I had a great week of learning at TCEA this year. I attended many keynotes and breakout sessions and was fortunate to hang out with really smart people in the evenings. I did my best to capitalize on my time away from my family and my campus this week. On the last day of the conference, I sat down to reflect on my week. I came up with seven things I learned. Reading through them again, they come off sounding pretty negative. I wasn’t really sure how, or if, I should re-spin this into something more sugar-coated, so I didn’t. Obviously, I was disappointed in several things about the whole convention experience. I really didn’t “connect” with presenters who were sharing “quick” or “easy” technology tips or projects. These sessions seemed “gimmicky” to me. Gary Stager stated at the beginning of his session that there isn’t anything quick or easy about improving the current learning environment we find in most schools. I tend to agree with that outlook. Here’s what I came up with:
1. Learning is based on passion. You have to want to learn something to really learn it well. Otherwise, it’s just a “remember and repeat” exercise. Writing it down doesn’t work either. You have to absorb it and own it. Writing it down just gives you an excuse to not listen critically and memorize it the first time. You can’t time-shift “the moment.” If you are going to do a face-to-face meeting, get your head out of the notes and look the presenter in the eyes. Be passionate and get involved in the moment.
2. Do we have to show up anymore? There’s a lot of smart people out there who are willing to share their knowledge and expertise freely. Lucky for us, most of them write, record and present what they know on the internet. If you can use Google effectively, you can probably find what you need to learn in less time than it would take for someone to spoon-feed it to you. With the sum of all human knowledge available for free on the internet, why do we need to wait to be told anything? Learning is now a function of “pull” technologies and I have little patience left for “push” activities.
3. Don’t turn learners away. At many presentations, I saw people being turned away at the door due to a lack of seating or a shortage of handouts. This is stupid. Why do we need to limit learning activities to a physical space or materials? Using copy-and-paste is FREE. In what ways do we turn learners away in our own classrooms…when their learning style doesn’t fit, or when their excitement level is too low or too high? As I walked down 6th Street on the way to dinner one evening, I was struck by all of the people who seemed to be living on the streets. Were they “turned away” at some point? Did it happen when they were still in school?
4. We better step it up if we want to keep up. The web moves faster than any of us realized. Wikipedia is updated 500 times every two minutes by people all over the world. You don’t have time for technology tutorials. Just jump in and start learning. If you wait until you feel comfortable with the technology before you use it with your students, you will find yourself teaching a history lesson. Don’t fool yourself. You are already behind, its up to you to play catch-up every single day.
5. Learning is a come and go activity. We are a highly mobile and multitasking group pf people. It is possible to learn new things in 5-10 minute sound bites. It is also possible to get high quality work done in short, but highly intense sessions. Creativity happens off the clock. Just because its 4:00 doesn’t mean that its time to check out for the day. After we learn this concept, we need to teach it to our students. I’m not talking about teaching them to get their homework done either. I am talking about high-end, creative thinking while pursuing what they are passionate about.
6. It’s not about the “bedazzler.” Don’t be impressed with the shiny things. They are usually distracters that cover up the lack of something else really important. People are trying to sell $6,000 laser paper cutters and student voting-clicking things that are a waste of both time and money. Don’t look for the quick fixes…they are usually offered by people selling things. You should be listening to the people who talk about investing your time, effort and creativity. That can’t be sold or marketed.
7. Knowing which buttons to push on the computer is worthless if you don’t have something meaningful to create. Don’t learn to use technology if all you plan on doing is making more worksheets, asking multiple choice questions or writing an autobiography. We should be learning how to use computers to create things in the classroom that would otherwise be impossible without them.
Now, I just need to give this some more thought and address the implications this has at the classroom level. If I can skip out on next year’s conference and still get my professional development fix, what does this mean for our classrooms? Give me a week or two and I’ll write some more.
I have said all along that there’s nothing magical about Inspired Classrooms. Its just the environment that inspired teaching and inspired learning takes place. The environment raises the odds for creative, collaborative and transformative things to occur. In thinking about this, I have raised a few more questions in my mind. The first of which is “how do we define inspired teaching?”
