One Device to Rule Them All

We see posts all the time that tote one device’s superiority over another. Things like, “Why the _______ is the clear winner in K-12 education” or “The _____ is now in ___ percent of all classrooms in America”. You know what I’m talking about. It’s no secret that there’s competition among companies to have their device most widely adopted. Who wouldn’t want their device to be the device of choice for K-12 school districts? Do you have a favorite device nearby right now? Do I have my favorite device(s)? Sure I do. If you follow me on Twitter or heard me on the Two Guys Show or Dads in Ed recently, you know what a couple of my favorite devices are.

'life-toolbox--richardstep-unleash-your-strengths' photo (c) 2012, Richard Stephenson - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

There’s an array of reasons why a district might choose one device over another. Cost likely being the biggest factor. Sometimes it just comes down to what you can afford and what you can’t. School districts have to also look at things like infrastructure, device management, tech support, etc.  There’s a lot to take into consideration.

However, this poses the question: do we give students a say on which device(s) they’d prefer to use? Are we actively seeking their opinion and input on which device(s) should be made available to them? Too many times this does not happen. Perhaps we are purchasing too many of one particular device and not enough of another? Do devices need to vary along a student’s K-12 education years? I think they do. I raised this point during last night’s #edchat. Districts and schools must be ready, willing, and able to support multiple device types; whether that be school provided or through a BYOD plan.  I believe the more devices students have exposure to the better. Do they need to be using all of them all the time? Of course not. Should a district buy an exorbitant amount of devices? No. As students use different types of devices, however, they will know which is most suitable for the task at hand. This is, of course, going to happen over time. Through careful decision-making, increasing teacher comfort level, and changing pedagogy through models like SAMR (Kathy Schrock has great information here) and T-PACK (Steven Anderson put together some great information here).

Trying to find one device that will be THE device students will ever need is like saying the only tool a handyman will ever need is a screwdriver. If we want students to be creators, publishers, and global contributors we shouldn’t limit them to only one platform. Something suitable for a primary grade student isn’t necessarily suitable for an 8th grader. We must be ready; and okay with this.

Thanks for reading. I welcome your comments.

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Don’t Forget the Little Things: Movement Matters

Forward movement matters. Remaining first and foremost a learner is a mindset that matters.

When striving to move administrators, teachers, students, support staff, etc. forward with technology, we need to keep in mind that movement matters.  Any movement. Even if you view what you’re learning/trying as minuscule or not as much as another colleague is doing, it still matters. You’re keeping a “learner first” mindset.  It’s a mindset that’s going to benefit you as an educator and it’s going to benefit the students we serve.

Whatever it is: Google Apps, social media, Chromebooks, tablets, etc. (the list can go on and on); you’re stepping out and trying something new. Don’t worry about how fast or slow you’re moving forward. The point is that you’re moving forward! You’re tackling the fear of trying something new head on. You’re modeling a learner mindset. We should be constantly be modeling this for our students, parents, the community, and those we lead.

I think sometimes we think that if our forward movement isn’t happening fast enough or in a big way in a short amount of time, we see it as not being a big deal.  As not mattering or having something worthy to contribute at a staff meeting, in a tweet, in a blog post, or at an edcamp. I’ve had teachers say things to me like: “Yeah but all I’m doing is (blank).” or “I don’t have anything worthwhile to contribute.”.

If you’re trying out something new you’ve learned, own it. Be proud of what you’re doing. Share it with your colleagues. Get comfortable with it, stick with it, and embrace the occasional “speedbumps”.  Just don’t forget to keep moving forward.


An informed decision

I met with the administrative team earlier this week at one of our middle schools. They wanted to talk iPads. They were thinking about purchasing them for themselves to be more efficient with their administrative duties as they do walk-throughs, formal observations, etc. We met for over an hour talking about the device. What it will do, what it won’t do, and possible workflows for things they wanted to be able to do. They came ready with their questions, which was fantastic. They came into the meeting with an open mind. In fact it was so open of a mind that by the time I left they had decided to not buy iPads for themselves. They didn’t come in with the “gotta have it” mindset. They came in with the “do we need it?” mindset.

These administrators did however, get a much firmer grasp on the possibilities when placed in students’ hands. I didn’t spend a lot of time showing educational apps, but I did show a few of my favorites. I keep folders of apps for several subject areas on my iPad so I have them organized and ready to go if I need to do a little show and tell.

I’ll admit, I had a pretty good feeling going in that the device wasn’t going to be best for them for what they were wanting to do. It’s not going to replace a laptop. Will it get there some day? Possibly. Do I enjoy having an iPad? Absolutely! This Apple fanboy has his hand proudly raised. However, while it is a great device and offers great potential in the hands of students, I also know that it’s not the device for everyone. I wasn’t there to tell them they couldn’t buy iPads. Even if after meeting with me they still wanted them, that was fine. I would still support them in their use. I was there at that moment to help them make an informed decision. The administrative team decided they did not need them, but they did decide that they’d like to begin some sort of implementation in their building to put them in the hands of students. Not as the end-all be-all device, and no huge instant influx of them, but to add to the variety of tools available to teachers and students.

