Monday, February 22, 2010

The Science of Play

Recently I attended Educon2.2. It was difficult to choose which sessions to attend as there were so many high-quality offerings. Two of the conversations I chose were Taking.Play.Seriously with Brian C. Smith and Thinking Creatively-Inventing the Possible with Linda Nitsche. Both of these wonderful and thought-provoking sessions were right up my alley as an educator, and I was excited to be able to discuss my personal passion in teaching with like-minded educators.
It seems that the educational value of play is beginning to gain greater respect in wider circles. I had to chuckle when, in one of the sessions, it was suggested that play be considered a "new literacy." To me, that is like calling breathing a new literacy. I believe that children are instinctively amazing learners, and that play and creative exploration are vital components of growth and development.

The current trend is to start academic learning at an earlier age. Preschool is what kindergarten once was, and kindergarten is what first grade used to be. Parents employ private tutors to teach 3 and 4 year olds how to read. The paradox is that in order to grow into our full potential, we must be allowed to develop our brains at a natural pace. Happily, research is catching up to what many of us who work with children have long understood. Children learn through play. Play is vital and necessary. Here is the catch- the play must be unstructured. Children learn through creating their own play. Why is it so scary for adults to respect the inherent intelligence and wholeness of children?

It seems that in our fear of falling behind and our frenzy to compete with other countries that are supposedly surpassing us in industry and math and science test scores, we have taken a path that, ultimately, makes little sense.
Problem: Kids aren't scoring high enough on standardized tests.
Usual Solutions: Teach to the test, more tests, more academics, longer school days, longer school years.

The way I see it, both the problem and the solutions need to be revisited and revised. The problems facing us as human beings are extremely complex. We must have a deep understanding of the world in which we live, the mindset to approach problems with creativity, a spirit of innovation and an outstanding ability to connect, collaborate and care about others, in order to go forward.

The human brain is the greatest technology ever known. Human beings created artificial intelligence to reflect our own intelligence. We are the machine. By working creatively with technology to explore and solve complex problems, we develop neural pathways and increase our abilities to think, problem-solve, create and understand our world. The way we use computer applications and troubleshoot equipment is, like learning, non-linear and open-ended. There are multiple approaches that will work. What is important is the ability to problem solve through trial and error as well as knowing where to seek further assistance when trial and error isn't working. When a process is used enough times it will be naturally committed to memory, but that is much less important than the confidence that comes through striving, frustration and success. That is learning. Today, more than ever before in history, we can not be satisfied with a standardized test score as the main indicator of a well-educated person.

image from BrianCSmith's flickr. Lots more great quotes there, too, from the Strong Museum of Play.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Passion Project

Have you read Sir Ken Robinson's book, The Element, yet? The subtitle is "How finding your passion changes everything."
For me it was a total mind-opener on many levels. It is everything you already know on a deep level. But I suggest you read it anyway.

For me it was that very satisfying experience of having a very articulate person with a whole lot of credibility do a very good job of saying all the things I have wanted to say and tried to say for many years of working with kids.
We're all "gifted". It's a question of finding one's passion.

I decided to implement a "passion project" with 5th grade. I've done something similar before and was pleased with the results. It's taps into the user-generated education idea.
The "task" I have set forth to the students is to create a multimedia project about whatever they want to explore or share in a creative way.

I introduced the project today. First I showed them this video from the Imagine It Project:

video platform
video management
video solutions
free video player

Then I showed them student work samples from the last time I did a similar project a few years ago. I challenged them to take it up a notch, citing the fact that they have more tech skills than their older siblings and friends who did the earlier projects. They should be able to use multimedia authoring tools to create work that would show the results of their explorations and allow them to share their passions with others.
I also allowed them to work with partners of their own choosing.

I gave them this short survey to complete:

Before I even had a chance to go over the survey results, they were ready to get started. Although I know my students and have worked with them for 4 years now, it is always a revelation to me to learn more about them. What makes them tick? What do they want to create, to learn, to do? A few of the topics I could have guessed, but some were a surprise.
I threw in the last survey question, about what motivates you to do your best work, for my own edification, but also to get them thinking more about motivation. The answers were varied and interesting. One student chose "other" and wrote: "having fun and doing what I like."
Sir Ken would approve.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Classroom Innovation

This was my first attempt at making an animated film. I made it as part of my entry into Google Teacher Academy in Washington DC in November. I didn't get in to the GTA, but I like my movie, so I figured I'd share it here for fun. I made it using Frames4.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Cost of Copyright Confusion

The future of intellectual property in a remix generation
facilitator: Kristin Hokanson

Essential Understanding -instead of telling students "these are the rules" we must get students to think critically about the issues

What is your understanding of copyright? small group discussion.
common themes-
what is law vs. what is ethics?
public vs. private use
using certain media to enhance your message (the importance of teaching this to kids)
contextual and intent-driven
where do you draw the line on educational use?
citing sources, attribution

The intent of copyright: "to promote creativity, innovation and the spread of knowledge"
-Article 1, section 8 US Constitution 1787

Fair Use is the exemption to the law. How are we teaching kids to make the distinctions?

Range of comfort with use of copyrighted materials:
"see no evil" teachers who say go ahead and do it, I don't see it. sends kids mixed messages
"close the door" - I'll just close the door and we'll go ahead and do what we want.
"hyper-comply"- teachers who want exact rules, times, etc.
all of these examples fly in the face of critical thinking around the issues.

