Posted tagged ‘Education’

I Am Back… And Some Things to Think About

February 18, 2009

I returned to work yesterday after several weeks off for maternity leave. While on leave I have been using most of my online “free time” to document little Dylan’s life, but now that I am back to work, I want to share some of the educational and “professional”  things that have been on my mind.

To begin, I have a few articles and/or blog posts I would like to share with you all. They are things that have really gotten me thinking about the direction of education.

The first is a blog post from Jeff Utecht which discusses the possible demise of the traditional educational model with the creation of the University of the People. It is a good read with some interesting ideas.

The next is an article from Campus Technology which discusses how textbooks are evolving from printed to more “Web 2.0” based. There are some great links to free online textbooks and some thought-provoking concepts.

And finally, this article from eSchools outlines how a Colorado district is reorganizing their schools from the traditional model. I would love to hear your thoughts on the ideas in this article.

With the ideas from these articles in my head, and some questions from some of my fellow staff members, I have begun to formulate a potential new plan for staff development opportunities on my campus… once I get my idea a little more organized, I will share it with you all to get some feedback.

Hopefully, I will begin posting and reflecting on a somewhat regular basis again…


I Dream a World…

November 19, 2008

Langston Hughes is one of my favorite poets, and I Dream a World is one of my favorite poems of his.  I was thinking of this poem today, and I was frustrated and irritated by some things at school (probably because my patience is down due to being in my 9th month of pregnancy) and the combination of these two things prompted this post…

It is the time of year on my campus when students are tired and frustrated, teachers are tired and frustrated, and we are all in need of a break… thankfully we will get a week of “break” starting Monday.  But more than a week of vacation, I think we need a “break” from the current educational philosophy that seems to abound in this country, our state and our district.  We need a break from how education has always been run; we need a break from all the bureaucracy that envelops education, and we need to seriously evaluate what is important in regards to educating our students.

With this in mind… this is what I dream…

I dream a world where education

  • is not governed by people who are out of touch with students’ abilities, goals and needs
  • is not judged as effective based solely on standardized test scores
  • is more about learning and relevancy than it is about meeting AYP
  • encourages individuality, creativity, questioning and stepping outside the boundaries of the traditional
  • addresses student needs on an individual basis instead of measuring everyone with the same stick
  • is a priority to students, parents and society in general
  • is not always viewed as passing assessments equals mastery of content
  • is collaborative, innovative, and fun
  • doesn’t have to occur the way “I learned it”
  • doesn’t just mean focusing on the core classes but allows students to investigate areas of interest to them
  • doesn’t expect students to be experts at all subjects (because let’s face it, most of the adults I know are not and they are still successful)
  • encompasses skills that matter for success outside of the classroom (time management, information management, team work, balancing a budget, social skills, etc.)
  • encourages students to want to learn so they continue to do so when they leave school
  • rewards effective teachers based on their relationships with students, their continued growth and their zeal for teaching (instead of what percentage of students passed a test)
  • does not base a child’s graduation on the passing of four tests
  • values the students’ and teachers’ individuality
  • realizes that teaching a concept well takes time and allows teachers the opportunity to work at the pace of the kids in his/her room
  • emphasizes the importance of  teachers building relationships with students
  • allows time for teachers to continually grow professionally

I am sure by now you get the point, and I could probably go on forever. The short of it is, I need education to change, to evolve into something that fits the society where we currently reside and prepares our students to effectively navigate in this fast-paced and continually shifting world.  I need it to be better, and I am tired of waiting.

So my questions to you are…

What do you dream? And how do we make these dreams a reality?

Irving ISD and the K12 Online Conference

October 28, 2008

This year Irving ISD has decided to borrow an idea from Jeff Utecht and his K12 Online LAN Party idea. We will be hosting a couple of live sessions for teachers in the area to attend, watch some of the K12 Online Conference and take part in some discussions with fellow educators.

The plan is to start the morning by viewing a couple of K12 Keynotes and discussing. Participants will then choose a strand (Getting Started, Prove It, Kicking It Up a Notch or Leading the Change) and a couple of sessions from that strand to participate in. Next, participants will get together with others who selected the same strand and take part in some face-to-face facilitated discussions. The purpose is to hopefully gather some new ideas from other educators from around the world (K12 presenters) and around the community.

In order for the Irving ISD/K12 extravaganza to be successful, we need some participants. Please join us!

The get together will take place at The Academy of Irving (map) on Saturday, November 8th and Saturday, November 15th from 9:00am – 12:00pm.  You will need to bring a laptop with you so you can view the on-line presentations.

Please join us to take place in the discussion (and bring a friend)!

I have included a flyer and podcast below so you can learn more about the Irving ISD/K12 endeavor.  Feel free to leave me a comment or contact me on Twitter (astevens74) if you have further questions.