Take a look at this graphic. Unfortunately, this is how I see us organizing and prioritizing our days in the classroom. It all starts with the state-mandated and district-mandated curriculum. Many teachers see the TEKS as the ultimate “checklist” that dictates everything that happens each day. I am not knocking the TEKS, just the idea that all things in the classroom should begin and end with them. I see the TEKS as just a baseline that identifies the minimum expectations and a starting point for activities and lessons.
To say that we are now in a high-stakes testing environment is a huge understatement. On top of TAKS testing, teachers are responsible for giving many district-mandated assessments and diagnostics. I hear teachers say all the time “with all this testing going on, when am I supposed to teach?”
The biggest problem I have with the current system is that it takes a lot of the teachers’ creativity, ingenuity, inspiration and passion out of the teaching equation (and does it in a really sneaky way). It is never said out loud that teachers shouldn’t do certain things, but teachers are so bombarded with objectives, indicators, assessments, reports, diagnostics and portfolios, that there is little room for anything else. A lot of the time, we stay so busy with the “compulsory” teaching and “compulsory” assessing, that we rarely have time to enjoy inspired teaching and learning. Most of us, I think, show up to work every day because we are passionate about teaching. Most days, however, what we WANT to do, and what we LOVE to do, gets pushed aside by what we HAVE to do. My best definition of inspired teaching is “teaching what you are passionate about in creative ways…no matter what.”
So what’s the solution? We just can’t ignore the TEKs and the TAKS in the name of teaching passionately and creatively, and its not looking like this will be going away any time soon. The solution is to find ways to overlap what we are passionate about with the things that have to be “covered.” In fact, the bigger you can make the area overlap, the better. I really think this is key to improving education across the board. This gives teachers free license to love what they do and pass the passion on to their students. When teachers can do this, teaching is transformed. This is where the “art” of teaching takes over. We want students to engage and “own” what we teach, we should set th example.
I can’t believe we’ve already finished up the first six weeks of school in Irving. Its just gone by too fast for me. I had intended to post weekly here to keep you all up to date, but have been buried with the huge wave of things to do to get “school” up and running. I have had some disappointments and seen some little success stories this six weeks. I thought sharing those here might get us all caught up and back up to speed. It might also serve to refocus our attention and re-energize our efforts for the second six weeks.
First with the disappointments… I had underestimated two things: (1) the amount of time and red-tape-cutting it would take to get Inspired Classrooms rolling and (2) the time it would take our teachers to get his/her students “ready” to work in the Inspired Classroom environment.
The whole idea of Inspired Classrooms has always seemed to me as grass-roots or bottom-up approach. Most teachers already have the computers in the classroom, and plenty of desks to go around. To “do” Inspired Classrooms, all you really should have to do is re-arrange the desks, move the computers and buy a $40 hub and a cord cover. Most teachers would be willing to do that and spend an afternoon getting that done. For our teachers in Irving, however, the hubs haven’t been an option this year. So, the downside is that our teachers, ITS’s, principals and ad building staff have all had to coordinate, approve, request, approve, communicate, approve, purchase, deliver, install and otherwise complicate the process. I am NOT criticizing anyone, because the district wants to do this correctly and standardized from the very beginning. (Wireless) They have been VERY supportive and VERY cooperative, its just takes a long time to get things of this magnitude up and rolling. I am afraid that some teachers may get tired of waiting and loose their enthusiasm in the meantime. We’ll tackle this one later.
I have also been surprised at the time it takes for the youngest kids to get “ready” to participate in this environment. For example, a second grade teacher who taught in an Inspired Classroom last year was telling me that she is still having trouble getting her kids to a point where they can work together and dependently in their teams. She had a student burst into tears yesterday when he found out that he wasn’t going to get to use the mouse for an activity! When our pilot teachers started last February, they started with kids who had been in a class routine for six months already. They knew the rules, each other, and what they could and could not get away with. Starting out the year with a new batch of students has been a totally different experience for those same teachers. Establishing these class routines and processes has just taken longer than some of us had realized. It’s just an issue of maturity that will get better as the year progresses.
