“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

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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.  

 

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.  

Sew Like a Man

Recently, as part of a project I am working on, the following question was posed to me:

What does your ideal school or classroom look like?

My answer?

Imagine a traditional Wood Shop class in which each student arrives and begins working on a project he or she designed and created, rarely if ever disengaging from their work.  They all have a personal stake in the outcome of the project, they build it so that it will last beyond the time they are in this class, and they build it to be seen by more eyes than just their teachers.
Now take away the wood, the saws, the dust, and the nerdy goggles.  Place the student in a classroom that we might perceive as a history class, an English class, or a math or science class, but keep the elements of creating work that has legacy, personal purpose, and is publicly viewable.
The image above (I’ve appealed for leniency from the original authors), appeared as part of a presentation I did on Saturday at the first annual West Essex Tech Symposium, and came out of a classroom I observed a few weeks back, only it wasn’t woods, but sewing.  For days after the observation, I remained blown away by the way the class ran–and not as if the teacher was unnecessary, quite the opposite actually–and how the students were just locked in to what they were doing.
  • The work they were doing had value.
  • It mattered to them now.
  • It would be seen by more than just their teachers, but also their parents, their classmates, and quite possibly someone they met at the mall.
I couldn’t help but think about the classroom environment in a traditional siloed academic content area where this is taking place.  But is that possible?  If we create this type of environment–this messy, cross-disciplinary, creative, non-bubble tested idea-space–do academic departments then dissipate?  Some seem to think so, but I’ll cling for a bit to see if the creative capacities of our current teachers can rise to this type of challenge.

Ship

I’m such a post stealer.

But this is a horse I’ve fallen from, and I am going to do whatever I can do get back on.  If that includes riding the ideas of those much more intelligent than myself, then so be it.  I’m not ashamed of that.

For the past two years, I’ve been riding this wave of ideas that I’ve tried to carry out, but, due to circumstances only partly under my control, I have not been able to carry them to fruition and completion. See, I’ve been in three school districts in the last three years.  That type of mobility is not often seen in education (or should I say, seen in good light in education), but it has been a wonderful experience to meet so many talented educators and professionals in each of these places.

What bothers me most about the moves is that I still don’t know how well the ideas we all hatched worked in a supported environment.  What I mean by that is when you work with a group of people to create something new within curriculum, staff development or educational technology,but don’t stick around for its implementation, it’s hard to measure how much of a difference the new model made to student learning.  The support systems you would have put in place may or may not be what the person who follows you is up for–and that is their prerogative.  Each new leader has to come and work with what’s in place, but they also have to make it their own as well.

So what does this mean in regards to the title of this post?  Easy.  I want to ship this year, much like Doug did in 2011,

but I want to make sure that I fully support the ideas that get shipped when they hit the ground next September.

For some reason, I have always been the type of person that needs to work under deadlines to fend off stagnation or atrophy.  Case in point: I’ve been a runner for most of my life, but I am at my best (disciplined, dedicated, injuy-free) when there is a scheduled, paid-for race on the calendar in the months ahead.  That was the case with the Finger Lakes Fifty, the Vermont 50, and with countless other races.  If there is no way out of it, I buckle down.  So the other day, I registered for the Bald Eagle Mountain Megatransect on September 29th, 2012.  I put it on the calendar, paid for my admission, and I am going to ship.

Now, professionally, what will be my September 29th-type event?  Being so new to the district I am working in, I am still figuring that out, but I have a few hunches.  As they roll out this spring, I’ll be updating them here to insure that they meet with the same dedication and discipline that the Megatransect will have.