Friday, November 30, 2012

Comfort Zone

For fifteen years, I was a fourth grade teacher.  I came to understand the mind-set of nine and ten year olds and still appreciate their humor, sensitivity and intelligence.  I appreciated that I could have a meaningful conversation with these children who were quickly becoming young adults.  I enjoyed reading certain books with them and delighted in finding new titles as well.  I could probably teach fourth grade math in my sleep.  It is definitely my comfort zone.  As a teacher, I was confident in what I was doing, I had a fabulous teaching partner and I enjoyed my job.  So what pushed me to switch?

I came to realize last school year that I was too much in my comfort zone.  I needed to challenge myself to do something different, really different, to energize my teaching again.  In a nutshell, that was my reason for a big change to teaching First Grade.
How does this story relate to technology in any way?  Well, I made a huge decision to go outside my comfort zone and teach a new grade.  In doing so, I have found that I am open to trying lots of new things in the classroom now that I made that initial first jump.  I think using new technology in the classroom is very similar.  Once you take the first jump (and to make a difference in your teaching, I feel it HAS to be a jump, not a small step) it gets easier and easier to keep thinking about change and challenging yourself.  
As I was planning our Social Studies curriculum this week, I kept thinking about how the iPad could enhance the students’ learning.  They could teach each other things they are learning about the community, not only through a static research report, but through photos and videos.  Other students in the class might be more attentive to a photo or video presentation, therefore holding on to more that classmates are sharing with them.
We tried this with first looking at our school community this week.  After a brief class discussion of what is important to make a school community run smoothly, the students explored our campus and took pictures of what they thought was important.  It was interesting to see what children chose to photograph – people, buildings, artwork, projects in the hall, signs – most pairs took at least 20-30 photos in a 20 minute exploration of campus.

When they returned to the classroom, the real work began.  We had a brief guided exploration of Explain Everything and they were off!  Partnerships showed in a variety of ways what is important to them with their community.  All the projects are unique and very thoughtful.  Everyone had a voice and was able to express their thoughts and opinions.  We would not have had the same results if we just had a class discussion after a campus tour.  All the children were engaged and excited and learning.  What more could a teacher ask for?
Of course, the iPad will not be present in all of our projects and presentations.  We are still working out details on paper maps, clay figures and other “traditional” first grade work.  However, I am so glad that I decided to step outside my comfort zone and see what happened.  I have had to opportunity to try, fail at some things, and get back up to try again.  By taking that first jump, it’s easy to see how we can leap to the moon.

Monday, November 26, 2012

iPads en la Clase de Español

A couple of months ago, when we started thinking how we could use iPads in the Spanish room, we spent many hours looking for “the best Spanish app ever”. Soon we realized, that most of the Spanish apps for young students, were designed for very specific tasks, instead of inspiring creativity. Our Technology Coordinator, Jenni Voorhees, suggested using Book Creator and Drawing Box. Students were learning about “Animales del Oceano”, and we asked them to draw their favorite sea animals using Drawing Box, and use their pictures to create a book. After just four classes through the school year, MAGIC happened! The students started writing their own ideas in a second language! Foreign language teachers have often struggled to get their students to use the target language, especially in beginning stages; however, students were so engaged with the iPads, that they forgot they were writing in a second language! They wanted to express their ideas to make their own books! Not only did the iPads help them make “the  jump” from learning words to expressing themselves in Spanish, but they also promoted “teamwork” as students taught, collaborated and helped each other.

Weeks later, while learning about "Animales de la Granja" or farm animals, students worked with partners and described similarities and differences between two animals. This time, they used Sock Puppets, an app that allows you to choose two or three puppets, add a background, some extra-elements to set the stage, and record a conversation. Students take turns and switch the puppets while recording. Once the recording is finished, students can watch a video and listen to their recording with puppets’ voices. Sock Puppets is a great app to motivate your students to speak a second language while having a great time.

