Thursday, July 25, 2013

Unplugging from Technology and My Role as a School Leader----Educator

It is time once again to unplug from technology and my role as an educator. Last year, I posted that I was taking some time to completely unplug from technology and from my role as an educator ("Weekend Unplugged from Technology and from Being an Educator"). Tomorrow afternoon, I will again journey into the North Carolina mountains in order to participate in a 5-Day Insight meditation retreat entitled "Mindfulness: The Path to Freedom." At last year's retreat, I was fortunate to spend three days in meditation and mindfulness instruction with a spectacular teacher, Tempel Smith. This year, I will be spending five days in retreat at the Southern Dharma Retreat Center in Hot Springs, North Carolina focusing on Mindfulness meditation.

Southern Dharma Retreat Center
More of Southern Dharma Retreat Center

As I pointed out last year, I do not share this with any intention of evangelizing or trying to convince anyone of the religious merits of Buddhism or meditative religion. But my experiences in retreat last year were transformational. I am confident this year's retreat will offer an opportunity to reflect and look inward even more. This weekend, I have no access to the Web, which means no Twitter, no blogs, no Facebook, no email, no cell phones, and even no television. And, since it is a silent retreat, I will also be left to noise of my own thoughts, which is as it should be in contemplative exercises.

Hopefully, I will be able to share thoughts, reflections, and experiences with you upon my return next Wednesday. Have a great weekend, and take some time yourself to unplug before the madness of the new year begins.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Powerful Opportunities for Content Creation & Publication in the Digital Classroom

I began teaching in 1989. My first classroom didn't have a phone in it and the prime piece of technology I had was one of those old fashioned turntables. I remember using that to share my love of blues music with students by playing a Muddy Waters album for them in connection to a short story we were reading. I had a cassette tape player too, and I remember sharing a dynamic dramatic reading of Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “The Bells” using this device. I also had access to a VHS player, and I remember sharing scenes from the movie Roxanne with my students as we read the play Cyrano de Bergerac. That was the extent of the technology in my classroom at the time, and yes I did have a chalkboard and colored chalk that students enjoyed using to share drawings and messages on my chalkboard throughout the day.

But the point of this trip down memory lane was not to tell you how old I really am. It was to simply say this: Technology when I began teaching in 1989 seems quaint and unsophisticated now, but even at that time, I pushed the limits of teaching and learning with the tools that were available. I used the technology, not for its own sake, but because those were the tools that helped me teach in the most engaging and effective manner. In a sense, that mindset is really the same mindset of a 21st century teacher.

Engaging students in my 1989 classroom and in a 21st century classroom presented the same challenges. I found myself trying to answer these kinds of questions then, and also in the 2006 when I began to heavily engage students in the use of digital technologies.
  • How do you engage students who are more interested and engaged in things outside of school than inside it?
  • How can I make the best use of technologies to both engage students in my content and teach them to make the most of the technologies themselves?
  • How can my instruction best prepare students for a world outside of my classroom and school?
These questions are just as relevant now as they were then.

But here in 2013, digital technologies offer ours students so many more opportunities to learn in ways extending beyond the four walls of the classroom.. Here's what students today can do:
  • Students today can be publishers of content. In 1989, it was a struggle to find ways for students to publish content. It was usually limited to either making physical copies and distributing them or posting on classroom walls. Today, blogs and content sharing platforms make it possible for students to publish for global audiences. Publishing content has become cheap and efficient in our digital classrooms.
  • Students today can easily create multiple types of media content. During classes in 1989, my students were mostly relegated to creating content that was either textual or graphic, with the graphic content mostly being freehand drawings. Collages were also common. In today’s digital classrooms, students can still create text, but the tools to create video, photos, audio have all become prolific and easy-to-use. Students in today’s digital classrooms have power tools of multi-media content creation at their fingertips.
  • Students today have many, many more choices of the kinds of content they can create, hence they are not limited to the research paper or dioramas (Anyone remember these?). In 1989, most of my students content creation was mainly writing papers, creating collages, making drawings, writing/acting out original plays, or creating other kinds of genres. Today’s students have new forms of textual media, new forms of graphical communication tools, and new ways to engage audiences digitally. Students in today’s classrooms can create their own apps, web pages, blogs, vlogs, with the whole global community being the limit.
For those of us who began teaching in the late 1980s, the classrooms of today offer our students so many more opportunities to engage in content creation, content publication, and content sharing. In spite of this, the fundamental educator mindset is the same. In 1989, to create an engaging classroom, I made the most of tech tools I had then. In 2013, that tech toolbox has expanded enormously, so teaching and learning through content creation and publication has expanded as well. It's this wonderful 1989 perspective of teaching and learning that makes me appreciate the greater possibilities of the 21st century classroom.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

