP NOW AND SERVE THEM WITH CHIPS?

Over the course of the last few years, I’ve talked to teachers and students about what it is about reading that they love, hate, and, in some cases, run away from kicking and screaming.  Today during my session at the Pennsylvania State Librarians Association Annual Conference, we talked about this idea:

What are the reasons we begin to see students’ interest in school, especially reading, wane by the time they graduate high school?  Is it a natural disinclination towards school attributable to youth culture across time?  Are there other factors that contribute to this?  Does this happen everywhere?

The group in the session was incredible–from sharing their ideas about what the aim of summer reading (and reading instruction in general) is, to their willingness to share resources and provide examples of what they do with their students and staff, they were spot on, and made my presentation much richer.

So I asked them the question above, and they created this list:

  • We need better choices for our students
  • When students have jobs, sports, other activities, the time needed to read is a factor
  • When students are awash in reading for other academic pursuits, there’s no time for reading for leisure
  • it’s so not cool to read if you are a guy
  • we are competing for attention with other media
  • the responsibilities placed upon children who live below the poverty line.
  • lack of reading advocates and “cheerleaders” in their lives.
  • Our definition of what we consider “good reading” is too narrow, and we discourage students from reading things that appeal to them (newspapers, comic books, magazines)
  • The need to find books for students that they want to read (9th grade and up)

What can you add to this list?