We get so excited about the next big thing. It’s easy to get excited! I get just as excited as the next person. If you were on Twitter around noon CST on Wednesday there was lots of excitement:

I’ve learned, however, to have a bit more of a critical eye to what the device (doesn’t matter what it is) can do for our students. Isn’t that what we should do with everything? Not be so quick to run out and buy, but to ask, “Does this make learning better for our students?” This isn’t a decision that can be made in one hour, or even one day. Careful planning and thoughtful questioning is important. We have homework we need to do too.

I really appreciated these administrators taking the time to make an informed decision rather than just running out and buying because it’s a hot item right now and then after the fact say, “Now what do we do?” I think the willingness to be open, ask questions, and be informed in the long run can sometimes take us farther in the long run.

Thanks for reading. I welcome your comments.


Letting Go…Eventually

When I was meeting with a teacher earlier this week, the teacher said to me, “I’m just having a hard time letting go”. This was in reference to a current method of instruction because of a new piece of instructional technology I was supporting her use of. I honestly don’t remember what the technology was because this past week was a crazy one. This teacher’s comment resonated with me though. By the way, my response to her comment was something along the lines of, “That’s OK. Change is hard but doesn’t have to be instant”. In my efforts to support this teacher in a new endeavor of  instructional technology, it would be unfair of me to push too hard. Don’t you agree? Should there be a speed limit on the change process?

Teachers need a continual support system in place with any instructional strategy, technology or not. They need the initial formal PD upfront, classroom visits if necessary, ongoing communication to “check in”, and then more formal PD to build upon existing skills. More specifically to technology, however, if a financial investment is made and a plan is not in place to support it (continually), then we have not only failed our teachers but we are also failing our students. When I say “we”, I don’t mean there is a finger-pointing at any one leader (principal or other administrator), I mean “we” as a collective body of leaders that want what’s best for students.

I think sometimes we try too hard to exceed the speed limit in the change process. We get excited and want to buy everything and we want everyone to change right now. We’re at a point in education where change is inevitable, and necessary. We shouldn’t forget the old adage, “Talk is cheap”. However, how fast is too fast to expect change? Teachers are going to have a hard time “letting go”. Do they need to eventually “let go” 100%? I think they do.

Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.

— John F. Kennedy

Let’s be ready to support teachers appropriately but also remind them in their effort to try something new, change doesn’t have to happen overnight. However, it does need to happen.

Just some thoughts on the matter. Thanks for reading.


The Wheel Is There

The Green Wheel at Roskilde Festival 2009photo © 2009 Stig Nygaard | more info (via: Wylio)

Have you ever said this phrase: “Don’t reinvent the wheel.” For me it’s always been a phrase to remind me to quit over-thinking something. That I was making something too difficult. That I was trying to recreate something that has already been created. Perhaps a reminder for me to just put my own unique spin on something.

I find myself saying this to teachers when working with them to integrate technology. Not in a negative way, but just as a reminder to not let the idea of students using more technology seem so daunting and like they have to reinvent their teaching. I’d rather them think more on the “why” in regards to using technology than the “what”. Focus on the skills not the tools as my friend Bill Ferriter has said. Now, does that mean teaching practices won’t change? I hope they do change. I’d think that by making technology use more of a priority, working to get it more commonplace, our teaching methods would change for the better. I’m not talking about what we’re teaching (content is content), I’m talking about how we’re teaching.

If you’re thinking of trying a new technology tool/idea/website to bring to your classroom for the 2011-2012 school year, don’t feel like you have to reinvent the wheel. Think about how it’s going to enhance what you’re already teaching, how it will make you a better teacher. How it will get your students having meaningful conversations about what they’re learning. How it will get students creating and sharing their learning in new ways.

Don’t feel like you have to try technology tools X,Y, and Z all during first semester. Or even the whole year! Pick one, stick with it for a reasonable amount of time, and be sure to involve students in the conversation about how it went. Get their feedback. Listen to them.

The wheel is there. Think more on the learning and where you can take your students.


“Keep Moving Forward” in 2010

As we begin 2010, we all have pretty standard resolutions. Losing weight, working out more, managing money better, etc. Those are all fairly standard goals we aim for as a new year begins. What about resolutions for your classroom? Do you have them? What do resolutions for our classrooms look like?