PBL Resource---Thinking Through Project-Based Learning by Jane Krauss & Suzie Boss

“Project-based learning enables students to become active participants in the world.” Jane Krauss & Suzie Boss, Thinking Through Project-Based Learning: Guiding Deeper Inquiry, Corwin
“We know from experience that project-based learning has the potential to create powerful---and memorable---learning experiences for students,” state educators Jane Krauss and Suzie Boss in their new book entitled Thinking Through Project-Based Learning: Guiding Deeper Inquiry. Those of us who have worked in schools that employ PBL are well aware of the methodology’s power for we have witnessed it first hand. As more and more schools move into Common Core State Standard implementation, they are looking for instructional methodologies that most effectively deliver this content to students. Project-Based learning is mentioned as a premier instructional method to teach those new standards.

Jane Krauss and Suzie Boss’s Thinking Through Project-Based Learning: Guiding Deeper Inquiry is an excellent, compact and comprehensive over-view of project-based learning from planning to culminating event. For the school leader wanting a solid, comprehensive overview of project-based learning, this book provides just that. For the educator looking for more ideas on how to implement project-based learning in their classroom, Thinking Through Project-Based Learning is an excellent addition to the professional teaching library. From cover to cover, Krauss and Boss take readers through topics like these:
  • What is project-based learning?
  • Why use Project-Based Learning?
  • How do I implement project-based learning?
  • How does PBL fit in with current brain science?
  • How do we create classrooms that make thinking happen?
  • How can we create classrooms where curiosity is practiced and welcomed?
  • How can we create classrooms where inquiry happens as a rule?
  • How can we design projects that provide rich learning experiences?
  • What does PBL look like in the core academic areas---language arts, social studies, science, and math?
Thinking Through Project-Based Learning: Guiding Deeper Inquiry answers a lot of questions about PBL without getting too entangled in theory. It is an excellent book that offers practical ideas on how to get started with PBL and create student inquiry-centered classrooms. The book also offers educators other content as well. It includes a Project Library for those looking for project ideas, and it has a Discussion Guide for those wishing to perhaps use the book in a PLC book study. It includes a Professional Development Guide for those wanting to zero in on PBL for PD purposes. Finally, there is a list PBL resources in the back worth its weight in gold.

Implementing PBL is a messy endeavor. It takes a great deal of courage on the teacher’s part, support by administrators, and resources. Thinking Through Project-Based Learning is an excellent resource to provide teachers as they implement project-based learning. It is also a book that administrators would do well to read as well.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

3 Reasons Educators Need to Use Multiple Twitter Accounts

The widespread use of Twitter by educators is evident by the number of educators using it. Just following the Twitter stream during the course of a week, and you'll see several "chats" devoted to education and educational practice. Also, it's becoming increasingly hard to attend conferences where hashtags aren't part of the experience. For the most part, though, educators use Twitter in two ways:
  1. To effectively promote the classroom, school or school district and inform the larger community
  2. To foster and develop connections with other educators and experts to develop what is known as a Professional Learning Network, or PLN.
Because these two purposes for using Twitter are quite different, having multiple accounts set up for these dual purposes makes sense. For example, a school level principal can leverage more power from using Twitter by having an account or username for PLN purposes, and an account for PR and school promotional and informational purposes. In a word, this means establishing and maintaining each Twitter account for a specific purpose or function.