Thanks and we hope you choose to join us in the discussion!

Listen to the IISD K12 podcast

Why I Encourage Laptop Use in the Classroom

October 24, 2008

The entirety of this post is written in response to Why I Ban Laptops in My Classroom by David Cole, so you might want to read it first.

This year I am not “in the classroom.”  I am working this year full-time as an Instructional Technology Specialist on my campus which allows me to see in to many teachers’ classrooms and get a varied perspective on teaching and learning.  We are a one-to-one laptop campus as well as a career focused non-traditional high school, so I see many interesting learning activities taking place as I look through the windows of classrooms or go in to the classrooms to assist students and teachers.

As I walk through the hallways of The Academy I see students working collaboratively both on-line and in person; I see students interacting with text both digitally and traditionally; I see teachers lecturing traditionally and via pre-recorded videos students access via their laptops; I see hands-on activities, laptop-based activities and book-based activities; I see students engaged in their learning – students making choices, re-evaluating and facing consequences.  I see students getting a varied and effective education in a public high school – laptops are an integral part of this.

Laptops enable students to interactively participate in the classroom (and outside of the classroom) in ways they would be unable to without the aid of such technology.  With laptops in the classroom, students can still participate in a verbal discussion, but they can also extend that learning by participating in discussion boards, collaborative note-taking, instant messaging, Twitter, blogging, etc.  Students can deepen their knowledge of a topic or answer their own questions by accessing information via a search engine like Google during the classroom lecture or discussion.  In short, laptops give the learner more power to take charge of their education; they encourage learners to step away from the passivity of the traditional model of lecture and receive to the more active model of seeking information and learning.

Certainly I see students “off-task” on their laptops as I walk through the hallways, and I am okay with this because adults get off-task while working as well. In fact, while composing this post, I have been instant messaging with a teacher and a fellow ITS, as well as keeping up and responding with e-mail. I even took a break and read a news article some sent via Twitter, but I am still accomplishing my goal of composing this post in a reasonable amount if time. I am able to do all of these things because I learned how to manage my time; I learned personal responsibility; I learned how to multi-task, and I learned what happens if I do not get my work completed by the deadline. Students need to be afforded the right to learn these lessons as well – banning laptops does not teach them how to be responsible in a digital world; it does not teach them time or information management; it is the easy way out.

How does incorporating laptops work in practice?

Effectively integrating laptops into the classroom starts with a shift – a shift in pedagogy.  If the instructor continues to teach the same way he/she has always taught and simply views the laptop as a note-taking device then the integration will not be successful and students will definitely get off-task. It requires that teachers stop thinking, “This is the right way to do it because this is how I learned how.” It requires that teachers begin questioning, “What is the best way to present this information so my students (my students TODAY) are engaged with this topic and interested in learning? How do I prepare this lesson so that my students have some learning choices but still receive a rigorous assignment and deep understanding of the information they need?”

Effectively integrating laptops in the classroom demands that teachers take a step out of their comfort zone and give some of their “power” to the students. Gone are the days when the teacher was the sole purveyor of information; contrary to popular belief, teachers do not know EVERYTHING about their subject-area, but with the help of search engines like Google, students and teachers can quickly and easily locate the information they need.

Effectively integrating laptops in the classroom does not mean that they are used 100% of the time for every assignment because they may not always be the best tool. It is the instructor’s job while planning and teaching to assess student learning, offer choices and vary learning as needed to meet the needs of all students in the classroom… no one said good teaching was easy.

Finally, effectively integrating laptops in the classroom requires continuous learning on the part of the instructor (and students). It requires utilizing new tools, learning new skills, attempting new instructional strategies; it requires flexibility and change.

I encourage the use of laptops in the classroom because they can assist in extending learning to a higher-level – a level that may not be controlled by the teacher, a level that can transcend the walls of the classroom, a level that encourages collaboration and evaluation, a level that is active, engaging and fun.

Random Thoughts about Random Things

September 4, 2008

We are nearing the second week of school and so far all seems to be going well.  Laptops were handed out to freshmen yesterday and today, so we are pretty close to have 100% of the students with their laptops; sometimes i think the freshmen teachers are just as excited when the ninth graders get their laptops as the kids are. 🙂

We have some great new teachers who are jumping in with both feet – ready to learn themselves and ready to teach the students.

I have had lots of volunteers for Teaching and Learning Tuesdays and we have some interesting sessions coming up. I am teaching an upcoming TL Tuesday on creating virtual field trips/tours using Google Earth which is pushing me a little out of my comfort zone and making me learn some new things which is always good.