As I think about my professional resolutions for 2010, it brought to mind a quote from a Disney movie my

Lewis Robinson from Disney's "Meet the Robinsons"

kids love to watch called “Meet The Robinsons“. The main character, Lewis, is a 12-year-old lifelong learner. Lewis’ love for brainstorming and inventing was fueled by his desire to remember his biological mother. With encouragement from his science teacher, Mr. Willerstein, Lewis enters the school science fair. Lewis later learns this event is the launching pad for his inventing career and the motto that which he lives by: “Keep moving forward!”.

How do we “keep moving forward” in 2010 as it relates to professional growth? Maybe it’s jumping in and building that PLN? Maybe it’s beginning to explore new PD options in your district? Or it could be that you’re ready to implement a new teacher toolkit of web-based tools to help you be a more organized, effective teacher. This could include a web tool like Evernote or using other tools like those I mentioned in my Thanksgiving post Tools to be Thankful For.

Let’s “keep moving forward” with our professional goals for ourselves and for where we want to take our students in 2010. How are you going to “keep moving forward”?

Have a wonderful new year!



How do we prepare students for the future?

I ask this question to educators with regard to today’s students. Do we know what we’re preparing them for? I’m going to guess that probably all of us would say no unless Doc Brown and Marty McFly are your next door neighbors.  How do we as educators even begin to grasp a glimpse of the future we are preparing students to enter after they leave high school and possibly college?

David Warlick has said, “For the first time we are preparing students for a future we cannot clearly describe.”

He’s right. We can’t describe it. We don’t know what will be going on in 5, 10, or 15 years from now. We don’t know what it will even look like for students to go to school. Or what kinds of skills they will have to have in order to survive in the workplace. We can only imagine. So the question is how do we prepare our students for a future we cannot clearly describe?

I just came back from Tweetdeck, looking to my PLN for inspiration as I regularly do, and came across this excellent tweet from Tom Whitby: “Educators remember the world we learned in is not the world we live in. The world we teach in is not the world we teach for.”

Needless to say I immediately retweeted his profound words and just as quickly sent Tom a DM asking if I could quote him (and he kindly obliged). This portion in particular stuck out for me: “The world we teach is not the world we teach for.” We don’t know the world we’re teaching for. We as educators should continually strive to better ourselves professionally. Twitter and my PLN definitely help me do that. We’ll talk briefly about other ways to learn new tools and resources in just a bit.

With regards to technology, does this mean it’s our job to teach our students every type and variation of technology tool in addition to all the required curriculum? Absolutely not. Teachers often are confused by the term “technology integration”. Teachers often think it means that on this particular day we’re going to use one particular program or on this particular day each week is going to be our “use the wireless lab day”. I’m starting to think the term “technology integration” is not correct. Technology should be infused with our teaching to the point where it becomes as common place as the pencil. Is this hard to do? It can be very hard to do without proper support, equipment, PD, etc.

Students need to be exposed to tools that foster creativity and promote collaboration. Those are HUGE skills to have in your “toolbox” of skills. Technology lends itself well to both. Here is a great article I came across this week from CNN. I it think gives us a pretty accurate glimpse at the type of work environment and collaboration level facing today’s students. And it’s probably not that far off. This would be excellent to share with students:

Virtual businesses: Going to the office in Second Life

We need to expose our students to lots of tools that will bring technology use into our classrooms on various levels. Technology is a great way to differentiate our instruction.  Take a look at this video for example. I came across this on Twitter this week and thought, “Where was this guy when I was struggling in math?”.

I bet those students will never forget that math lesson again. How strong would your retention be? I also wonder how many of those students at that point said, “Wow that was some really cool video work. I’d like to learn how to do that.”

I would assume this teacher considers himself a lifelong learner. Maybe he just attended a PD event or conference session about using technology and he really wanted to learn more about the power of video with some dabbling in video editing.  We don’t know for sure but look at the direction he went by putting a creative spin on an otherwise boring math lesson.  He decided to use his new knowledge to enhance something he’s probably been teaching the same way for years. I would love to talk to this teacher and find out how much of an impact this had on his instruction and how it has given his students a new way to grasp a mathematical concept.

So how do we educate ourselves about new technology tools? There’s many ways to learn about new tools and resources to infuse technology in your classroom. Building a PLN (and following awesome educators such as @shellterrell @web20classroom @tomwhitby @nmhs_principal and countless others), utilizing your instructional technology specialist/coach, and attending PD events and conferences in person or virtually. I also learn by subscribing to blogs, podcasts, Delicious, and RSS feeds to learn about new resources and tools.

Try to expose yourself to many technology tools so you at least have a working knowledge of the kind of results they can produce so you can make an informed decision if it will be an acceptable tool for your students to use. You don’t have to become a master of everything.

Preparing our students for the future starts with us. We have to want to prepare ourselves first.  The future arrives in our classrooms every day.  Strive to infuse technology with your teaching. The more you do, the more seamless it will become.

If I can help you in anyway with resources of how to infuse technology into your classroom, please do not hesitate to contact me or DM me on Twitter.