Another project that students enjoyed was La Ropa (clothing). Third graders had been learning clothing vocabulary for some time, but they were not using the vocabulary in conversations. During the EdTechTeacher iPad Summit, I had the pleasure to meet Beth Holland and asked her what her favorite open-ended app for a foreign language class was. She mentioned Fotobabble, which allows you to take pictures, embellish them (which students love!), and record audio. Students worked with a partner, decided what they were going to wear, added stickers and frames to their pictures, and recorded conversations describing what they were wearing. Again, magic happened, and we had very engaged third graders speaking Spanish without even thinking!

What I’ve learned: Foster creativity and collaboration, give clear guidelines, encourage using different tools (including the iPads), and get ready to see MAGIC in your Foreign Language classroom. Your students will teach you amazing things in a second language!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Space Junk

Teaching, Learning,  iPads and Space Junk
Several educators have asked me:

“Can you help me figure out how iPads can fit into my classroom curriculum?”  
The back of my iPad
I was emailed this question again this week and it made me flip over my own iPad looking for this sticker which I stuck on during the first week of our iPad program...over a year and a
half ago.  I would now replace my thinking about "teaching"
with "learning" since I'm not sure I want to create a classroom environment in which I am teaching to or filling up my students with content (I know that sounds like a vocabulary issue).  I do know that I want to create a classroom environment in
which we all are sharing our ideas, articulating our thinking, creating in unique and individual manners, digging into persistence, demonstrating understanding... generally
growing a culture of learning.

So how do iPads fit into a class curriculum?  No one ever asks how they can fit paper and pencils... or blocks...or a protractor...into their curriculum.  As educators, we try to turn our classrooms into places of learning (places that provoke and promote great thinking, creating, collaborating, problem solving, etc).  We provide the tools, structures, and routines to hopefully allow students and teachers and sometimes even parents to go about that learning.  As a kindergarten teacher, I have many varied tools in my classroom for a variety of learning goals including paper, pencils, and blocks.  I also have iPads.

This is how I now describe the way iPads “fit” into my curriculum:

iPads are not The Sun of our learning galaxy, they are just one of the planets in its orbit.  In other words, I don't put iPads at the center of every activity that I can.  Now that I have iPads available, everything does not revolve around their use. The Sun in this analogy is my classroom culture of learning and there are many planets (tools) in its orbit. In fact, the thing at the center of our classroom "universe" at any given time is the learning goal that I have set.  The tools I choose for the activity would be the planets.  The iPad might be the tool I (or the students) choose or it might not be.  Actually, this is a great place to replace that original question with what I'll call The First Step.  iPads are a great tool for learning - if you're still wondering about that check out Great Teaching is about the Process and The Challenge is On - you just need to take The First Step.  I like to refer to Dr. Ruben Putendura’s SAMR model. (Who doesn’t?).

The First Step is often easiest if you think about Substitution.  In our kindergarten class we used handwriting apps for our substitution step.  If you have older students, online research or writing might be a good choice for The First Step.

Keep all your planets in orbit around the galaxy of learning.  Now that you’ve taken The First Step, you and your students should be more comfortable and confident using this tool and ready to pull it out when and how it makes sense.  Using the SAMR model, you will find that iPads allow students alternate ways to share their thinking, demonstrate understanding, and go out of this world with creativity.

Apps are the space junk.  Ok, so this last part of my space analogy is a little bit out there... The apps really don’t matter!  If the iPads are one of the planets orbiting The Sun (learning), then the apps are all The Space Junk flying around the planets.

For example, there are many art apps that teachers can choose from.  It doesn’t really matter which one I choose as long as it works in my classroom.  We like Brushes and Drawing Box, but another teacher might find they prefer Scribble Press or Draw Free.  It doesn't matter which app works for me as long as I have been intentional in my app selection.  Also, some Space Junk is bigger than others - apps which should be orbiting every classroom (Book Creator, Evernote).  Sometimes Space Junk falls out of orbit and burns up in the atmosphere, meaning that sometimes an app no longer works and you just have to delete it.  In the end, it's really not about the apps at all.

