What I'm Writing

What I’m Writing: December 2015

photo-1429051781835-9f2c0a9df6e4

Maximize Learning, Not Technology (ASCD EDge, October 2015)

In this promotional post for my new book, I highlight specific examples of how the necessary vs. nice dichotomy applies to classroom technology choices. For example, having one device for every learner in a classroom would be nice, but the lack of academic benefits identified with this type of initiative leads us to keep the ratio down in our own school. By identifying the purpose for the learning, schools are able to take a reasonable approach to the inclusion of digital tools in classrooms.

Online Learning Communities: Real Conversations, or Mere Connections? (Chalkup, December 1, 2015)

The concept of “community” has been redefined in the digital age. Whereas a 20th century understanding would have included some aspect of face-to-face interaction, today’s world does not. Google Hangouts, Voxer, and Facebook groups all seem to provide a sense of community, especially when focused around a specific topic. But do these interactions replace real conversations, which includes being in the physical presence of others?

BYOD in the Classroom: Necessary or Nice? (Middleweb, December 9, 2015)

BYOD, an acronym for “Bring Your Own Device”, garners many opinions. Technology purists might say that by not allowing every student to have access to a world of knowledge, we are depriving them of the necessary connections available. Traditionalists point to the distractibility of students when they bring their smartphones and tablets to class. This post highlights a specific situation where technology helps deepen student understanding in a secondary English classroom around a conceptual study of isolation.

A Principal Shares Tech Benefits for the 1:1 Skeptic (Ed Tech K-12, December 15, 2015)

One of the biggest myths out there in education is that every student needs to have access to mobile technology while at school. This idea pervades despite the evidence that young people’s abilities to read emotions and empathize with others is decreased the more they use social media via their smartphones. These online connections tend to replace in-person relationships. However, having one device per student can be necessary given the context of the learning. For example, students with dyslexia greatly benefit from word prediction software while reading.

A Better Resolution

My wife and I have plans to eat at a new restaurant soon. The owner has two other eateries in the area which we’ve enjoyed, so we are excited for this new experience. Friends of ours will be joining us, as this occasion is also in celebration of my wife’s birthday.

We don’t eat at one of these restaurants often, as this type of dining is more expensive than your standard fare. Even so, when I share with others how much we spend on one of these evenings out, they are sometimes surprised. “You could eat out for a lot cheaper elsewhere!” someone brought up. True. Yet we continue to come back to these establishments.

How we spend our limited time and our finite resources represents what we value. We bring joy to our lives through these experiences. They are about us. For example, I write because I enjoy writing. I find it both personally and professionally rewarding. My work benefits others, as what I share online has been found useful by educators. But I write more for myself.

Is this selfish? Some might think so. An article in the New York Times today discusses how many acts of gratitude are often self-serving and have little impact on those who actually need support and appreciation.

It’s good to express our thanks, of course, to those who deserve recognition. But this holiday gratitude is all about you, and how you can feel better.

Probably true, yet I don’t think the author had educators in mind when she composed this article.

Educating students is the lifework of teacher and administrators. We guide the marginalized and disadvantaged every day.  This profession we’ve chosen is one of the most selfless in the world. Depending on one’s beliefs, you could say we are doing God’s work every day. Do we need to give even more? Many of us do regardless. But I don’t think I am wrong in justifying that those who work in schools could benefit from a little self-indulgence.

So I am suggesting to all educators to make one resolution this year: Take care of yourselves. How might this look? Sleep in on the weekends. Watch a movie without a pile of papers to grade on your lap. Read a book that has nothing to do with school. Attend a rock concert. Eat at a fancy restaurant. Whatever you choose, do what makes you happy. You’ve earned it. That you will be a better educator for the time you take for yourself is gravy. As we prepare for a new year, I hope you make you a priority.

 

Advertisements
blog post

An Interview with Chalkup: Classroom Technology and Digital Portfolios

I recently connected with Chalkup to talk about classroom technology and how I’ve seen digital portfolios win in classrooms.

Big picture, what’s your philosophy on classroom technology?

Classroom technology, especially mobile and cloud-based, is still in its infancy. It seems like these devices and apps have been around for a long time, but it really has been only a couple of years. So, my philosophy right now is to select one or two things to try regarding technology integration in classrooms, and then do it really well. Introduce it to students, provide lots of modeling and guidance, share your celebrations and frustrations with colleagues, and then reflect on and refine your practice.

With everything being so new, just trying something out and modeling the innovation process is a benefit not only to you, but everyone around you and connected with you. They learn from your learning.

How does collaboration play a role in integrating classroom technology?

Collaboration is critical. It is not feasible to have one or two technology experts in a school to solve all of the technology integration issues that come up. Schools have to build “techpertise” within everyone in the building.

When the technology fails (and it will), who can I count on to help me in a pinch? Knowing who those go-to people are and how they can help you is a much more reliable model of technology support than the old system of calling the tech cadre when things go south.

Explain what digital portfolios are and how they benefit learning.

I define digital portfolios as online compilations of learning artifacts that allow students to represent their learning and reflect on their knowledge, skills, and dispositions in unique and differentiated ways. Whew – a long definition!

Here’s a concrete example: Think about a paper and pencil test you might have just given in class. Did it give each and every child in your room reasonable access to show what they know and are able to do? If not, then we need to rethink how that assessment could allow for all of our students to be successful. A digital portfolio can facilitate and house a variety of ways for learning to be assessed.

Instead of the paper and pencil test, could you record a student speaking the answers? This might not only help that student have equal access to conveying their understanding, it might actually augment the assessment process for you, the teacher, such as having no paperwork to take home. In addition, parents can also hear their child’s learning if it is shared with them through the portfolio tool, such as Evernote or FreshGrade. Rethinking how assessments are administered can have multiple benefits for those involved.

How were you first introduced to digital portfolios? What’s been your biggest success using these products in the classroom?

Our staff knew technology was coming, and we wanted to integrate these tools with thougtfulness and purpose. I learned about digital portfolios in the excellent ASCD resource Curriculum 21: Essential Education for a Changing World (2010), edited by Heidi Hayes Jacobs.

After reading the related chapter by David Niguidula, a pioneer in digital portfolios, I felt like this approach to technology integration was both doable and had the potential of making a powerful impact on student learning.

Our biggest success has been viewing them as products, and not the reason we are using them.

As an elementary principal, could you tell us how digital portfolios – or other tools – help keep your school connected?

Communication is the key to building trust and developing relationships. I’ve never had a parent complain that the school is communicating too much, especially the good stuff. When the school shares student learning on a regular basis via social media, digital portfolios, and other electronic means, families can see it taking place in real time. They don’t have to wait for conferences or portfolio night. Using the tools that parents are already familiar with, such as on smartphones as well as in print, honors all preferred methods of communication. As long as we follow privacy procedures for sharing information, being connected is a win-win for everyone.

What would be one tip for teachers integrating technology for the first time?

Share your learning journey with your students. This might be the first time in the history of education where the student have just as much access to essential knowledge and skills as the teacher. Use this to your advantage. Allow kids to be the drivers of learning in your classrooms, instead of just the recipients. They will surprise you with their intuition and creativity. Just as important, move yourself to the side of the assessment process, acting more as a coach instead of the “expert” in the classroom. School is more fun when everyone is a learner.

Digital_Portfolios