“If We (Teachers) Can Be Replaced By A Computer Screen, …

…we should be.” Cathy Davidson

That was pretty much how the NAIS conference ended. It was the last slide for Cathy Davidson’s closing keynote. I couldn’t agree more with that statement.

For some teachers, it may seem a scary thought, but for most in attendance, it was validation that the we live in a very different world than we did even five years ago, and we need to adapt and prepare our kids for an unknown future.

Her most recent book is called, Now You See It: How Technology and Brain Science Will Transform Schools and Business for the 21st Century. I recommend you visit her website and check out some notes from her talk here.

I am a big fan of Davidson’s work, and Davidson’s ideas resonate with me a lot, but I feel she can sometimes back herself into a corner with her beliefs, and rather than present her ideas with a more balanced approach, her arguments often come across polemical.

Take her statement, for example:

Move from critical thinking to creative contribution.

Both are important. I agree with Davidson that students need to build, make, do, invent, and so on, but they must be able to discern, analyze and evaluate while doing so. I think I know what she’s trying to say in that statement, but it still evoked a reaction from me.  Prior to mentioning this, Davidson talked about a website that appeared to be a great kid friendly resource on farm animals. It turns out that this website was an ad. We need to instill a healthy dose of skepticism in our students, prepare them to think critically.

I liked one of the tasks she gave the audience which was to list the …

Three Most Important Things We Can Do To Help Prepare Students For Their Future (Not Our Past)

Here were mine:

1) Develop a sense of wonder, play, and inquiry.

2) Learn how to find and use the resources needed to grapple with the questions they encounter.

3) To empathize, listen, network, and collaborate with humility and be able to discern between what is useful or purposeful, and what is superfluous or meaningless.

I know, there are a lot of things going on in the last one, but it was hard to come up with just three. I also had another response: Though I’m not religious, the following three things come from a prayer I learned as a child.

Serenity – to accept the things we cannot change

Courage – to change the things we can.

Wisdom – to know the difference.

 

I think we can prepare students for the first two of those, but the last one is something we have to learn on your own. I know I’m still working on it.

One of the things I enjoyed both this year in Philly and at home last year in Seattle was that the featured speakers were accompanied by “graphic recording artists” who captured visually, in real time, what was being said. Here’s a pdf of Cathy Davidson’s closing keynote.

Click for larger view.

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Reflecting on Presenting at #NAISAC13

One of the things I love best about learning is sharing that experience with my students. After all, learning is what I ask them to do each day. I learned so much from presenting at the National Association of Independent School’s (NAIS) Annual Conference, and it’s great to share the process with my second graders.

Today, for example, two of my students had to present something to the class. One shared with the class the adventure of her Flat Stanley, and the other presented a book report. It was important to let them know that what I am asking of them isn’t arbitrary, but something their own teacher engaged in last week. I didn’t talk about the topic of the presentation as that wasn’t pertinent to them, but I did briefly talk about the process.

The session at the conference was called “Revolutionize Your Professional Development.”

Description of session from conference program.

Description of session from conference program.

I presented with Kim Sivick, Liz Davis, and Shannon Montague. We all teach in different states, met initially through social media, and all had different reasons for wanting to present on this topic. One thing that we all had in common, though, was that we were passionate about this model of professional development, and wanted others to bring it to their schools.

Kim is a founding member of edcamps and on the edcamp foundation. Liz was instrumental in getting edcampIS to happen and has been involved in many other unconferences. Shannon and I have both helped organize edcamps, and Shannon recently organized PD in her school using the unconference format.

Needless to say, there’s a lot of risk involved when collaborating with four educators from four different parts of the country, but we trusted each other and we trusted the topic.

I remember that we all had this grand idea that we’d run a mini un-conference in order to inform, persuade, and have participants experience the process itself. The beauty of unconferences is that people get to partake in the conversation, not just sit and listen. We wanted to model good teaching practices and move away from the ‘sit and get’ lecture format that large conferences and other professional development workshops tend to favor.