We are not teaching children how to use iPads.  We are  creating a classroom culture of learning. Sometimes iPads are the right tool.  Sometimes they are not the right tool.  Students might start with paper and pencil and move on to iPads.  iPads might be just one part of a larger or longer process.  iPads might be the right tools for some students and not for others.  As with any tool we pull out in our classrooms, we need to think about what makes sense for the children and their learning. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Goal Setting...and Thanks

It's not New Year's (those ads start next week) but anytime is a good time to set goals.  Having something to aim for keeps one on the right path.  So what sort of goals could we, should we set for our 4th grade one to one iPAD program?  Since we first received approval, four words have seemed to capture the immediate possibility and potential of integrating this technology into our current curriculum:

Creativity, Collaboration, Independence, Assessment

Creativity being the capacity to produce ideas, processes, or products that are novel and useful or valuable, I hope integrating the iPads can help both teachers and students express their creativity in new ways.   I hope we think of more diverse, meaningful, and innovative educational experiences. I hope these experiences present interesting problems our kids are eager to solve in their own ways.  I hope our students surprise us by putting their own spin on the goals and expectations we set while discovering new talents and passions.  

Since collaboration and teamwork are and will continue to be essential skills out in the real world, I hope integrating the iPads can inspire true collaboration beyond us sticking students with a partner or a group.  I hope they realize they need each other to learn and enjoy learning from their peers.  I hope they have deeper experiences of multiple brains processing the same information and mulling over the same problem.  I hope they push each other to try new things. I hope they become each other’s most important teachers.  

My goal as a teacher is to be fondly remembered, but not needed.  I love to develop explorations and set up challenges, but I don’t want students to follow me to get to the “right” solution. I hope integrating iPads will help me do less leading and more guiding.  Teach people to fish and all of that.   I hope the iPads help us all feel comfortable enough to let go a little, to worry less, to explore more.  I hope students think of solutions I didn’t or couldn’t.  I hope they can take ever greater responsibility for their education and feel like powerful partners in our learning community.

We are having some great conversations about meaningful assessment these days.  I hope integrating iPads shows us more about students, how they learn, and what they can do.  I hope their strengths become even more visible, to themselves and to the adults in their lives.   I hope our classroom can document our processes more dynamically and share more thinking.  
I hope we teachers embrace more diverse ways to demonstrate competence as we move from a culture of "assessment of learning" to a culture of "assessment for learning".  I hope there are more opportunities to individualize and differentiate.  I hope in the end assessment means less about students meeting my expectations and more about them exceeding their own.   

Of course, creativity, collaboration, independence, and thoughtful assessment were already valued and happening throughout our school and in our classrooms before the iPads showed up.   However, these are the type of goals that can always be improved upon and reached to a greater degree.  Of course, the iPads will not do any of these things on their own.  However, in the hands of inspired teachers and motivated students they can become a powerful tool.   

Since returning from several recent conferences on iPads and learning and the brain, our faculty has been on fire with new ideas and new attitudes towards both teaching craft and student experience.  This Thanksgiving I am grateful to work in a dynamic educational environment with amazing people who are committed to elevating their own practices. In the process, they are both challenging and supporting me in my goal to become a better teacher. I am thankful to be having these experiences and conversations and to try many (or a few) new things. Pedagogy will continue to lead.  Technology will appropriately follow.  And may we all be a little further along in June.  

Monday, November 19, 2012

Just back from a great iPad conference, now what?

I am in my first year of using iPads in a fourth grade classroom and have just returned from the very energizing, exciting, and information-filled Leveraging Learning 2012It is all a bit overwhelming actually. I found most of the speakers' messages seemed to revolve around the idea that it is time to change the way you teach: make learning student centered, not teacher centered. However, the school year is moving along at its usual rapid pace and I do not want to wait to experiment while I reflect on all of the big ideas (mass customized learning, SAMR model, 21st century learning, and many others). Therefore I have decided to follow the advice of one of the most inspiring presenters, Jennie Mageira. She suggested:

1. Make lots of mistakes: pick one thing you learned here and do it. She talked about how everyone who presents at iPad conferences usually has made lots of mistakes on their journey. They make it look smooth and like they know just the right ways to create wonderful learning experiences for their students, but what they do not tell you about is all of the times that their plans did not work. That was actually really great to hear.

