What I'm Thinking

Three Takeaways from #ISTE2018

100 Word Stories

Highlighted in a poster session Sunday evening, a retired teacher decided to stay involved in education by posting a weekly writing prompt online. This free prompt might be a phrase, a sentence, or even an image. Students then write a story based on that prompt in only 100 words. This teacher organizes and posts students’ shared stories via Kidblog and Edublogs in one space for anyone to comment on their writing.

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Clips App

This native app for iOS was initially just a way to add closed captioning to video. During a session about Swift Playground (an Apple coding application), the presenters – all secondary teachers – shared that they have their students post their coding projects into Clips. The features available as of its most recent update are impressive and allow for creative performance tasks. You can record audio over images and videos, annotate images from your Photos library, lay a soundtrack over your multimedia, and add stickers to the content you record. Think iMovie only easier.

Clips app for iOS

Andy Weir Keynote

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Andy Weir at his book signing after the keynote

The author of The Martian and Artemis was interviewed by a local literacy education professor during the Tuesday morning keynote. Weir was authentic and humorous as he recounted his journey from a college drop out to software engineer to best-selling science fiction writer. As a young kid, Weir wrote Beverly Cleary fan fiction (yes, you read that right). In high school, he worked for a local science lab cleaning out test tubes. One of the administrators there asked him to learn how to program a computer to keep track of their data. All he was provided was a manual. Weir’s appreciation for problem-solving found a home in software engineering at that point.

Although he decided to pursue this vocation over studies and a career as an author, he never lost his interest in writing. He wrote multiple serials online on a personal website while debugging code for AOL. It was during this time that he wrote The Martian. A chapter went up every six to eight weeks. Once the story was complete, readers asked him to put together all of the chapters into an actual eBook people could download and read on their tablets. This led to posting The Martian on Amazon for 99¢ (they wouldn’t let you give anything away for free). His book rose the best seller list, and the rest is history…

Reflection: Expect the Unexpected

The digital boat show that is ISTE (to quote an anonymous colleague) was quite an experience. I am glad I went to the edtech convention despite my previous reservations. Still, the mere size of the event was often overwhelming. I felt obligated to get in line a half hour early for a session I had already registered for out of concern that I would not be able to get into due to popular demand. And I am not going to even address the expo itself, a place one could easily spend a day meeting technology providers and companies.

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As I thought about the three takeaways from ISTE, one common thread I discovered was that what I learned was not what I had expected going in. Before I explain, let me provide an analogy.

My wife and I recently stayed at a spa for our 15th anniversary. (It is actually our 16th anniversary, but who’s counting.) One reason we like this location is their firm rule on no electronics on the grounds. No smartphones, tablets, laptops, even e-readers. The first time we stayed there, I fretted about not having access to Twitter, email, or my digital newspaper subscriptions. After our stay, I appreciated the opportunity to be offline. This time, I looked forward to our technology sabbatical.

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During our stay, I was waiting downstairs in the lobby to ask a basic question from the staff. One of the spa employees came up to me and asked, “Are you here for the guided hike?” At first, I said “no”. My next thought was that my wife and I would love a guided hike around the grounds. I told the staff member to hold tight while I went upstairs to grab my wife (it would have been nice to have a smartphone at that point). Anyway, an uneventful visit to the lobby led to a fun and educational hike with other guests as we learned about the local flora and fauna.

So what does this have to do with ISTE, the conference for technology in education? The fact is, I had come with specific expectations. This was a big, national conference. Lines trailed along the hallways, waiting for sessions that wouldn’t open up for twenty minutes. Every workshop seemed to promise new ideas and possibilities. The time, expenses, and stress of attending ISTE would, in my mind, be worth the effort.

By keeping an open mind about the limits of any learning experience, I was able to capture the diamonds in the rough.  From the expo to the keynotes and sessions, there was much to capture our attention. Yet the seeds of possibility presented themselves when I looked for any idea that might spark innovation in my school vs. a specific tool or task. When I discovered the 100-word stories concept, I was simply browsing poster sessions. When I learned about the improvements to Clips, it was only a side note for the focus of the session. When I listened to Andy Weir’s keynote, I was pleasantly surprised to hear about his writing process instead of all the technical details of his research.