During our first google hangout, about halfway through the meeting, after we had talked about resources, chart paper, and getting people moving out of their seats, we realized that we were possibly headed in the wrong direction. We needed to think about who our main audience was, and what our space would be like.

We all worked on what we thought our strengths were and started there. Liz suggested the framework: “What, So What, Now What.” We worked on our parts and played with google presentation, so that we could collaborate on the same document. Then once we were more or less agreed on our slide deck, we transferred them to Power Point and shared it through our dropbox accounts.

I was happy to give the ‘So What’ part of the presentation as I am a person who will dive head first into anything if there is a clear and meaningful purpose. I can list many reasons why I believe in this format of professional development, but I’m not an expert, so I pulled experts where I could. Daniel Pink for motivation, Carol Dweck for mindset, Roland Barth for collegiality, and Sir Ken Robinson for teacher leadership and bottom-up approaches to things (in which he used the word ‘revolution’). We couldn’t be happier. Just for good measure, I threw in a quote by Albert Camus for people to reflect upon when they were leaving. I knew it might have been a little much, but there are those who love philosophy. Besides, the quote fit, which was what was important.

“Methods of thought which claim to give the lead to our world in the name of revolution have become, in reality, ideologies of consent and not of rebellion.”

I also agreed to try and go through our slide deck and try to give it a uniform look, while respecting the content of my colleagues. I’ll share my thoughts about Power Point in a later post, but all four of us came from the same place, so that was easy.

The four of us met several more times virtually, gave each other feedback, revised, edited, and finally met in person the day before to make our final tweaks.

I have to say, I was anxious. Public speaking is not my strength, but I believe strongly that I  have to push myself to do what I ask my students to do. I also believe that in order to get better at it, I have to do it.

Well, I’m glad I did it. To spread the word of something I believe in, to collaborate with such amazing educators, to push myself to try something new, to have my school recognized, and to learn, I’d do it again in a heartbeat. I’m glad to be back in my classroom, but glad to know when I say to my students, “I know what I’m asking you to do is hard, but it’s rewarding,” I can say so truthfully.

Thanks to Kim and Shannon for uploading our slides.

How to Pluralize the Word Octopus

Aside

This week, my students were puzzled with the plural of the word octopus. They campe across this question looking up various ocean animals. When they looked the word up in the dictionary, both octopuses and octopi were listed as plurals.

“Which one is it?” asked a student.

“Good question. I really don’t know,” I replied.

An interesting debate emerged among a few of the students when I asked them for the reason they had sided with one of the plural choices, each gave a reasonable response.

Etymology can be fascinating. As it turns out, octopus entered the English language in the 1700s and therefore took on the normal plural -es. Thus ‘octopuses.’ Apparently, grammarians at the time were trying to make English more predictable by using Latin endings and started using ‘octopi.’ Latin majors will argue about this as well. Something about 4th declension nouns, but I never took Latin, so it’s all Greek to me. Speaking of Greek, technically, the word octopus originated from Greek, and another group of grammarians pluralized it as ‘octopodes.’ This last form is found only in British English only and probably should be avoided.

Where did I learn this? You Tube!

That’s right. Directly from an associate editor at Merriam-Webster Online. The website is a nice resource and have several great videos that are perfect for kids who love words. They’re under two minutes long and a quick and easy way to get an expert into the classroom. The kids loved this short clip (especially the few that insisted on ‘octopuses’). When questions originates with the children, their motivation naturally increases. The resources available today are quite remarkable. The difficulty is sifting through it all.

One of my favorite titles in their series is, “Irregardless: It is in fact a real word (but it doesn’t mean you should use it.”

I think “octopodes” falls under that category. One of the things I love about teaching is learning new things with my students. Below is the video if you want to learn a little more.

Bill Gate’s Keynote at the 2012 NAISAC Annual Conference

Below is that video of Bill Gates’ Keynote Address at the NAIS Annual Conference on Thursday, March 1, 2012. You can read the transcript here.

Bill Gates talks about four main trends in his speech:

1) Creating engaging and interactive ways of learning rather than using the traditional text book.