 2. Foster teacher leadership: as you do that one new thing, write about it, tell what it is like to be at the beginning of the journey.

 3. When in doubt, ask a student: set up a student "Genius Bar", they can figure it out. She has several students play with a new app that she is thinking of using. Once they have had some time with it she has them go out to the other students in her classroom and teach them how to use it. This is allowing her students to take charge of their own learning. When my students have been working on the iPads I have noticed how quickly they figure out who can help them solve any problems that they encounter. They quickly figure out that it is usually not the teacher, more often it is a classmate.

So, as I return to my classroom, I will be busy trying my first experiment based on what I learned at the conference: to provide students feedback on their handwritten pieces by using several different apps (docAS lite and showbie). Nothing very revolutionary, but it feels like a good first step.

Thursday, November 15, 2012


We're thinking about replacing the word “assessment” with the word “documentation.”  As one of my fellow teachers (thank you Monica!) often says... there can be good assessment and there can be bad assessment.  Assessment (as in testing) is generally one-sided: teachers give assessments to students to test understanding of specific material in order to provide data for our school grading environments.  Let's call this type of classroom culture the Assessment Culture.

Assessment Culture classrooms let students get really good at two things:
1. Figuring out what the teachers want and producing that 
2.  Memorizing algorithms and facts to spit out on tests

It's time for a new classroom culture - we should try to create a classroom that has a culture of thinking, creating, and learning.  A great place to start is by allowing time for reflection on all parts of a student's (and teacher's) learning process.  Let's call this type of classroom culture the Documentation CultureOf course, there's still room to collect data for assessment purposes through documentation.

How do we create a classroom culture that includes documentation?  To start, teachers need to have handy a variety of tools, habits, and practices that will allow all members of a classroom community to document.  (And not just documentation of finished work, but documentation of their learning from start to desired learning outcome and all the problem solving, chaos, and mistakes that happen along the way)  Students and Teachers should practice the skills that accompany documentation: observing, recording, interpreting, sharing, building explanations, growing as learners.  Think of it as visible listening.

 iPads are a great tool for documentation and not just because there are so many great apps.  The great thing about iPads is that they provide an instant and easy way to routinely document - using the camera, audio, and video.

Here are some ways to create a classroom culture of documentation.
Evernote: start by setting up a folder for each student and keeping your iPad handy.  Use Evernote to photograph, record, or take notes on your students' learning. Take photos in the middle of a lesson or record a collaborative conversation.  Allow students to record their thinking or brainstorming as they approach a project.  Think about how powerful it would be to document the earliest stages of student planning for a project - to have records of how a student might approach a challenge.  Don’t collect pictures of just their finished products.  My kindergarten students share the responsibility of documenting their work for their folders.  They are starting to recognize good thinking and ask to have it documented (and can even do the legwork for me using the camera).

Camera Roll:  The Camera Roll is one of our favorites - the unsung hero! Students take pictures of their work or of their partner’s work.  In my classroom, the students either put their name card or themselves in the photo so that I can identify it later (and perhaps add it to their Evernote folder or ask them to explain their thinking). 

Audio features: We use Book Creator, Notes (iPad 3), video camera, and Evernote so that students can articulate their thinking without the constraints of writing mechanics or reticence over sharing with a peer or the teacher. 

