Monday, July 28, 2014

My Best Thinking Right Now

When I was taking my first class for my Masters' degree back in 2004 or so, our professor, Dr. John Van Dyk, asked us to craft a concise, personal faith statement and philosophy of education. This was a challenging task for me at that time, but it was so valuable. I eventually posted it on my school website as a way of helping parents understand where I was coming from.

John invited us to share our statements in class if we were willing. I was thankful that he also shared his own, and I especially loved the title he gave to his. In fact, I loved it so much, I asked if I could borrow it as a title for my own:

"My Somewhat-Tentative, Though Pretty-Sure-Most-of-the-Time, 
Open-to-Revision, and Somewhere-on-the-Road-to-Sanctification 
Statement of Faith and Philosophy of Education"

That seems about right, doesn't it? I love this because it acknowledges three truths:

  1. I am striving to continually learn and (hopefully) grow, so my thinking and beliefs might change over time.
  2. That said, I am quite confident of my thinking at this point, even though it may change in the future.
  3. I will never have it all figured out on this side of glory...but that doesn't mean I shouldn't keep working, learning, and developing.
And honestly, that's what I'm trying to do with this blog. The intention is to share "my best thinking right now" with an audience that can give me feedback, encouragement, pushback, and affirmation in turns.

So I finally got around to creating an "About this Blog" page that hopefully acknowledges and explains my purposes for the writing here.


As a final note, and in case you are reading this, John:

I am so thankful for John's influence in my professional life. Certainly there have been a great number of educators who have left fingerprints on my teaching practice, but if I had to choose one person who has had the greatest impact on the way I think about the integral nature of faith and learning, it is Dr. John Van Dyk. His influence on both how I understand the craft of teaching as well as how I carry it out in my classroom is pervasive. Thank you, John, for your encouragement to teach well! 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

#GreatTeachers are #alwayslearning

Over the past year, I've been working to build a new hashtag on Twitter that I may or may not eventually try to launch into a chat. (My Twitterfriends Rik Rowe and Jim Cordery have been very encouraging in this regard!) The hashtag is #GreatTeachers, and I use it to post pithy descriptors of what I view as great teaching. (Tricky, because I am not so big-headed to think I'm a "great teacher"...but I do think I'm a good teacher--maybe even with moments of greatness--and I am always trying to learn, and get better, and hopefully get closer to being "great.")

It is in that light that I tweeted the following earlier today:

I had some retweets, favorites, and comments in response. (That is always so affirming!) The best comment? One from my chemistry-teaching Twitterfriend, Safia. In a series of tweets, she shared this in response:

Saturday, July 19, 2014

10 Ways to Use Social Networks as a Teaching Tool

In my last post, I shared a story as an example of how I learn from my PLN. I use Twitter as a key part of my PLN--I'm there to interact with other educators, to share ideas and resources, and to learn. Twitter (and other social networks) seem like a perfect fit for learning, but perhaps best for informal, personalized, just-in-time learning. This has me thinking and wondering about how well social media fits as a teaching tool. Can social networks be used for formal, whole-group, structured learning as well?

Image via Garrett Heath [CC BY 2.0]

Friday, July 18, 2014

Using Social Networks as a Learning Tool

I love Twitter. If I had to pick one tool as the linchpin of my PLE, it would have to be Twitter. It's such a great way to learn about topics you find personally or professionally interesting--as long as you can find a hashtag to follow. It's also a great way to connect with other educators who share your interests. I--like many thousands of other educators--use Twitter for my own learning. But how can social networks be used as a teaching tool? Twitter seems ideal for informal, self-directed learning. But how well does it work as a formal, teacher-directed learning tool?

 Since I love learning via Twitter, I put this question to my PLN:
I also tweeted the request specifically to some thought leaders in EdTech and innovative education whom I thought might have some ideas and resources for me, including Scott McLeod, Kevin Honeycutt, George Couros, Wesley Fryer, Alice Keeler, Rick Wormeli, and Eric Sheninger. Some of these wonderful people had specific examples off the top of their heads and shared links. Others referred me to colleagues on Twitter who had stories they could share. Most retweeted my request to their own huge followings. What happened next was fantastic.

Honoring Orville

I am a bibliophile.

I was talking with a friend yesterday who uses the Kindle app on his iPad for almost all of his reading today. You would think that I might too, given how techie I am.

But I don't.

Give me a real book. In fact, give me a stack. Give me a library.

I actually have a stack of new books sitting here in my office that I intended to read this summer, but now that summer is half over, it's looking unlikely that I'll read them all.

But I did grab one, just to get started. It was the smallest and shortest book in the stack. The title? Orbiting the Giant Hairball, by Gordon MacKenzie. I read it in one evening.

My summer reading stack, and the one I chose to read first.

It is a lovely book.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Meaningful Learning

I just came across this image in a SlideShare presentation by Catherine Cronin:

This image is a screencap from a presentation by Catherine Cronin (@CatherineCronin.)
Used with permission.
As I reflect on how I conduct my teaching practice, this is so much of what I'm striving for with my own students.