2) Using the internet to find, use, and share resources among teachers. A new way to collaborate between and among teachers.

3) Using social networks in positive ways both to enhance the learning of teachers and students.

4) Using technology, game play, etc. to provide immediate feedback for teachers and students.

Bill Gates mentions that these are the things he hopes he’ll be seeing in 10 years across the country.However, according to Mr. Gates, it is already happening at leading schools. How much of a leader in these areas are your teachers and your schools?

Having a network and being connected can be a great thing. I was teaching on the day Bill Gates gave his keynote, but  was able to follow some of the conversation via twitter and recently alerted that the video and transcript of his speech were now available, something Mr. Gates had promised to share.

iBook Author App and “New” iPad Textbooks – Meh

I want to disclose two things before you continue reading this post:

1) I am not a fan of textbooks.

2) I am a fan of Apple products.

One reason I’m not big on textbooks is that it is often limiting, and the content is often produced in a linear way, even when it doesn’t have to be. Don’t get me wrong, I think text books can be a useful resource, but they should be used sparingly, and teachers need to customize their content with what works for their students. The few interactive texts that they are selling have some neat features, but they’re nothing to scream about. Resourceful students and teachers have been able to get that kind of content for free on the web. They’re better than the textbooks I used in high school, but the classes I learned the most were ones where teachers made us read articles in newspapers, periodicals, and literature.

The part that excited me most about Apple’s announcement was the “ibook author” that one could download for free from Apple. I played around with it this weekend to see if I could easily create ebooks, but more to see if it would be easy for kids 8 years old and up to use. The answer to that question is yes.

Here’s the problem: we’re not an Apple computer school, let alone an iPad school. A few of each float around, but not in a supply that would be accessible to most kids. One of the reasons I like Apple products is because they often just work right. They are well-designed in the sense that they do what they are supposed to do simply – use other software if you want to do more complicated things. The work well (most of the time), but that’s often only when you play within their own ecosystem.

If a student or I create an ebook (whether or not it has any interactive features), I want them and their peers to access these books in a myriad of formats such as a web browsers, Kindle, any pc or tablet. I can’t see myself spending time creating ebooks for my students that only work on one device unless a school adopts that device whole heartedly, and I don’t think right now they should. It’s too soon. There are many things great about an iPad. I’d be happy to get rid of the pcs in my room, reclaim that work space for students and have them use tablets at their tables, the rug, etc. Still, for little kids, I think it’s too soon. Perhaps, when I find the time, I’ll post a pros and cons list from what I’ve found in using an iPad in the classroom.

It’s promising for starters, and a bit more engaging than a standard textbook (which as I’ve mentioned I’m not a fan of), but for now, it’s just another delivery method for standard textbooks. It’d be great to have me or my students create ibooks, but with no macs and 1 iPad in my class, I’ll stick to creating web resources, and hopefully having kids create web resources for each other, as well. Those they can access anywhere online. I may change my mind, but for now, I’m underwhelmed.

You can watch Apple’s video/ad below.

How Can Like-Minded Teachers Network? Organize an EdCamp

Being a teacher means that, for the most part you spend most of your day in a classroom with students. The rest of the time, you’re planning, preparing, assessing, reflecting, writing student evaluations, communicating with parents, and so on. The only real time you have to collaborate with others are the few times you meet with certain teachers at your school that happen to be on the same committee or task force, same grade-level or subject area team, or meetings that involve the entire faculty. On the rare occasion, teachers may happen to have lunch together, but it’s usually for a mere 15 minutes. If teacher’s schedules are so convoluted that they can’t meet to collaborate as often as they want in their own schools, then how can teachers network with teachers outside their own school and share some of the things they are doing?

Conferences are one way. They are designed to gather like-minded professionals together in one place. Conferences, however, are expensive. Unlike some other professional conferences that may include a golf junket in the Caribbean, teacher conferences are usually held in large US cities that are easy to get to. In these lean times, though, the opportunities to attend conferences have diminished.