The positives? We still have thirty weeks of school. Every day you have an opportunity to make a difference in your classroom, and beyond. We will never fully realize the reach or the impact we will have, but it has always been that way in education. Our Inspired Classroom teachers are making steps outside of the same-old-routine into the unknown. We aren’t moving based on years of research or data collection, but out of the necessity to use the most current, most effective toolset we have as educators. Because of this, we are seeing students engaged in learning in ways that simply weren’t possible even a few years ago. I will be doing my best to continue this conversation with you on a weekly basis. Remember, you are always invited to comment to the blog or email me directly (firstname.lastname@example.org) with questions, comments or anything else. Thanks for checking in, and have a great day.
I am sure many teachers pulled out their tried-and-true first days of school “all about me” activities this week. Mr. Hill had a great new take on it. He capitalized on exactly what fourth graders would be thinking about on the first day of school…being scared. He has a cool Scooby Doo graphic that probably really helped the kids understand and set the stage for the discussions. CLICK HERE to see his blog post.
He clearly lays out the process for his students: (1) brainstorm using a thinking map (2) decide how to respond and (3) decide who will use the keyboard. I’ll bet this was a fun activity for his kids. (Mr. Hill, if you read this, comment back and let us know.) How much more engaging would this activity be in contrast to filling out the same old “Student Information Sheets” one the third day of school?
My favorite student responses:
“I might get a very mean teacher and she or he will be mean to me. By doing something
nice I can conquuer my mean teacher.”
“People might be so mean to me and make me nervous and make fun of me. I will defet my fears by not lisning to our heads and lisin to ar harts.”
Way to go Mr. Hill and kids! I am happy to see you using your class blog in a cool way. Keep it up!
I am not sure exactly how many, but there will be a significant number of teachers starting the 2006-2007 school year in an Inspired Classroom for the first time. I won’t limit it to Irving ISD either, since I have heard back from several teachers that have shared this website with their friends in neighboring school districts. As much evangelizing and motivating as I have done last spring and this summer in the name of Inspired Classrooms, I don’t want to leave teachers without support once they start the school year. It is my goal to publish on a weekly basis, ideas and themes that will help sustain teachers as they take off in uncharted territory. It is also my goal to encourage those teachers to join this community and begin sharing their thoughts and experiences (good and bad) with us all. At the first days of school, let us all be reminded that we are, and will always be, students FIRST. Let the learning and sharing begin.
I would guess that your first priorities on the first days of school in an Inspired Classroom might revolve around computer procedures and student grouping. Concerning team-building, I came across a GREAT resource for K-5 Team Building Activities. Some can be done with computers, but many don’t need technology to be very effective. Building teams and getting students to work together from the very first day would be a powerful way to start the year. When students learn to cooperate, negotiate and compromise FIRST, learning to control and take care of themselves should be much easier.
As you pass out and begin to collect the volume of field trip permission slips, student ID cards, and related paperwork, don’t forget the Disctrict’s Technology Acceptable Use Policy and FERPA Notice. (I wouldn’t print these exact forms, because they may be out of date. Check with your campus principal.) In my experiences, the most common reason parents deny their child access or permission on these forms is due to the misunderstanding these forms. They are written by lawyers and are very confusing. I recommend attaching a personal note to these forms when you send them home, explaining in everyday language what they say. I would also give specific examples of how you plan to use the technology in your classroom and the safeguards you have in place for student privacy. In a lot of cases, you might have to do a little parent education, especially when you start talking about wikis, blogs and podcasting. Here’s an example of how a 2nd grade teacher handles this. A hard copy of this will also go home in the homework during the first week of school.
I wish all of you a great start to what will be a milestone year in your teaching career. We have a tremendous opportunity to share and collaborate this year through this blog and each other’s blogs. Please stay connected and serve as an inspiration, a helping hand, and a sounding board to each other. Pleas don’t hesitate to contact me if I can be of assistance.
My wife referred me to an article today she found on the Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory (NWREL) website that had some amazing findings that really support the concepts of Inspired Classrooms. I highly recommend that you take the time to read the whole article, but for the sake of time, here’s a few highlights:
“Computers and software can serve as catalysts for social interaction and conversations related to children’s work. A classroom set up to encourage interaction and the appropriate use of the technology will increase, not impair, language and literacy development. Strategies to build socialization into computer use include placing two seats in front of the computer to encourage children to work together, placing computers close to each other to facilitate sharing ideas, and locating computers in a central spot to invite other children to participate in the activity ”
“Technology use that is connected to what children already know and can build upon leads to greater motivation and self-direction. Loss of creativity can be a problem if children use drill-and-practice software. Open-ended software — software that provides opportunities to discover, make choices, and find out the impact of decisions — encourages exploration, imagination, and problem solving.”
