Friday, May 31, 2013

Doing What We Could Not Do Before

So, in my sessions these days, I often refer to a Prensky article that asks whether we are doing old things in old ways, old things in new ways, or new things in new ways (using technology). I just read this NYT article that presents an interesting picture by doing new things in new ways. Yes, I suppose that the researchers could have manually counted the frequency of word usage in 5.2 million books published between 1500 and 2008. However, they would still be working on it.

Instead, using Google’s online database of these same books, the researchers (and David Brooks in the NYT), used their critical thinking skills to tell a story about the last half-century based on word frequency in books. It’s very interesting, and, of course, provides opportunity for further analysis, with an examination of bias needed.

Either way, the information and data that our students have access to is mind-boggling. What WILL they do with it????

Prensky Article: (Geez, this is from 2005, and we’re still talking about it.)

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Don't Assume that the Kids Get IT.

I recently had the experience of working with a young (mid-20's) salesman. While I was waiting for my paperwork to be completed, I was getting some work done - using my digital stylus on my tablet PC. Then, I pulled out my bluetooth keyboard to do some writing. He was amazed, "What is that you're using?" I told him. "Wow! I didn't know they existed. I live in an "I" world. I have an iPad and and iPhone. I am clueless when it comes to technology. All I use it for is texting, Facebook, and to play games. I really want to know how I can track my customers, so I know what we talked about and when I need to follow up with them. I want to be able to send everyone I've been working with an email about a special event we're having. I know I should buy a computer, but I don't know what to buy."

Are we really preparing our students to be College and Career Ready? Why doesn't this young guy know how to use a spreadsheet? Why doesn't he know that a spreadsheet would be valuable to him? Why doesn't he know that a contact management system exists and would solve many of this problems? How is it possible that he does not know how to do a mail merge into email - or on to paper, for that matter?

  • What is the focus of our use of technology in the classroom? Is it bells and whistles? Is it a bullet list that simply regurgitates back information? 
  • What is the focus of our lessons? Is it facts and figures? Or is it how to apply the facts and figures to the real world?
  • Where are the authentic projects? Where is the problem solving? Where is using what we have learned to make decisions?
  • Where are the kids that are college and career ready?

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Silo Initiatives in Education

A few days ago, I watched a video resignation by a teacher, who lamented the number of initiatives that got in the way of her teaching. I used to feel just as she did about the tons of new initiatives that teachers are faced with today. However, most of these initiatives have very valid reasons for their existence. Unfortunately, most districts don’t handle the roll out of initiative very well. Case in point - many technology "initiatives". Instead, they introduce each one as its own initiative and don’t weave the new ones together with the existing initiatives. So, educators in the trenches see each as its own initiative instead of seeing how one can help the other. It’s the whole silo mentality. 

Why not make the instructional coach the master seamstress or tailor? Instructional coaches often have a big picture view of the district that no one else has – from both views – administration and teacher. If the coach position is truly that of a coach, it puts them in a position of strength. They can do the weaving of the initiatives and show how they support each other.They can be the one who helps a teacher to see that using digital tools for formative assessment makes sense. They can be the person who, in consulting with a teacher before a lesson, makes the connection between literacy strategies and technology.

The Common Core is one of those silo initiatives, and technology is a PERFECT fit!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Essay Due 9PM; Feedback in a Couple of Weeks

“This essay is due on Sunday evening at 9PM.” That’s a new concept. No more working until midnight, when the project is due at 9PM. Unfortunately, the student may not receive any feedback for weeks. Then, from the student's perspective, the feedback is just a bunch of circles, arrows, and comments in the margin. The student asks, “What on earth does that squiggle mean?” Often times, there is a “See me,” written at the top of the page. However, once the assignment is returned, does the student approach the teacher? Does the teacher have uninterrupted time to go over the comments with the student? How can we, as teachers, provide students with timely feedback?

In prior blog posts, I’ve mentioned OneNote. Today, I want to focus on the ability to provide nearly instantaneous feedback with OneNote. Imagine the scenario above. Instead of marking up a piece of paper, the student hands in the assignment in a shared OneNote notebook (shared via SkyDrive, Office 365, SharePoint, or the school network). The teacher opens the student’s assignment, selects Insert/Record Audio, takes out his/her digital stylus, and marks up the “paper.” The significant difference is that the teacher makes audio comments, while circling text, writing notes, and highlighting text of note.

When the teacher is finished, the student can see that his/her page has been updated, because the title is bold. The student can click the audio icon  and listen and see as the teacher gives feedback. The teacher’s audio comments and notes are in sync with each other. How cool is that! When the student goes back to a particular note, she/he can click on the mark associated with the text, and voila! the audio will start playing at the point when the teacher made the mark (actually, at about 10 seconds prior to).  The student may even insert audio requesting more feedback.

Rather than waiting for forensic feedback, this process can be ongoing, while the student is working on the assignment. The teacher does not need to collect the work. Instead, he/she simply opens the notebook, and the assignments are waiting for them. They can even work on it offline. So, while sitting in the car at soccer practice, they can be “grading papers.” When arriving at home and connecting to the wifi, the notebook will sync. Then, the student at home, can log in and see and hear the comments.

Will this scenario ever replace face-to-face conversation about student work? Of course not. But, let’s face it. No teacher can conference with students for every assignment. Let's close that feedback gap!