Even at conferences, you have to work hard at meeting teachers who are passionate about the same things. For an introvert like me, meeting others is very difficult. Over the past couple of years, though, networking has become easier. First, I have to thank my school for sending me to a number of conferences these past few years. I don’t get to attend everything. My school has to say no sometimes. Perhaps it’s because I ask to go to a lot. What can I say? I love to learn.

As a teacher, networking is something I’ve had to learn how to do, and it’s not easy. For good or bad, we now live in a connected world. That has made networking easier. You can interact asynchronously with others, and they don’t even have to be in the same city. Eventually you will be at a similar conference and exchange ideas face to face. I wasn’t sure what twitter was all about and decided to give it a whirl a little less than a year ago. After all, what could one learn in 140 characters. But it’s not about that. When I hit the publish button for this post, I will have also sent out a tweet. That tweet will only have the headline, but it will also include a url to this post. If you have the right twitter reader, you will automatically see a preview of this post as well.

Twitter has led to a great deal of things, and I’ve managed to meet a few teachers. One of them, Kim Sivick was listed as one of 2011’s National Association of Independent School’s “Teacher of the Future.” I’m not a teacher of the future but Kim was kind enough to ask to put my blog on her blogroll at Teachers of the Future. The current post on there, titled “Conferences of the Future,” is written by Liz Davis, someone else I met (first through twitter) who is one of the organizers of the ‘unconferenceedcampIS. It’s FREE! It’s also something that I’m really excited about helping to organize.

So even if your school budgets don’t allow you to attend everything you want to go to, there are teachers who recognize the need to network beyond tweets and blogs. If you’re going to be in Seattle for the NAISAC12 conference, you can spend around $500 to hear Bill Gates speak (actually I’d do it if I could afford it), or you can come to The Northwest School a couple of days after and listen to your passionate colleagues speak for free! Already registered are Teachers, Heads of Schools, Deans, Parents, Consultants, Educational non-profits, and more. We have 11 states, D.C., and one Canadian province represented. What are you waiting for? Register now at http://www.edcampis.org – It will be a great networking opportunity!

 

Is the “App Gap” the Next Achievement Gap?

What is too much screen time? An article in today’s nytimes tries to address some of the concerns, as well as point to the divide that some are saying is the next achievement gap.

I’m a huge proponent of technology, but if you visit my classroom, you may see me or my students using it as a tool from time to time. More often than not, we are usually more engaged in the physical world around us rather than the virtual one. Screen time is concern that many parents and teachers grapple with.

Like everything, technology has to be meaningful and purposeful, it needs to be used as a tool that helps with learning, and it has to be limited.

When thinking about how kids use technology, it should promote critical thinking (Do they know how to analyze their search results, or do they just trust the first thing that Bing or Google produce?). It should promote responsibility (Are they using it to learn?). It should also promote digital citizenry (Are they leaving a digital footprint that may help someone else?). Kids should be producing things more than consuming them. Students should always be asking more questions. Children should also be engaged by their curiosity.

When a child asks, “How do I change the font?” one should encourage them to explore. “If you were to design the program, how would you change the font?” is often how I respond, leaving them to experiment, “play,” and find out for themselves. There are often students who are more than eager to show others how to do things, and it’s really this kind of social interaction (in the real world) where great learning occurs.

There’s a huge difference in type of screen time such as TV, where children are passive compared with writing a final draft on a computer screen. Computers aren’t going away, and kids need to see how it can be used in ways to create and be curious. How we do this needs to be carefully thought through. As a teacher, when introducing a technology component, one has to ask: What skill is being lost (if any) when introducing a new tech tool into the classroom? What are the trade-offs?

There was a great article last week about the Waldorf School’s philosophy of “no tech.” My philosophy is that using technology is not an all-or-nothing endeavor. One needs to be thoughtful and deliberate about its use. If I thought an app could teach kids how to read, I’d be spending my time trying to create that app.

I have many more thoughts on this, but one thing I’m trying to do is not only teach my students how to evaluate the technology they use, but also to teach them how to turn it off.