“Technology offers additional ways to learn, and to demonstrate learning. For some children who have unique learning styles, computers can reveal hidden strengths. At the computer, children can approach learning from a variety of perspectives and follow various paths to a goal. The teacher’s role is to set up the environment and activities, matching technology use to the curriculum as well as to the children’s needs and interests. The teacher is less involved in directing the activities, and more involved in monitoring student activities, intervening as necessary to guide and pose questions that encourage thinking.”
If this hadn’t been in their archives from June of 2001, I would have thought that they had been reading this website. I guess they already knew what I have been busy discovering over the last year. What’s amazing is their forward thinking approach, given the limited education tools available in mid-2001. They were envisioning exactly what we are seeing today, and what they describe sounds a lot like Inspired Classrooms.
What does eMINTS have to do with Inspired Classrooms? That’s my question this morning. I am attending eMINTS training today at Irving ISD and am looking forward to seeing the connection to be made via essential questions, constructivist classrooms and inquiry based lessons. What is eMINTS you ask? Here’s the official scoop from the eMINTS website:
“eMINTS changes how teachers teach and students learn. Its instructional model provides a research-based approach to organizing instruction and can be implemented in any subject area at any level. The eMINTS instructional model enables educators to create classrooms where all students are motivated to succeed socially and academically,
fully incorporate technology investments into teaching and learning, complement existing curriculum with critical-thinking requirements found in national, state and local curriculum standards and build enthusiasm and creativity into daily teaching.”
Our workshop leaders today are Brooke Higgins and Julie Szaj, both eMINTS Cluster Instructional Specialists. Here is a link to the resources we will be using today and tomorrow: http://missouri.emints.org/southeast/se1/texas/texas_index.htm
We start the day with a constructivism activity. (Saving Fred, the Gummi Worm) Through this activity, we look at the differences in traditional and constuctivitst lessons. Afterwards, we brainstormed the characteristics of each. Traditional activites were typically: focused on following directions, limit the need for thinking creatively, time efficient, and linear/sequential. For most traditional activities, the end product is clearly defined before students begin work. In a constructivist environment, however, the focus is on the problem and requires team members to work together and take on multiple roles, based on individual strengths. Thinking at higher levels is required (synthesis/evaluation) and these activities typically take longer to complete. Working from essential questions is key.
Next we look at Grappling’s Technology & Learning Spectrum. This appears to be the rating system by which we will use to evaulate where activites live along the traditional vs. constructivitst continuum. On first glance, I think I like this better than LoTI. There are three levels: (1)literacy, (2)adapting and (3)transforming. Here are the videos we are watching to help clarify:
Here’s an eMINTS constructivist lesson plan form I just Googled:
Constructivist lesson plan form, with prompts (PDF)
Constructivist lesson plan form, blank (PDF)
Constructivist lesson plan form, blank (Word)
This is great. “The Hallmarks of an Effective eMINTS Classroom outline the progression of changes in teaching practice that are often observed as teachers complete the eMINTS Comprehensive Professional Development Program. The Hallmarks can be used as a coaching and mentoring tool by instructional specialists working with eMINTS teachers as well as by teachers who are interested in charting their course and progress through eMINTS professional development.” Check out this document:
After the break, we look at INQUIRY LEARNING and essential questioning.
Here’s some interesting statistics: kids at home genereate ½ of all questions asked, however in a high school setting less than 15% of all questions are posed by students, and most of those are low level knowledge/comprehension questions. These figures come from an interesting article worth further investigation.
I just thought of this…”When we tell kids what they need to know, there’s no reason for them to search for the answers.” Hmmm?
So, how do we get kids to ask/answer high level questions? Work through the teaching process of: (1) I do/you watch (2) I do/You help (3) You do together/I help (4) You do/I watch (5) You Do/I watch. It does start with teacher modelling. The progression of questioning goes from “what?” (factual) to “so what?” (interpretive) then to “now what?”
(synthesis). This process moves from putting answers ”on the line” (factual) to reading “between the lines” (interpretive) and then moving “beyond the lines” (synthesis). Great analogy!
