Saturday, October 31, 2015

Post Revisited - Inspiration When We Need It Most

This article has been cross posted at the Tech & Learning Magazine Advisor Blog
I wrote this post over four years ago and it still holds true.  We need educators like Moliehi Sekese to continue to inspire us through all of the challenges we face as we try to innovate and make a difference. I hope you are inspired, as I was all over again, by her and her students 
Recently, I have seen too many news stories about school budgets being voted down, federal educational technology programs no longer being funded, and the continued attacks on educators from politicians and other organizations. I know that this has been going on for a while but it has really made me reflect on where we are in terms of the state of our educational programs in this country and the attitude we must take. We are a country that is supposed to be a leader in this world and we are spending more time, and money, pointing fingers then trying to fix our problems.

As educators we are supposed to be preparing our students for their futures as wise content consumers and producers. Savvy technology users that can innovate, collaborate, and be creative with a global perspective. Yet, for the most part, we continue to feel demoralized for not being given the proper support and tools to achieve these goals.

Now that I have vented, I want to put this into perspective. I want you all to meet Moliehi Sekese, a Microsoft Worldwide Innovative Teacher Award recipient. Moliehi, from the very small and poor South African country of Lesotho, has been globally recognized as an innovative integrator of technology. Her class size is about 100 students, that is not a typo, and the school does not have electricity. But she uses her personal laptop, as long as the battery lasts, and some innovative teaching techniques to teach and integrate technology. Please take time to listen to her words in the video below and read her story on Ewan McIntosh's bog. You can also, read more and see a longer interview on the Cool Cat Teacher Blog. She is an amazing woman who can teach us all how to be innovators in a time when we need it the most. As you will hear her say,
"Stop blaming the challenges. Use a stumbling block as a stepping stone to success."

So, if you are feeling sorry for yourself when you are faced with the one computer classroom or you can't get that new set of mobile devices for your school, take a minute and remember Moliehi, and what she doing to be innovative, successful and inspiring to her students and colleagues. She is certainly an example for all of us to remember when we think we can't overcome a challenge.

I will leave you with this quote, by Dr. Martin Luther King:
"If you can't fly then run, if you can't run then walk, if you can't walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.
It serves as a reminder to me when I get upset or depressed about that challenges that I face everyday as I try to help the teachers and students in my school district achieve their goals to become twenty-first century workers and learners. I hope it inspires you to move forward as well. I know that Moliehi is a living example.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Modern Learning Spaces - What took so long?

There has been a lot more talk about innovating the way we set up our learning spaces. Although I agree that the design of learning spaces has an impact on learning, I wonder why it has taken so long for this subject to get the attention it deserves.  The arrangement of most classrooms I go into are still the traditional and outdated rows of desk or clusters of desk arranged into groups of four.  Much about how our modern students learn has been mostly overlooked.  Hopefully, until now.
I recently attended the Tech & Learning Live - New York conference.  It was a fantastic conference with many innovative educators presenting sessions in a collaborative and hands-on environment. One of the session that I participated in was titled, "Redesigning Your Learning Space on any Budget."   This session gave me many good ideas and inspirations. But, it also gave me pause. 

When we talk about redesigning learning spaces words like bright, comfortable, collaborative and flexible come to mind. These are all true and worthwhile but where have they been all this time? Why are we now realizing that these ideas fit so well into education? Sure, let's be collaborative, let's put our desk into groups of four or a circle. But, they are still desks and we are still in a classroom in which students have to look back at the teacher at the front of the class at the board. Not much different.

When you want collaboration and flexibility you have to look at how kids work at home. For instance, my daughter was reading a book in the living room. She started sitting in an arm chair rather "normally."  Then, in the span of thirty minutes I watched her change her position no less than six times. The positions included sitting forward, sideways, laying cross-chair and ottoman, upside down, kneeling and then onto the floor. Not once did she stop reading! Most adults couldn't do this, in fact, it may be downright distracting to them, but to kids this is normal. So, I ask, why can't we do more of this in schools and let the kids learn as they are, not as we think they should be learning?