Yes, there are still facts students need to commit to memory.

Yes, there are basic skills students need to practice toward mastery.

Yes, there is a time and a place for drill and practice.

But overall, I think learning is more meaningful when we get beyond these "just the facts" approaches.

Think about your own learning preferences, teacher. Do you learn the most from sit-and-get professional development? Or are you more engaged when you have the chance to discuss and interact with fellow learners? Collaborate in working toward a goal? Thoughtfully reflect on readings and conversations?

Recognize that your students may have different needs than you do as a learner because of their age...but how satisfied would you be with learning if it was always...
  • reproducing someone else's ideas, 
  • receiving other people's thinking about ideas, 
  • repeating the same tasks over and over, 
  • driven by competion with fellow learners for attention, for opportunities, for grades, or 
  • prescripted learning with no choice for what or how you learn?
How meaningful would that learning be?

Monday, July 14, 2014

Examining your PLE

In this wired (wireless?) age, every educator can and should have their own personalized professional development plan. The sources of information you turn to--whether a colleague down the hall, or a colleague half a world away that you only meet up with online, or a library full of resources, or any online resources you rely upon--make up what might best be termed your personal learning environment (PLE.)
Your PLE is not the same as my PLE. We are unique individuals. We have different needs, different specific interests, different strengths and weaknesses.
That said, we might connect using the same tools, and you might share resources I find valuable, and vice-versa.
In the online learning space, there are a great many sources of information that can make up your PLE. You probably use a wide variety of tools as elements of your own personalize learning, right? Here is how I mapped out my own online PLE:

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Realtime, Online Professional Development

It's interesting to track your own use of social media. Do you ever look back through your Facebook timeline or Twitter history? I do, occasionally. It can be instructive, and you might find that you have grown and changed over time.

I have definitely found this to be true with my Twitter use. I joined Twitter in the spring of 2009. The whole first year I was on Twitter, I had no idea what I was doing, or what it was for. It is almost comical to read the ridiculous things I was posting. It's like I wanted to know how to use the tool, but I really just had no idea what it was for or what possibilities it could hold for my own professional development.

This infographic from mediabistro perfectly describes my Twitter journey:

I was stuck at stage 2 for about two years before starting to figure it out.
It wasn't until the past three years that I really got the hang of Twitter as a key part of my personal professional development. The key?

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Improving Online Discussions

In one of my courses this summer, I was assigned to create a tutorial for online instructors on a topic of my choice. I decided to make a tutorial providing advice for how to facilitate online discussions. Discussions can be one of the best parts of an online course, or one of the worst parts, depending on how they are organized, the kinds of prompts the instructors provides, and the way the instructor facilitates the conversation.

I had the following objectives for my presentation:
  • Articulate why online discussions can be a benefit in an online course. 
  • Develop skills necessary for organizing an online discussion: articulating expectations, facilitating vs. dominating the discussion, and considerations for assessment. 
  •  Explain how to prompt students to participate by using engaging questions. 
  • Analyze techniques for facilitating a conversation in an online discussion: grouping, "blindfolding," and using the FY3 strategy for responding to posts. 
I wanted to try and create the tutorial entirely on my iPad, and I was able to do so using the following tools: Haiku Deck for creating slides, Playback, for creating the screencast, and a YouTube playlist for presenting the video segments.

The tutorial is a five-segment video that I put into a playlist, so one video segment automatically leads into the next. Check it out!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Should we Rethink "Rigor?"

I am currently attending #RSCON5, an online conference (which is an interesting experience in and of itself--hundreds of attendees, all over the world, interacting via online tools.) We just had a plenary session with educational agitator, Dean Shareski (@shareski) to kick things off. The title of the session was "What Ever Happened to Joy?"--a great exposition of today's school culture.

There were so many great bits, and I snapped a few screenshots along the way. Here are a couple of my favorites:

Interesting to see which nations are "Very Happy."
The US is towards the top of this list...but well below 50%...

GREAT question to think about in terms of today's school culture...

Would using words like these make any student want to come to school?
How about any teachers? Hmmm...

Being full of childlike joy is NOT the same thing as being "childish."

These are all pretty good, aren't they? But this one was the kicker for me:

The problem is, I like the idea of a "rigorous" class. But what do we really mean by "rigor?" And, as Dean challenged us in this session, is rigor an enemy of joyful teaching and learning? Because the two places I hear the word "rigor" school...and when referencing DEAD in rigor mortis. Hmmmm...

Lots of food for thought for me...

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Getting Beyond Low-Level Tasks

Let's be honest: much of what passes for learning in many schools today is relatively low-level tasks that don't require too much on the part of students.

Curriculum developers don't help this situation, and tend to try and pre-package easily-digestible bits for the students.

Teachers (pointing the finger at myself here, at least early in my teaching career) are all too willing to follow the canned teacher's manual or pacing guide to move students through the steps.