After lunch, we spent the majority of time discussing essesntial questions. Good EQ’s usually have a few of these elements:
-it has to matter to the kids
-it should spark curiosity and sense of wonder
-it is poised at the boundary of what is known and what is unknown
-it causes students to probe deeper meaing
-it’s answer cannot be found but must be constructed
-it asks question that simulates more questions
-it prompts students to make up their own minds
-it’s answer may change over time
-it is multidisciplinary
-it leads to creativity and to seeing connections in life
GREAT SESSION today! I can totally buy into this…more so than LoTI. While it still requires a lot of work and thoughtfullness on the teacher’s part, I think this model is more accessible to teachers, and at a more practical level. Brooke and Julie did a super job guiding everyone today, and I look forward to learing more in tomorrow’s session. I’ll post my thoughts on the connections between IC’s and eMINTS after we finish tomorrow.
So the question has come up several times in conversation lately, “Can a brand new teacher set up his/her classroom as an inspired one?” The question is almost always asked rhetorically, with an implied “no” for the answer. Up until now, most of the teachers piloting an Inspired Classroom environment have typically been pretty techno-savvy, veteran teachers. They have been the ones that felt “ready” to move ahead and try something new. But what about new or practically-new teachers, with less than three years of classroom experience? Could they, or should they try to set up their rooms as an Inspired Classroom? Many of the people I’ve talked with will say “no.”
Here’s why I think they believe that. In most cases, they are reflecting back at their own teaching experience and re-playing their teaching timeline in their heads. Keep in mind that everyone that has been in the classroom longer than 7-8 years (with a few exceptions) has lived through the same technology continuum. We started our teaching careers with no computers in the classroom, later added a few desktop computers in the classroom, learned how to use a “teacher” computer for administrative tasks, and then had to learn how to use it for creative and instructional tasks. Once we got that far, then and only then, did we begin teaching students how to use them for creative and instructional tasks. We learned how to manage our students and develop a classroom workflow before the technology timeline began. Our B.C. experiences (Before Computers) shaped how, when, where and why we use technology in our classrooms today.
For new teachers, the timeline looks a lot different. Whether it’s a 22-year-old teacher right out of college, or someone beginning his/her second career through alternative certification, they don’t have the history that most of us do. There is no B.C. in their timeline. Their first year in the classroom starts with computers in classrooms AND with a room full of students who come to school already prepared (and highly motivated) to use the technology.
My question is WHY do we want teachers to learn the “old” way of running a classroom before learning the “2006” way? Just because it took us 10 years to get comfortable with using Word, PowerPoint, Excel, Email, Internet Explorer, etc. doesn’t mean that from now on, there is a mandatory ten-year learning curve for all new teachers. They should be able to skip ahead and join the rest of us without having to “pay their dues” like we feel we had to do.
The big concepts of Inspired Classrooms can be taught to new teachers just as easily as the “traditional” way or the “old” way. Teaching and Learning in an Inspired Classroom requires skills (inquiry-based learning, collaborative teaming, researching skills, differentiated instruction and online communicating) that should not be “put on hold” for a few years while new teachers try to find their comfort zone. We should not only allow, but encourage new teachers to adopt these tenets and learn from the beginning how to leverage the technology and manage the student issues in this environment.
I understand I may be way off base here. As always, I reserve the right to be wrong on this issue. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Leave a comment and let’s discuss it. Any new teachers out there? New teacher mentors? Anyone?
Dr. Sara Armstrong is here in Irving doing a workshop on Standards-Based, Project-Based Learning. I am very excited about this session, even though I have been down-talking technology projects lately. I am not against technology projects in general, but I have been trying to show that they are not and, more importantly, cannot be the only way to integrate technology. I am in favor of using technology in more practical, day-to-day applications, closer to how we as adults use in it our daily lives. I know she’ll have insights about things I haven’t even thought of yet, and expect my mind to change today. I’ll do my best to get her thoughts down accurately and might have some comments of my own along the way. Here she goes…
Looking at 21st Century Skils. www.metiri.com (NCEL, Digital Lit. Skills) These are divided into four areas:
1. Inventive Thinking
Adaptability, managing complexity, and self direction. Curiosity, creativity, and risk taking. Higher oder thinking and sound reasoning.