Over the summer I have become more participatory with Twitter and subscribe to a nice little network of people who are always sharing new ideas, tools, etc. to keep me learning and thinking (my user is astevens74 if you would like to join me).  I can even get my tweets at work via TwitterFox (since Twitter is blocked).  I have even FINALLY joined Facebook and have started playing around with it to try to understand our students’ perspectives a little better, and surprisingly, I am finding Facebook pretty fun.

So, all in all, things are going well with me and my school; I hope the start of your school year has been a positive one as well.  And just in case you need a reminder of why we teach and why it matters, check out this student speaker from DISD because I think he sums it up pretty nicely.

Pure Rubbish…

July 8, 2008

Rarely does an educational article/editorial get published where I disagree with 100% of the author’s points, but First Person: School Facilitators Flunk the Test (as published in the Seattle Post) seems to fit this criteria… and quite frankly, the article and its comments just make me sad.

The author begins his piece by asserting his qualifications for writing the article and his tone comes across as bitter and exaggerative.

“Ban facilitators, the word and all its forms, and put on probation anyone caught in a classroom still claiming to be one. Re-establish the traditional teacher-centered classroom, and soon we won’t need a WASL to demonstrate progress.”

Well, I guess I should take back my statement that I disagree with 100% of what the author says; I do agree that we do not need standardized tests to demonstrate progress because they are artificial and too often test knowledge that is unnecessary out of the walls of high school. I would rather see a portfolio-based system… and yes, I would facilitate the creation, organization  and evaluations of these portfolios.

“To inculcate discipline in others, a leader must model excellence and self-discipline. Traditional teacher-centered classrooms had such leaders. By contrast, student-centered learning allows the inexperienced and the undisciplined to become the standard.”

Certainly, a leader must set a good example, and in a student-centered classroom, the teacher is still involved and still leading the class.  The difference is that instead of sitting and listening to the teacher lecture and treat the students as empty receptacles in which to pour in learning, the teacher focuses on individual student needs and abilities; the students are encouraged to take an active role in their education instead of a passive one.  Students are allowed to learn on their own (through discovery, inquiry, etc.), from each other and from the teacher.

“Instead of turning to a traditional subject-expert in a teacher-centered environment, students now turn to their friends.”

Yes, the student can turn to their friends for assistance, or the teacher, or a book, the Internet or a host of other resources… again actively searching out the answer instead of waiting for the teacher to give it to them (or tell them that their response is wrong).

“When teenage minds become convinced they know as much as or more than the adults in charge, contempt for authority is the blatant byproduct.”

I don’t understand the author’s use of this argument. How does a student-centered classroom convince students that they know as much or more than adults? Is it simply because as the teacher I am not continually lording my knowledge over them but encouraging them to think and reason on their own?

“Most real learning requires real work. No one ever became an expert by being lazy.”

Yes, REAL learning does require work, and as any student who participates in a student-centered or project-based environment will tell you… actively be engaged in your education is much more difficult than letting the teacher make all of your decisions. Creating a quality project requires much more time and effort than taking a test.

“Facilitators are too wimpy, too passive to push anything or anyone.”

I don’t understand where the author gets his view of facilitators. A facilitator is active by definition. The facilitator’s job is to push learning, to guide by questioning and to direct students to resources as needed. Facilitators do not just sit in the room and watch as students do whatever they feel like doing whenever they want.

So, after reading this depressing opinion piece, I decided to skip down and read a few comments and was completely flabbergasted when I came across some of the statements people made.

“They [students] are ENCOURAGED to talk to each other.” – OMG! NO! Students are encourage to talk to each other. Next they might be encouraged to HELP each other.

“When I was in school we worked on a page of math problems by ourselves.” – And how has that prepared you for life outside of school?

“‘Everyday Math’ (a math textbook used by many elementary schools) tells 4th grade teachers not to spend too much time teaching long division because students can just reach for a calculator.” – Maybe I am missing something… are students growing up in a world where there are no calculators, computers, dictionaries, spell check? Shouldn’t we be teaching them to use these tools to solve problems?

If learning is going to be real and lasting, there has to be a mix. Teachers have classes of 30 students or so and those students learn best in a variety of ways – some from lectures, some hands-one, some by reading, etc. Teachers have to vary activities and allows students to make some choice for themselves. Yes, you are their teacher and your job is to help them learn, but they are not stupid… give them some credit and let them take part in their own education.

We need to get away from the mindset that because I was taught something a certain way, that it is the best way for everyone to learn… it isn’t.  I “learned” vocabulary in school by looking up the definition and writing it, but I actually learned it as I needed it in my own writing to convey a certain feeling or point, or when I read and didn’t know what something meant. I “learned” percentages when I completed math worksheets, but I actually learned it when it meant something to me – figuring sales tax, how much to tip a waiter or the discount on a sale item.  If we are honest with ourselves, true education and learning rarely comes from a teacher-centered environment, it comes from trying and failing, discovery, inquiry, reflection, creating and collaborating.