We must provide them with practice to ensure that they remember the key facts and ideas! Worksheets galore!

How will we know if they have learned it? If they can appropriately regurgitate cut-and-dried responses to questions on tests, they must have learned it, right?

You may be getting a sense of my cynicism about this kind of teaching. My fear is that this approach continues to minimize the role of the teacher to a mere technician: get the kids to jump through the right hoops, press the right buttons, fill in the right bubbles on the sheet, and you've done your job, right teacher?

Let's commit to moving beyond just going through the motions to actually engage our students. Real learning is messy, complex, and multi-faceted. Let's ask our students to do work that gets beyond simple low-level tasks.

How shall we do this?

Sunday, July 6, 2014

PearlTrees: A Tool for Organizing Online Resources

I love learning new tech tools, and while I'd heard of PearlTrees before, I had never taken the time to work with it. It's a pretty slick tool!

Basically, PearlTrees is a social bookmarking tool, but the design of it makes it particularly conducive to creating a curated collection of resources about a given topic. This makes it ideal for educational settings in which you might want to provide students with a curated list of links, infographics, videos and the like to build background for a particular subject.

Here's an example PearlTree I created for my Introduction to Education Course. We spend a good bit of time in that course examining school reform initiatives, and this collection of resources will help them understand the history that brought us to the current point, some of the different reform initiatives currently being implemented, and the different perspectives in favor of or strongly opposed to these different reforms.

You do have to create an account to get started, but it's free and easy to do so. Once you do so, you can edit your profile, add a picture, give a few sentences to describe yourself, etc., or not, if you'd rather stay more anonymous.

You can create different categories for links and resources you want to keep track of and collate into curated lists. I installed the Chrome extension, which makes it drop-dead simple to add things to your collections and start new collections.

If you are the sort of teacher who might want to create and keep lists of links, videos, graphics, and the like for your students' use, PearlTrees might be just the solution you're looking for. I highly recommend it.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Outdated Technology and Outdated Pedagogy

Found this one via Twitter this morning (thanks, @BSGSCSFoster!) It's a gem, and well worth the eight minutes to watch it.

I laughed, but honestly, the Apple IIe from my elementary school days--clunky and odd as it looks today--stirred a passion for educational technology that brought me to the point where I'm now working towards a doctoral degree in the field.

I know that many people sing the praises of all things technological in schools, as if stirring more iPads and SMARTBoards and student blogging and mystery Skypes into the mix will automatically make teaching better, and learning better, and schools, in general, better.

I know that many people also decry technology in school, fearing that we are throwing the baby out with the bathwater in our rush to replace old and "outdated" teaching methodologies, techniques, and tools with new technologies.

But I think that setting this up as a fight between technology and pedagogy is a fallacy.

It's not an either-or proposition.

While I'm a technophile, I like to think I'm a reasonable technophile. I do advocate for technology in education, I admit. But I advocate moderation! Honestly, I believe that good teaching comes first. Technology shouldn't (and truly can't) replace a great teacher. Strong pedagogy trumps high technology every time.

But does that mean we shouldn't (thoughtfully, carefully, wisely) include technology in education today?

I say no.

We need to recognize where we are and when we are. North American culture today is high tech, thrives on novelty, and emphasizes individualism.

Please hear me well: I'm not saying we need to cater to this in schools. I am saying we need to recognize the power of these cultural forces, and recognize that our students have been shaped since birth by this culture. We need to teach the students we have in our classrooms today, be responsive to them. We need to recognize that they may have proclivities to technology, and be willing to adapt our teaching accordingly.

But that does not mean we need to chuck everything we are currently doing to embrace the electric glow of the future. In fact, I think we need to be ruminate on how we can redeem educational technologies, and use them to wisely to enhance our teaching and learning. Simply having them present will not do this. But, neither will simply excluding them.

Being deliberate about incorporating technological tools when it makes sense to do so (because it will have a positive impact on your teaching or on your students' learning) seems like a wise rule of thumb to me.

Today's state-of-the-art, cutting-edge educational technology will eventually be outdated and almost seem like a joke in light of what will then be the norm. But that may be true of some of our pedagogical practices as well.

Image by Neil Turner [CC BY-SA 2.0]

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Managing Your Digital Footprint

I've been thinking lately about digital footprints, and I'm thinking about how to manage mine. (You could safely say that the class I'm taking on social network learning has been productive as food for thought.)

The Internet has a long, long memory. The things you say and do online are virtually impossible to eradicate. This may be a case where the best defense is a strong offense. How can you create a positive digital footprint?

Sometimes, the wisest course of action is to walk away from the keyboard.
Image by Steve Ransom [CC BY-NC-SA 2.0]

As an assignment for class, we were asked to research strategies for maintaining a positive digital footprint, and then share our findings with the class. I decided to create a PowToon to illustrate:

What do you think? Are there other strategies you would propose?