2. High Productivity
Prioritize, plan and manage for results. Effective use of real-world tools. Relevant, high-quality products.
3. Effective Communication
Teaming, collaboration and interpersonal skills. Personal, social, and civic responsibility. Interactive communication.
4. Digital Age Literacies
Basic, scientific, economic, and technological literacies. Visual and information literacies. Multicultural literacy and global awareness.
Next, the group is brainstorming qualities of successful projects:
-students know expectations
-there is a end product
-student choice, open-ended
-variety of experienced
-connected to the real world
-presentation with others
After generating this list, we divided up into groups and worked to place each of the qualities into an appropriate 21st Cen. Skill area. Many groups noticed that there was a healthy overlap, and in some cases belonging to more than one category, indicating that the best projects covered all four areas. (I notice at this point of the workshop that she has memorized everyone’s name, all 25 of us!)
Asking ESSENTIAL QUESTIONS:
-produces deep thought
-problem related research
-may not have an answer
-“its not in the book, its in your head”
EQ’s are tough.
3 page handout on generating EQ’s. (big question machine) Here’s the pages:
These documents can help take a typical knowledge/comprehension EQ and make a better, higher level super-duper EQ. Try it, its cool.
A few more good-looking resources can be found here: http://www.ctap4.org/infolit/questions.htm
Asking “who”, “what”, “when”, and “where” are lower level questions. Instead, ask “what if”, “how” or “why” questions. Someone in the audience suggested we have students ask their own EQ in their own kid language or translate the teachers EQ to kid lingo…
We looked and briefly discussed the following videos:
Living History Carving Cultiral Relationships
Great Team, Great School
SGP HS: Where Relavence and Relationships are Key
My lunch break comments: I must admit that I have been very short-sighted about project-based learning. Sara’s definition of project-based learning is very different than mine. I like her’s better. I have been thinking about the kinds of projects that start with “OK kids, today we are going to do a project about _______.” She is talking about projects that completly transform the way a classroom operates and exists solely to answer/investigate an essential question and provide a unique experience in finding it..
Back from lunch, we spent quite a great deal of time looking at and discussing these websites:
Global SchoolNet Foundation: Project Registry
Judi Harris’ Virtual Architecture
Challenge 2000 Multimedia Project: PBL with Multimedia
NASA for Educators
As I was browsing through the Challenge 2000 website, I had a great “a-ha” moment. Basically, the article explained the similarities and differences between Project-Based and Problem-Based learning. Here’s some quotes:
Project-based learning typically begins with an end product or “artifact” in mind, the production of which requires specific content knowledge or skills and typically raises one or more problems which students must solve. The project-based learning approach uses a production model: First, students define the purpose for creating the end product and identify their audience. They research their topic, design their product, and create a plan for project management. Though the end product is the driving force in project-based learning, it is the content knowledge and skills acquired during the production process that are important to the success of the approach.
Problem-based learning, as the name implies, begins with a problem for students to solve or learn more about. The approach uses an inquiry model: students are presented with a problem and they begin by organizing any previous knowledge on the subject, posing any additional questions, and identifying areas they need more information. All problem-based learning approaches rely on a problem as their driving forces, but may focus on the solution to varying degrees.
According to this definition, I have been preaching “against” project-based learning, but “for” problem-based learning. I guess its a matter of semantics, or maybe I’ve just been confused all this time. Just go back and look at a few of the videos listed above. Whatever you call it, those teachers and students are truly transforming how great learning takes place.
Sara did a great job today providing resources and talking us all through the process of of getting started with projects. It’ll be a big task to take this message and get teachers pointed in this direction. Well, maybe easy to point them in this direction, but hard to get teachers to take meaningful next steps towards this. Hard to do, but definately worth it.
I have created some more video tutorals in the form of WordPress how-to’s. I have started out recording some basic processes to get teachers to a point where they can start the school year with their classroom blog up and running. As time progresses, I will add more advanced tutorials. I also realize that these aren’t dealing with instructional concepts yet, but I had to start somewhere. Here’s what I have so far:
If you have a special need or would like to put in a specific request for the next tutorial, use the comment link below and let me know what you need. I will do my best to keep these coming.