So, I ask, what can we do to change this paradigm of thought and be more agile in our learning space transformations?  Why? Because we need to do some catching up! From what I have seen they are more the exception than the norm. Schools that have classrooms like these are seen as "cutting edge," or "progressive." I say that this should be the norm and I want to know what we can do to do about this without paying the premiums that vendors want us to pay. How can we get those mobile, height adjustable desks and work areas in a classroom that allows you to write on any almost surface?  I have seen so many models, but many involve large budget, vendors, architects and designers. How can we do this better with what we have or on a budget?

No, it's your turn to sound off. Let's share resources, thoughts, complaints, opinions. That's what I always wanted this blog to be about. It should be a dynamic collaborative space. So, what say you? Comment or Tweet me -  #classredesign.

Here are a couple of resources from me to start things off:
This article has been cross posted at the Tech & Learning Magazine Advisor Blog

Saturday, September 26, 2015

More to come!!

Hi all! Please be patient with me as I launch my blog on its new host, "Blogger." The design and details are being finalized and new posts are still to come. For now, please enjoy some of my prior posts and follow me on Twitter, Pinterest and Google+.


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Why, What and How of Technology Integration

This article is cross posted at the Technology & Learning Advisor blog.

If your school district is anything like mine you have been deeply entrenched in creating Professional Growth Plans (PGP) and Student Growth Objectives (SGO) for the better part of last and this school year. With all of this busyness we can lose focus of the continuing need for professional development and research to improve our craft. It’s time that school leaders let us all get back to what we do best, teach, no matter what evaluation model you may follow.

With that in mind, and that fact that we are getting bombarded by ed tech companies all the time, we need to have some guidelines to follow when it comes to integrating new technologies. I recently attended a symposium that reinforced some standard, and maybe forgotten, guidelines to follow for the integration of technology both in the classroom and district.  The keynote speaker, Joshua Koen of Passaic Public Schools in NJ, did a great job outlining some important things to remember before we purchase and integrate technology into the classroom.  Here are some of his points with my own added:

1. You need to have a good reason why.

If you can’t specifically answer why you want to integrate a technology into your curriculum you need to go back and rethink your process.  With shrinking budgets and more demands on all staff you have to do your homework and not be won over by the hype that technology vendors create in their products. We need to approach it with a critical eye and look at marketing campaigns with the same media literacy skills we try to impart in our students. From the top down, we have to make sure that it will improve instruction and that we can’t use an existing technology, in an innovative way, that does the same thing. We live in a more technologically open world now than ever before, with lots of great free tools, so we should really have good reason why before asking  to purchase new classroom technologies.

2. You have to know what you want.

As the saying goes “Sometimes you don’t know, what you don’t know.”  We have to be sure that we know exactly what we want to accomplish in our classrooms to make the biggest impact. Teachers have to be researchers and work with their technology and curriculum people to get the right fit for what they want their students to accomplish. Have your administrators or tech director call vendors and ask for demo units that will allow you to run a proof of concept trial before making the purchase. This is really important since we all know that we don’t always get what is advertised, or it’s just not the right fit.  I have seen this happen too many times and it creates frustration and the technology ends up not being used. Only the classroom teacher can know if it’s the right fit, so don’t force it, and ask the vendors for those demos.

3. Have a plan for how to make it happen.

We all know how important planning in education is for success. Looking back at the first step and remembering the reason why you want the technology will drive the planning process. Teachers need to collaborate in their professional networks, and look at best practices to help inform their decisions and instruction. If you do make the purchase, put the time in on the back end with professional development and training before you introduce it to the students . Start slow and pilot it with a chosen few students to give you feedback since they are the end users that should matter most. Most of all innovate as you progress and leverage this new technology to go beyond it’s initial purpose. Just like any tool a multi-tasker is much better than an expensive, specialized, single  use one. Finally, by all means share your experiences with your colleagues and your Personal/Professional Learning Networks (PLN).

By following some common sense guidelines you can save yourself, and your district time, money and frustration. You can also make the most of the district's funds, improve instruction, and create an authentic and collaborative learning environment that will help you and your students achieve those professional development and student growth goals and objectives.