Thursday, April 1, 2010

Focus: Student Empowerment

Four classrooms. Four teachers. Hundreds of students. 118 devices. In the spirit of transparency, what, if anything is changing in these classrooms? To the teachers? The students? The learning? Isn’t that what this is all about? Shouldn’t we be in search of the answers to those questions?

As teacher Beth Lewis states, “In a profession as challenging as teaching, honest self-reflection is key.” So, in the spirit of transparency, the four teachers I’m working with are chronicling their journey; you can climb inside their heads here, here, here and here… It is from reading their words that I know they are open to the ideas of shifting their pedagogies and re-imagining what learning looks like in a 21st Century classroom. I so appreciate their willingness to share their learning. As a wise person once said, “When we make our learning transparent, we become teachers.”

But what about the students? Isn’t the need to be transparent equally as important? I find myself wondering how having the tools accessible at all times has changed learning in those classrooms. Certainly, it has a lot to do with student engagement. Recently, I had the opportunity to spend about an hour in both Sherry’s and Tricia’s classrooms and I can tell you that during those two hours, every single student was completely, utterly engaged in their work. Not a single student was “chillaxing” or worse yet, sleeping. Yes, this is a step in the right direction.

But I’m really interested in digging deeper; in finding out what it looks like when the students own the learning. I see glimpses of this in each of the classrooms, like in Megan’s third grade classroom where each student has access to an iTouch. Megan has fostered a “take control of your own learning” attitude and is slowly, slowly encouraging her students to be true independent thinkers, problem solvers and innovators. This is the sweet spot; the place where true, authentic learning happens…where students are engaged, empowered and impassioned...where learning is transformative.

So, for the remainder of the year, it is through that lens that I will focus my attention. How does having access to these tools enable students to take control of their own learning? How do these tools awaken the desire to learn; where learning isn’t something that is done to the students but something that originates deep inside each of them? In my next post, I’ll share some of the observations, reflections and work gleaned from the students themselves. I cannot wait…

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Piloting Your Own Plane

"Students must be encouraged to become 'pilots',
not 'passengers' in their educational journey."
~Kevin Kearney

Look, let's be clear; I don't have all the answers. And as I continue down this road with Megan and her wonderfully curious, always brilliant students, some thoughts are beginning to crystallize; but as so often happens in life, these thoughts are followed by more questions.

Take for instance this thought:

Wow, put these iTouches in the hands of kids and they have almost instantaneous access to information. That's what we want. Information is no longer locked away in a library. It was so unbelievably cool to watch those children explore the weather app and Google Maps and the clock feature. They were fascinated by the ability to use their geography skills to locate the most recent weather report for a specific location and they found their homes using Google Earth. One student said he woke up that morning excited because they were going to use the iTouches. Very cool.

Later, much later, though, little thoughts started niggling at my brain. What do we want our children to be doing in a 21st Century classroom? How can we be sure that they're learning something they couldn't learn without the technology? Are they merely consuming information or does the technology allow them to produce content? Are they engaging in authentic tasks that mirror real life situations? Because that's what a 21st Century classroom should look least to me.

So, I think...I think... that the answer to whether or not the iTouch is the right tool needs to be observed from this lens. And just in case I start running out of questions (doubtful), here are some others to help keep me grounded in what is most important:

~Does this tool promote deeper learning?
~Is it worth the money?
~Is there another tool that will help students learn better?
~What exactly changes when the students have access to these tools?

Yep, I definitely don't have all the answers. But I do know one thing for sure; as we explore this uncharted territory, we must never lose sight of who should own the learning. In doing so, in making them pilots instead of passengers as Kevin Kearney so eloquently stated, we will better prepare them for a future not yet articulated...not yet known.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Monday, January 18, 2010

Shining the Light

"Do not be excited by the light of technology.
Instead, be excited by what we can shine light on,
with and because of technology."
David Warlick

Along with the work I'm doing with Megan, I will be working with three high school teachers who submitted proposals for our "Re-imagining the 21st Century Classroom" project. Tricia Buck, English teacher; Sherry Amorocho, Spanish teacher; and David Lunn, English teacher will each receive 30 netbooks to use with their students. The purpose of this initiative is to begin to look more deeply at how technology can be used to support and enhance student learning, as well as prepare them for a rapidly changing future. Lofty goals? You bet and it's about time!

Last week, David and I had our second meeting to try to wrap our brains around a completely unknown process. One of the most important qualities David possesses, in my opinion, is his openness to change. He has been teaching for three years and describes teaching as "trial by fire". Yep...that's for sure. But the rewards are so incredibly rich and transformative.

I shared the names of some blogs by other high school English teachers and he set up an RSS feed reader to capture his learning and build his personal learning network. We talked about many things throughout our hour together. If there is any message I'm trying to get out to the teachers I work with in my district, it's to never start with the technology when designing experiences; rather start with the students, the content, the objectives.

David started a blog, and in his post, David reflects on our conversation:

"Yesterday I met with Cary Harrod. Something that she said really stuck with me. This is a loose quotation. "Don't think about how you will use technology, but think about the content goals first and then find ways in which technology can enhance it." Or something like that. I don't want the use of technology in my classroom to be just for the sake of it. I want real collaboration to take place. I want real creativity to take place. I want real thinking to take place. I want real learning to take place."

I would give anything to hear those words from all teachers. Often, we become so enamored with the technology, we forget about the important "stuff" and end up with projects that lack substance and meaning. Carolyn Foote says, "It isn't about the tools, but is is about what stories inside of our students that the tools can unleash." I love that.

We need to ask ourselves if we even know our students' stories. Does the work we give our students require them to find connections to who they are and the content we're introducing in class? Do they have opportunities to share those stories with their classmates, as well as others from around the world? And if not, why not?

Needless to say, I am looking forward to making this journey with David, as well as Tricia and Sherry. I've got high hopes that we'll learn a great deal from each other, as well as the folks in our growing PLNs. To be a teacher in today's world is challenging and full of messy potholes. What advice do you have for these three people who dare to re-imagine what it means to learn in the 21st Century? How can they best use technology to shine a light on learning?