But why engage in using multiple Twitter accounts? Would it not be too problematic to maintain multiple accounts? Actually, it may be more problematic to use a single account. Here's some reasons to think about.

  • Having multiple Twitter accounts each tied to very specific purposes is more efficient. A Twitter account dedicated to your school should be for the purpose of promoting school activity and for informing your public. Your personal-professional account should be used to foster connections with educators and for the development of your PLN. It is more efficient to use these accounts for the specific purposes for which they are established. Using a single Twitter account for PLN development and school PR functions means you aren't efficiently directing your posts to the intended audiences. Having accounts designed for both of these purposes means your posts are more efficient.
  • Having Twitter accounts for specific purposes reduces the potential of confusing for whom or what the account is speaking. For example, posting an opinion about school policy or practice is fine for a personal-professional account, but would be less so from a school or district account. The voice of the account should be tied to its purpose, and using a school or organizational account to participate in a discussion of policy during a chat might give the appearance that you're providing the official stance of your organization. To keep this from happening, establish a personal-professional account and one for your classroom, school or district. As you Tweet, use the appropriate account and there should be little doubt regarding in what capacity you're speaking.
  • Having Twitter accounts for specific purposes means being able to better manage your connections. For example, many parents might not be particularly interested in all your posts regarding theories of pedagogy and teaching, but they would like to follow the latest news about your school. To do this effectively, multiple Twitter accounts means having the ability to follow multiple sets of connections. You school account would be primarily connected to parents, students, and stakeholders interested in your school. Your PLN account would be connected to those professionals who are interested in improving professional practice. That way, you can more effectively direct your Tweets to the intended audience because you have better managed your connections.
As Twitter moves further and further into the mainstream, using it effectively and wisely as educators becomes more and more important. One important way to do this is to use multiple accounts, each set up for its own specific purpose. Having multiple Twitter accounts just makes sense. The same would seem to also apply to Facebook and other social media as well.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Guiding Principles for Fostering and Developing the Compassionate Classroom and School

“When we wake up in the morning, the first thing we can do is to be aware of the gift that life is offering us. We have a gift of twenty-four hours.” Thich Nhat Hanh, Work: How to Find Joy and Meaning in Each Hour of the Day
Finding meaning in what we do as educators should be a given. Most of us became educators because we wanted to compassionately touch the lives of kids, and that motivation is tightly woven into everything we do. But as it is often the case in large, bureaucratic institutions, we lose sight of the core reasons why we became teachers. The winds of policy and anti-public education rhetoric blow strong, sometimes pushing our rationale and purposes for being educators out of our awareness. In its place, we occupy ourselves with the administrivia, or stuff instead of acting from our core. In this climate, we too easily forget that what we do is ultimately about the kids in our classrooms and schools.