Reflection Journals:  Using Book Creator or Paper 53 set up a weekly time to allow students the opportunity to reflect.  Artistic expression, digital art included, is a form of reasoning called visual thinking.  These journals are a place for that thinking and reflecting to take place. To make these reflection journals something that will really push students’ thinking and advance their understanding, students shouldn't just be asked to reflect and then handed iPads while the teachers wait for the thinking to flow freely.  Teachers need to think carefully about what they want the students to reflect uponWe reflect on: Stories we either read aloud or share orally, themes or connections we make during storytime, the meaning of a poem the class had shared, a shared experience we have had as a class community. The wonderful thing about doing this on an iPad is that you can fit in the weekly reflection time without having to allow for time consuming set up.

Explain Everything:  The (not so) new champ for making thinking and learning visible is Explain Everything.  This app should be on every student iPad.  Ask students to explain a lesson or demonstrate their understanding of a topic or process.  Students can use pictures, drawings, and movement to create films which they can narrate.  They can create a film that retells a class field trip using photos and their own narrative.  A small group of students could use this app to "teach” a math challenge or to make a problem solving video.

There are many other apps and ways that documentation can be accomplished with ipads - this is just a starting point.  teachers need to think about how assessment can and should be a part of your classroom culture of thinking.  Teach your students to recognize what their own thinking looks like.  open them up to understanding/refining their own learning. 

Flying to China

Since our 4th grade Ancient and Modern China curriculum was implemented, a "flight to China" component has often been included.  Google Earth is a tool many teachers were familiar with, and both the Smartboard and netbooks have been effective in using it to explore the geographic landscape.  I am not that familiar with the program and all of its capabilities, but I have a new Nike approach to teaching with technology ("Just Do It").  So I showed my trusty Powerpoint on why we study geography and ended with two exploration questions for them to use while they looked at China on Google Earth with their iPads:  "What barriers do you see that would have made traveling to China in ancient times difficult?"  and "Where was China the most vulnerable?" 

It worked well (with only one kid who kept looking for his house instead.).  They explored the boundaries, found the Himalayas, determined darker blue water was deeper, found the bulk of people and cities along the Eastern coast, decided the north was a good place to attack from (Who said attack? This is a Quaker school!), and figured that was where we would find the Great Wall.  Good times! Now what?   

We have a bunch of other activities in landform development and mapmaking coming up, but I would like to keep using this app too.  One plan is to use it while making our 3-D plaster terrain maps.  They can use it to determine where to place the mountains, valleys, and other features. The variety of community pictures of the places we study is very cool.  I have found tours of Mt. Everest and other peaks. What other things are there "tours" of?  Any other ideas about how to integrate Google Earth into our geography study? 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

We Have iPads at our School - Now what? (The Practical Side of Using iPads in the Classroom...)

This is my first year with iPads in my classroom. I had used the device before at home, but have to admit that even though I was excited and ready to use it in my classroom, I wasn't sure where to begin. As I have talked to teachers at different schools, I have found that I am not alone. Some teachers are excited, some are nervous and many aren't sure where to begin. So I thought I could help by talking about some simple ways that I have found to integrate the iPad into classroom routines and lessons.

1. Documenting Student Work (by the teacher)

A colleague of mine, Denise Coffin, was gushing about Evernote and how it changed her life in the classroom. I wasn't familiar with Evernote, but since she was so enthusiastic about it, I started playing around with it.  She was right. Evernote is the best tool for documenting student work and teacher observations all in one place. I was one of those teachers who took some notes, had some assessments, but left a lot of my thinking about students in my head. I didn't always write things down when they happened, so I had to rely on what I remembered sometimes several days or weeks after the event. It worked to a point, but I know that I missed some things. Now that I have started using Evernote, I have "at the moment" observations, pictures of student work and student reflections all in the same place. 

I have to admit, it took some time to set up the folders so I could easily keep track of kids. It was totally worth the effort. Basically, I went to a training session with our Tech Director, Jenni Voorhees, and she showed us how to set up folders and share them with other teachers. (This is the part that took a while.) Once that was done, however, my teaching partner and I can see all the notes that either one of us writes about a particular student.  (At our school, we team teach, so there are two teachers in every classroom.) I started by taking pictures of student work during math time.  Once I had the picture in place, I had the students talk about what they were doing and now have an audio file connected to the picture. These are not the greatest notes, but it is a genuine reflection by the student about their work! Since then, my teaching partner and I have started to divide up the students by day, so we are getting some documentation on every student at least once per week.  I know my colleague who first told me about this amazing app has more documentation on all the kids, and probably a better sytem for recording work, but she's been using Evernote for a much longer time than me!