In an educational world that demands specific outcomes of learning, the most refreshing part about ISTE was the gathering of so many people and ideas in one place. It’s not possible to experience the whole thing. I’m not even sure I will go back anytime soon. Yet the concept of bringing many passionate educators together with the sole purpose of sharing potentially better practices through the lens of technology excites me about the future of teaching and learning. By expecting the unexpected, or in other words, by holding my preconceived notions at bay, I was able to appreciate ideas when they presented themselves. This approach seems like an appropriate mindset for any learning experience.

 

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What I'm Writing

Looking to the Future: Assessing Innovation in the Classroom (A new eBook from @FreshGrade)

Screen Shot 2018-03-10 at 9.06.19 AMOne of the most pressing questions I hear from teachers is: How do I guide my students to create and innovate in the classroom while still meeting education’s expectations? We feel this push, both internally and externally, to get students to reach certain levels of success. But what do we lose in the process?

Looking to the Future: Assessing Innovation in the Classroom, a free resource from FreshGrade, explores this challenge. In my new eBook, I break down this inquiry into three guiding questions:

1. Why should we assess innovation?

2. What if we could engage students in learning and help them achieve in school?

3. How might we assess innovation in education?

During the writing process of this book, I came across a few insights.

  • Meeting standards and proficiency levels are not enough. We have a real crisis in education: the longer students are in school, the less engaged they are in learning. This issue should be as or more important than how a school is faring on their standardized test scores. To increase engagement, we have to rethink instruction. A starting point would be to open up a part of our day for student choice and voice. Innovative learning opportunities for this work include Genius Hour, coding and gaming, and making and tinkering. Each approach is covered in depth in this new eBook.
  • The future will be most friendly to the question-askers. Problem-solving is a critical skill to develop with kids. But it is not enough in a world awash in information yet still lacking deep knowledge. Knowledge, meaning true understanding of big issues and concepts, is developed in people when they explore personal questions of importance. They follow these inquiries because they are passionate about the topics. That’s why students have to be taught how to question, develop a plan, and follow an investigation to an acceptable outcome, in addition to solving pre-determined problems. A template for self-directed learning is provided in the eBook.
  • Facilitating innovation in the classroom is a nonlinear process. How do you remember being taught the scientific method? A linear, logical process, right? I believe through my own research and experiences that this is inaccurate. Most inquiry-based learning experiences, whether in science or any other disciplines, is nonlinear. Questions are revisited based on new findings. Outcomes are sometimes a starting point for a new investigation. If we can think of innovation in the classroom as a process, it would be a more circuitous, continuous experience.

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My hope for readers of this eBook is they walk away with assessment strategies and planning tools to facilitate innovation in the classroom. Specifically, you will find:

  • Vignettes from real classrooms exploring Genius Hour, coding, and making
  • A crosswalk between these practices and the ISTE Student Standards
  • Templates to prepare for innovating in the classroom and self-directed learning
  • Ideas for assessing innovation in the classroom using FreshGrade, a digital portfolio tool

As the adage goes, there’s no time like the present. Download my free eBook Looking to the Future: Assessing Innovation in the Classroom today and start planning for Monday. Your students will thank you!

 

What I'm Feeling

There is no such thing as an “Education Company”

Colleagues sent me a link to the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) webpage. The next convention is in Chicago, not far from where I live. “It’s not going to get any closer to us!” remarked one person.

The web banner promoting the next ISTE convention proclaimed the following statistics:

16,000 Educators

550 Education Companies

Endless Learning

Ugh.

There is no such thing as an education company. It is a contradiction in terms. Companies are focused on making money. Yes, some might have collective values in which they are committed to student learning and prioritize people in their actions. But their bottom line is making money. Not necessarily a bad thing, but there is a clear distinction. Education is/should be about guiding learners to help them realize their passions and potential.

There are technology companies, publishing companies, textbook companies, professional development companies, even educational product companies. In full disclosure, I partner with a number of these types of organizations. But there is no such as thing as an education company. Let’s do our best to remind ourselves of this fact as we decide what resources will best serve our students today and in the future.