In the book, Work: How to Find Joy and Meaning in Each Hour of the Day, Thich Nhat Hanh, provides us with advice on how to recapture, each moment of the day, “A New Way of Working.” This New Way of Working makes great sense no matter one's spiritual beliefs, and has the power to actually recharge us daily for the hard task and calling we face as educators. This New Way of Working reminds us each moment of each day why we became educators to begin with: the kids. I have taken the liberty here to adapt Hanh's suggestions to our unique calling as educators.
  • Begin by establishing harmony, love, and happiness within. As Thich Nhat Hanh writes, “Only when we establish harmony, love, and happiness within ourselves are we in a position to really help our business.” What's inside matters greatly to what's outside. We can't ignore our own spiritual and mental growth and hope to create a harmonious, compassionate, and peaceful place for our kids and staffs. We as educators must take time to work on our insides too. Soul Development (SD) is as important as Professional Development (PD). By engaging in Soul Development we empower ourselves to be centered educators present for all those around us.
  • Understand and support those with whom you work. “When someone feels that you understood them and you support them, they become your ally, and not only a worker,” says Thich Nhat Hanh. We don’t want just students in our classrooms, teachers in our buildings; we want allies, partners in our endeavors. We can’t do it alone no matter how hard we try or how intelligent we think we are. If we want to enlist the kids sitting in front of us, or the teachers in our buildings, we must practice understanding and support them in what they do. Practicing understanding means we listen compassionately and non-judgmentally. It means we view everyone as living, breathing beings with needs, wants, and desires like we ourselves have. Supporting them means finding ways to meet their needs. No matter how solitary we think our jobs and leaders are, there is no room in leadership for solos and soliloquies.
  • Agree on a code of behavior and action. “For a workplace to function well, there must be a code of behavior that everyone is willing to accept.” In our classrooms and our schools, we often establish duplicate sets of rules, one for the masses, and one for those in charge. Also, we post rules and codes of behavior in handbooks and on walls, thinking that their existence means they will be followed. In reality, those rules only become operational when all agree to follow them. Rules, policy and regulations only have value when they are agreed upon ways of doing. We need to take the time to establish norms of behavior and action that all can agree to adhere to. This means enlisting everyone in developing the norms of how all will behave and act as educators and as students.
  • Understand where everyone in coming from. “Understanding is the very foundation of love. If you don’t understand other’s difficulties , pain, suffering, and deepest aspirations, you can’t truly take good care of them or make them happy,” writes Thich Nhat Hanh. There are those in education who would turn schools into callous places where the bottom line is all that matters. In these places we label students as "proficient" or "not proficient." We label teachers and principals as "Meeting Standard" or "Not Meeting Standard." Instead, why not just label us all as human and call it a day? The truth is, we must understand our students, our teachers, our staff and our parents, and with a deeper understanding that move beyond to superficial labels and numbers to dealing with people where they are. It is the messy stuff of life and living that humans find themselves living in that we must understand, and trying to quantify those things away means leaving behind our humanity. We can’t take care of our students’ educational needs and all those in our schools apart from their physical and social needs. We as school leaders can’t make our schools places of compassion unless we practice compassionate understanding of students, parents, and our staffs.
Approaching our jobs as educators each day should be easy, for we became such because of love of learning and most often, a compassion for kids as well as humanity. As teachers and school leaders, we can foster “A New Way of Working” within our classrooms and schools. We can make our schools into places that are harmonious, happy, and peaceful, but we must have those qualities inside ourselves first and project those qualities in our roles as educators.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Got a New iPhone? Here's 17 Starter Apps

Recently,our district changed providers and changed phones. As a result, we are now using iPhones. As a avid user of an iPad, deciding which apps to put on my phone was an easy decision. I immediately wanted to be able to access the same applications I can already access on my iPad and on my desktop or the web.

Here's my must-download list of iPhone apps.

QR Reader: This is my QR code scanner of choice. Scanning is quite easy. I can even create QR codes within this app. There is a free version with ads, which is what I am currently using, and a paid version too. In an era where QR codes and bar codes are everywhere, it makes little sense to have a mobile device without the ability to scan these. For more information regarding QR Reader for the iPhone, check it out in iTunes. QR Reading in iTunes

Wunderlist: Having a task management app is a must. Having one that allows access across devices and on the web is also a must. Wunderlist gives me that option. I can access my "To-Do List" on my desktop, the web, my iPad, and my iPhone. Tasks entered in any of these locations are synced across devices as well. For more information about Wunderlist, check out their web site. Wunderlist Web Site

Dropbox: Dropbox has lost it's luster for some people who have had difficulties with what they say are lost files or trouble with syncing operations on multiple computers. I have had few difficulties like this, so I still use Dropbox to save files to the cloud. I also like the photo-syncing feature as well, so any photos I take automatically load to dropbox, hence down to my computer. Dropbox Web Site