2. Documenting Student Work (by the students)

This might be the easiest way to get kids comfortable (and in turn become more comfortable yourself!) with using iPads on a daily basis.  Once students learn how to use the camera, which really is about a 2 minute tutorial for them, kids can begin to take photos of their work or take a video of themselves or their classmates working on a project.  The videos and photos are saved to the camera roll. If your school has set up an email account for your class, then your students can email you their work. If not, you can set up a Dropbox account and kids can save the work there for you to look at later. Of course, sometimes the kids want to take pictures of things you don't really need a picture of for your records. In that case, great! Let them click away - pictures can always be deleted in the future. Making sure the kids feel ownership of taking care of class iPads and are responsible for managing the pictures and videos on the iPad is essential. 

3. Extensions for kids who are finished early

We all have those moments when students come to us with, "I'm done! What do I do now?" Sometimes  we have the next step for them to complete and sometimes we don't. If you introduce a few problem solving apps to the class early on, then kids can know that is an option for them. Giving students the time for a guided discovery and discussion of the app first allows for questions and problem solving as a group and less problems when students try out the app on their own.  Currently, my favorites are Slice It!, Math Doodles, Symmetry Shuffle, Kickbox and Opposites. I haven't introduced these all to the class yet, but hope to soon!

4. Allowing for Differentiation 
This may be one of the best reasons for having an iPad in the classroom.  The iPad is a unique device that allows students to have some independence and help at the same time. For example, we asked students in our class to write about something they like to do in the fall as a journal entry one day. One little boy came up and told us a wonderful story about playing in the leaves with his siblings. It had a purpose, details and a clear voice. Just what a teacher wants! However, when this same little boy went to write his story, he came back with one sentence. The physical act of writing was just too difficult for him right now. However, it wasn't a problem because he was able to take an iPad, tell his story into it (just by taking a video) and then we could sit down with him and review the video. He could see and hear that he had wonderful details, and was then willing to take another shot at writing. iPads allow students who need another way to show their thinking an avenue to show teachers what they know. All students need to learn to write, and the little boy in the example will learn, but he has a crutch now when he needs it to help him along that path.

5. Let go and Let the Kids lead the Way

Students in my class have been using iPads in the classroom since last year.  They came in mostly comfortable with the devices and enjoyed using them right away. The first time we took them out, I was really nervous. What happened if they dropped the device? They are 6 and 7 year old kids - that was a legitimate concern. I also felt the need to have a "project" in mind. This is where I think many teachers approach technology - why use it unless you have a "project" to do? This is a switch that I have started to make in my thinking as I am becoming more comfortable living with the iPads in our classroom. There isn't the need for a "project". You have to start thinking about how the students in your class can use the devices when they need to, when it makes sense.  For kids, this device is intuitive. They figure things out and mash up apps in ways that we adults would never think of. It's hard to let go of the control, but once you do, it's amazing to see what your students can create. Some of it isn't pretty, and there are certainly times when there is a lot of chaos in the room, but in the end, students are taking risks and learning from their mistakes.  

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

iPAD, What Have You Done For Me Lately?

It must be hard being a new piece of classroom technology.  Wary teachers give you the side eye and are all like, “You better not be more work.”  Salivating children lunge at first glimpse, “Letmeathim, LETMEATHIM!”  The old technology gathers dust in the corner grumbling about life back in their day.  And there you are, new kid on the block, eager to get to work and crossing your fingers nobody breaks you. At least the first week.

It occurred to me last week that I have always taught in a one to one technology program.  Seven years ago, when I began teaching 4th grade, we had Alphasmarts.  I had actually filed Alphasmarts way back in the recesses of my memory and forgotten they ever existed until someone mentioned them (laughed about them) recently.  Remember how the letters typed themselves during the data transfer?  So funny!  

After the Alphasmarts came netbooks. Little computers are totally adorable. And they are functional.  Except when they take forever to boot up.  Or the operating system contains mysteries never to be revealed, especially where it hid that all important, saved incorrectly file.  More a logistical solution to providing an affordable way to type stories, in no way did any netbook revolutionize my classroom.   Sure, I would have been glad to get an updated set, but nothing would have changed.  Instead, we got iPads.

Having a one to one iPad program feels pretty fashionable.  But I am not Diane von Furstenberg and this isn’t New York.  I teach.  I need these things to help my kids learn.  This time will it really be different?  Or in 3 years will I just be rolling my eyes at our naivete?  

This time certainly feels different.  People keep saying, “It’s not about the iPad.”  But in many ways for me it is.  I was just introduced to the SAMR model of technology integration where projects can be visualized on progressive levels from substitution to augmentation to modification to redefinition.   With both alphasmarts and netbooks, we never got past the substitution stage.  Students typed their work, drew some digital pictures, and surfed the web.  Creative projects always required borrowing a “real” laptop set or me, the teacher, finishing things up on my own.   The requirements to make something with video or audio felt insurmountable.  I couldn’t problem solve or trouble shoot, and I wasn’t brave enough to give students’ the freedom to figure it out for themselves.  I am sure the netbooks could have done more, but it seemed like too much work to overcome their limitations.  There was no creativity, no real collaboration, and perhaps most detrimental to my students’ experience, no independence or ownership.

In the two months since we have received our iPads, things are already looking up.   It was easy to start with making reasonable substitutions where it made sense.   Some projects that we thought were just substitution become augmented when the kids put their creative spin on things.  Modification ideas are turning up in every corner as we plan our curriculum for the year.  And the other day I experienced true redefinition when my students were able to teach themselves how to use Explain Everything to make a problem solving video.  I never imagined being able to have that experience with my kids and it turned out to be so easy.

What I am most impressed with is how the intuitiveness of the iPad and the simplicity of its interface has removed me, my fears, and my inadequacies from the process.  Now my kids don’t need me to walk them through every little step as I bite my nails hoping they don’t get lost in the computer or press some button combination that causes the screen to go black.  With the cloud and integrated apps we don’t need a lot of cords to transfer files from here to there.  There is magic in the seamlessness.  Students are constantly making decisions about how to improve their work or enhance their experience.  Half of the time they are teaching me how to use new programs and 100% of the time I can let them teach each other.  That’s creativity.  That’s collaboration.  That’s independence and ownership.  It’s time to stop asking what the iPads can do for me.  And maybe what I can do for them is just get out of the way.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

iPad Summit - Not All About the Technology

Last week a group of teachers traveled to Boston to attend the iPad Summit, and since we have returned I have been asked many times, “So what did you learn?  Did you find out about some good apps?”  Refreshingly, I am able to answer that the summit was not all about apps and technology.  For me, it was about learning, how education is changing rapidly, and finally how technology can help kids and teachers achieve their goals. 

I was inspired by many speakers talking about the redefinition of learning.  Before, people went to school to get information because schools, teachers and professors held the knowledge, and schools were the place to find it.  Now, information is everywhere.  If you want to know something, there are easy ways to look it up.  Information is no longer the reason to go to school.  Schools now need to help students figure out what to do with the information.  What can you create?  How can you build on the information received?  How do we help children become resilient when faced with failure? 

The last point in many presentations was almost a side note – how does technology fit in?  It may seem odd that technology was not the main event, but I think that was the point these innovators in education were trying to make.  Don’t use technology because someone in your school bought iPads for student use.  If that is your reason for using them, then perhaps you should leave the iPads in the closet.  However, if you see a student struggling, and technology can help that student share their thinking, then embrace it!  If you can see that students have a different way to show what they are learning, by all means, again, embrace the technology.  In a profession where most teachers are used to having a level of control over what happens in the classroom, it can be a scary proposition.  How can teachers let go and trust that the students will fly?  That is the change in our school culture that we need to embrace if we want our students to become the leaders and innovators of tomorrow. 