KustomNote: KustomNote is a new app that I recently added to my lineup. As a heavy Evernote user, this application gives me the ability to create customized templates for collecting information, that is then stored in my Evernote account under the notebook I select. With this app I can create a simple template for taking meeting notes that are stored in my Evernote account. For more information about KustomNote and its app, check out their web site. Here's an article that gives you an excellent overview of KustomNote. MakeUseOf Article on Kustomnote

Calendars+:  This is an easy to use calendar app that syncs with all your Google Calendars. Since our district uses Google Apps, I have access to multiple district Google calendars, so this apps makes syncing those calendars quite simple. For more information, check out Calendars+ in the iTunes Store.

vJournal: vJournal is an app that allows me to create dated entries, like a journal, and then it syncs those entries to my Evernote Journal notebook. It creates a new dated entry every time you enter information. This is an excellent app for logging events or ideas. For more information about vJournal, check it out in the iTunes Store.

Google Drive: Having an additional access point to my Google Drive documents is priceless. There are countless times when I am asked about a document, and turn to this application to review or access that document. This app is especially useful if you school or district uses Google Apps. For more information about the Google Drive app, check it out in the iTunes store.

iKeePass: iKeePass is a program that allows you store and access passwords for all your software and web sites. This app is compatible with the open source desktop program KeePass as well. Using this program allows you to access your passwords through your iPhone. I have it on my iPad as well. For more information regarding iKeePass, check it out in the iTunes Store.

Evernote: For obvious reasons, having access to my Evernote note taking application on my iPhone is a big plus. Those who need to be able to access notes or take them, need this app on all their devices. For more information about Evernote's mobile app, check it out in the iTunes Store.

Gmail: This app allows me to access my email accounts. Since I have both a personal and a school Gmail account, with this app I can sync both accounts to my iPhone. I also use the same app on my iPad. It is easy to use. For more information on the Gmail app, check it out in the iTunes Store.

Twitter: Being a heavy Twitter user, having access to that social media app on my iPhone too, is a must. The Twitter app works sufficiently well to provide that access. For more information on the Twitter app, check it out in the iTunes Store.

Google Voice: Google voice allows me to set up a voice mail account, and it allows me to send text messages through my iPhone. For more information regarding the Google Voice app, check it out in the iTunes Store.

Facebook: Like Twitter, I do use Facebook to connect with others. The Facebook app for the iOS works just fine for my needs. For more information regarding the Facebook app, check it out in the iTunes Store.

Google+: I also like having access to my Google+ account on my iPhone as well. For more information regarding this iOS app, check it out in the iTunes Store.

Feedly: Feedly is now my primary RSS reader since the demise of Google Reader. Having access on my iPhone allows me one more place to access my favorite blogs and news sources. For more information regarding the iOS version of Feedly, check it out in the iTunes Store.

Flipboard: Flipboard is essentially another RSS reader, but it gives you an magazine-like look to your resources. I use this to access my favorite news and media sources. For more information regarding the iOS version of Flipboard, check it out in the iTunes Store.

Pocket: Pocket is a tool I use to collect RSS reads for later use. Having access on my iPhone, my iPad, and the web means I can view these articles anywhere I happen to be. For more information regarding Pocket, check it out in the iTunes Store.

For me the important thing is being able to access my most useful and often-used applications across devices. When I received my iPhone, these are the apps I immediately downloaded and installed. It is also an excellent iPhone starter-app list too.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

4 Trends of Global Connectivity We As Educators Can No Longer Ignore

“As global connectivity continues its unprecedented advance many old institutions and hierarchies will have to adapt or risk becoming obsolete, irrelevant to modern society.” Eric Schmidt & Jared Cohen, The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations, and Business
Even a decade into the 21st century, educational leaders and policymakers stubbornly hold on to an outdated, twentieth century manufacturing education model with its standardized approach to teaching and learning. Little discussion has been about how can we redesign teaching and learning; instead, we are still bolting on new and recycled reform measures to an old model of education that has proven inadequate for all students. The search for the perfect test or set of standards that has the power to magically transform education continues. It's as if in some ways, there's still little incentive to change, but as Schmidt and Cohen point out, the power of "global connectivity" continues to force its way into our institutions and our lives, and the question is adapt or be irrelevant.