I want to thank Tony Wagner, Greg Kulowiec and the many other presenters in Boston that challenged me last week to really think about the way I interact with students and bring out the best them!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

On Becoming Innovators - Failure is Mandatory

This week a team of seven Sidwell Lower School teachers went to Boston to participate in EdTechTeacher's first iPad Summit USA. The two day intensive on iPads in education began with a keynote from Tony Wagner, the author of Creating Innovators, among other books. He began with the reminder that our students must create jobs in the future that don't exist now. He ended with a caution that there is clearly reason to be concerned about unrestricted "screentime" for our children. (But did not elaborate on what constitutes screentime-passive consumption of media, active gaming, socializing, creative composition of original works, or all of the above?)

What became my theme for the conference however, was the middle of his engaging talk and reinforced in Tom Daccord's sessions and keynotes: How can anyone become an innovator when our culture of schooling emphasizes failure and creates risk-aversion among students and teachers?

Wagner said that in his research for his book, he found that across the board, innovators make mistakes and learn from them. Innovators (and life-long learners, which we all say we are working to create in our students) don't look at mistakes, missing the mark, or setbacks as failure, but as one more iteration - making mistakes, learning from them, trying something else is the most valuable part of their learning process. 

Tom Daccord shared his mantra: “Failure is...mandatory" in his discussion of school culture, both for teachers and students. He argues that it is through those failures that we learn and document best practices. The celebration of failure and risk-taking as a step towards growth requires a culture of trust and respect between teachers and students. We can only hope to encourage risk-taking, new ideas, and unexpected growth, in an environment where it is clear that failure, followed by reflection, is not only expected, but celebrated through honest conversation, encouragement, and positive feedback. 

As teachers, we all know that the first time we teach something, it is a dress rehearsal for the next time, and each iteration of the lesson gets stronger as we work out the kinks. Even when we think we have a perfect lesson planned, the students step in and change it in unexpected ways. Why are we so sure that we know the ultimate method of presenting ideas and concepts? 

Tom Daccord also shared the mantra of the Singapore school system, which states simply:
“Teach less, learn more”
Perhaps it is time for us as teachers to become risk-taking innovators who not only don't fear failure, but embrace it, who don't consider ourselves the only source of knowledge, but let go the reins and allow the students take to charge of their learning and to share in the teaching. Thus we will all become the innovators the future needs.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Great teaching is about the process, not the product

iPads fit perfectly into teaching thinking, creativity, and problem solving because they allow for a unique and thought-filled process.  Teachers who give assignments and expect products will create one type of student - the type who knows he/she just needs to figure out what the teacher wants.

Teachers who send students on journeys where they get to demonstrate understanding, think flexibly / creatively, see things from differing viewpoints, make connections, teach others, practice persistence, experience struggle, and articulate their thinking create one type of student - the type who knows that it is the thinking itself that is valued.


What happens when something goes wrong?  An iPad is a piece of technology after all, so something will go wrong sooner or later.  When a student loses a project or an app crashes it's important to remember that just the project was lost.  The student still has his knowledge, his creativity, his thinking. He has still been on a journey of learning.  It's just the product that was lost - not the process.

iPads are not the answer to every educational challenge or opportunity.  Just because a device is great doesn't mean it's worth giving to a child for educational purposes (Mike Muir, 2011).  This is true of any tool we use in our classrooms.  However, iPads do allow for varied, individual, and creative thinking opportunities for a wide range of students. It's not about whether this is the right tool, it's about when is this the right tool, and how can teachers use it effectively.  In other words, educators need to remember that the iPad can be a tool to teach thinking.  It should be used to help students think and learn and not to provide just another way to deliver a product.