What education leaders and policymakers really fail to see are Four Big Trends of Connectivity that Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen describe in their book, The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations, and Business. According to these authors, these trends are at work, powerfully transforming our public institutions whether we want them to or not. Education leaders have spent much of the first decade of the 21st century either resisting these trends, trying to adapt them to old models of schooling, or trying to ignore them, perhaps even hoping they're some kind of fad that will fade with time. But these four trends are creating stress on all our public institutions, according to Schmidt and Cohen. Their impact on education is continuing as well.

1. Quicker rate of change than at any time in history. According to Schmidt and Cohen, “We experience change at a quicker rate than any previous generation, and this change, driven in part by the devices in our own hands, will be more personal and participatory than we can even imagine.” This handheld-device driven change has already began impacting education. Schools have yet to really harness the power of these devices and connectivity, because they mostly have only been asking questions like: "How can I control these devices which are a nuisance?" or "How can these devices help us do the teaching and learning we now do?" For schools to capitalize on this quicker rate of change, our educational institutions and the people in them must become much, much more flexible. They need to recognize the personal and participatory nature of learning and move away from a “prescriptive philosophy of teaching” where education is perceived to be a “treatment” provided to produce a desired result. In the “quick change” environment of the future, individuals will take charge of their own learning, and prescription learning will be history. Personalized learning will result from the quicker rate of change.

2. Seamless permeation of technology everywhere. In spite of their efforts to keep devices and technology from their buildings, school leaders are losing this war. As Schmidt and Cohen point out, "In the future, information technology will be everywhere, like electricity. It will be a given, so fully part of our lives that we will struggle to describe life before it to our children.” In that same future, educators will be surrounded with technology. Questions like, “What do we do with these devices?” or “How do I use this in my classroom"?” will completely vanish. Technology will “just be” part of how we do education and life. It will be seamlessly part of every aspect of teaching and learning. In that future no one will question or even notice the technology.

3. Attempts to try to contain or restrict connectivity is futile. “Attempts to contain the spread of connectivity or curtail people’s access will always fail over a long enough period of time---information, like water, will always find a way through,” state Schmidt and Cohen. No matter how institutions try to to control access, it will happen anyway. Since the age of connectivity began school leaders have been trying to control connectivity on their terms, which is like trying to control the output from a fire hose. Many still don’t get it; that this torrent of content, wanted and unwanted can’t be contained or restricted. Like the printing press, once information begins spreading, ideas and information spread. Instead of futilely trying to restrict or contain the torrent, we need to provide our students with the values necessary, the moral and intellectual center to engage connectivity appropriately and effectively.

4. Permeation of connectivity and mobile technologies means power moves away from the few to many. The final big trend described by Schmidt and Cohen involves a power shift. As they point out, “With the spread of connectivity and mobile phones around the world, citizens will have more power than at any time in history, but it will come with costs, particularly to both privacy and security.” The power of teachers being the “primary dispensers of information” to our students has slipped away. This shift continues unabated, and if students really need content experts, they don’t need teacher-content experts any more. They can connect with those using the devices in their hands. Students need guides and mentors to help them navigate the global world of information available. They need connectivity experts. They need simply, those who will help them make sense of information, evaluate it for relevance and validity, and use it solve real problems.

Judging from these four trends described by Schmidt and Cohen, schools as public institutions have little choice in adapting to the changes wrought by global connectivity. I fear, though, we're still too busy trying to adapt the technologies and global connectivity to fit our old ways of teaching and learning.