What do kids understand about...
•fair use
•public domain
•creative commons

•understanding the difference between authorship and ownership
•creative commons
-challenge of giving credit, challenge of school filters
•what is the purpose of your work? are you analyzing the piece or simply restating something?

example of importance of purpose: Bill Graham Archives vs. Dorling Kindersley, Ltd. (2006)
Bill Graham sued DK for using their poster in a book about rock posters. DK won. The purpose of the original poster was to promote the rock concert. Purpose of the book was to document the time period, etc.

Codes of Best Practices:
Book- Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Media Literacy Education (available from Media Education Lab)

The effective use of copyrighted materials enhances the teaching and learning process.
Context and situation of the material (user's rights video. available on temple site, embedded in the wiki, linked above).-
fair use depends on the benefit to society. does benefit to society outweigh the costs of the copyright holder.
Ask yourself: Did I
*add value?

also on the wiki: scenarios for discussion, fair use reasoning sheet to help students develop the critical thinking skills around fair-use

"Mashups are an opportunity for students to really look at the media they consume-- to take it and give it their own spin. It helps show kids how they can present their own point of view."
-Faith Rogow

Watch: Larry Lessig's TED talk (How the law is strangling creativity)

The above are notes I took during the session. I just want to add that this session really opened my mind to a new understanding of this topic. There are no hard and fast rules. It really is about critical thinking and developing media literacy and a true understanding of intellectual property. And the best news of all is that there are incredible resources (check out the links) available to teach yourself and your students about copyright and fair use.

Leadership 2.0- Who do we need our leaders to be?

Chris Lehmann
Session Description:
If we assume that the schools we need are inquiry-driven, technology-infused and communities of care, what do leaders have to be to engender and nurture those ideas?

Big ideas!

all of our classrooms should start with the questions we ask together- CL
What does this idea mean?
What does this idea mean for education?
How could this idea affect our schools and communitites?
How does this idea inform my personal practice?

•teacher guided questions leading to self-guided exploration
•inquiry as a pedagogy continues beyond school. is a real skill, process.
•not just asking questions but getting to the answer or an answer.
•teachers asking questions they don't know the answers to "What do you think?"
shared process of inquiry between teacher and student

connection between inquiries and communities of care. We know the content but they (students) know themselves. We can inquire about them.

What does "technology infused" mean?
•technology not independent of the content/pedagogical structure
•how do we leverage what kids are already using/doing with tech?
•can't be "the schools we've always had + technology"
•ubiquitous and invisible
•learning experiences going on that demand technology and can't be done without it.
•saying "I want my kids to be able to do something, what's the tool?"
"tools are transformative"
•release of control by the teacher

The ability to have these conversations and come to common ground requires a good leader. Get to common ground and then move on.

Communities of care-
difference between "I teach math." and "I teach KIDS math."
Students should never be the implied object of their own education.
mutual transparency- true motives are available to each other
care is at all levels. You can not bully teachers into caring for kids.
teachers have to feel cared for, trusted, listened to. top-down mandates will never get us to communities of care.
even when you care for people, you occasionally have to have hard conversations. caring means setting boundaries, being the adult (when talking about adults caring for kids, imposing structure and discipline).
Enabling is not caring.

Leadership- in order to transform a school where do you start?
Start by listening.
what do we do well?
what do we all want to do?
people want to make meaning together. someone who will take their ideas and synthesize them. Then lead.
You have to carve out the time and space for care. It doesn't fit neatly into the academic calendar, but you must make time for it. Structural change- at SLA every student has an advisor, someone whose job it is to know and care for that student. "The curriculum is the community."

"managing up" -teach our leaders how we want things to be. coming to people with solutions they can own. building trust and bridges.
Visioning: Developing Ideas
Modeling: How can leaders publicly live these ideas?
-articulating vision and starting discussion around vision, values

Whatever we want our kids to do, we have to allow our teachers to do.

Servant Leadership: Top Down Support for Bottom Up Ideas
We should be able to say to teachers "How can I help?"

Leading? How do we get everyone on board?
consensus-driven decision making doesn't mean we all agree completely. It means we are all willing to come to consensus and move forward around a shared decision.
a subjugation of ego

How do we build systems and structures?
go into a school, ask what their mission statement is and ask them to prove it.
what are the systems and structures that support and sustain it?

Good leadership says, "Here are the systems and structures that will enable any teacher who is willing..."

Monday, February 1, 2010

Dream Job?!

My school is currently in the market for a new "head of school" for next year and beyond. Today, the second of three candidate finalists came to visit and tour the school. Teachers were given the opportunity to sign up for a 10 minute meeting with him on Tuesday, which I did.
Then I got a few minutes to meet with him today. I shared with him some thoughts about my job, the school in general and my hopes and challenges for the future. He gave me a "homework assignment" for our meeting tomorrow, which was to imagine my "dream job" at the school. If I could shape my role to be whatever I wanted it to be, what would that look like?

Ok, first of all, how much do I already like the guy for giving me this homework assignment?
You might think I have an easy answer to this question of a dream job, but I do not. So, I thought I would use my blog to explore my ideas. And then, if I haven't alienated all my readers by neglecting the blog for so long, maybe I could get some helpful feedback, too.

Currently, in my "technology coordinator" role I do the following:
•teach weekly resource or "specials" technology lab classes K-5
•teach a STEM pull-out, enrichment class for first graders, twice a week (and about to start a similar, once a week group for 5th graders)
•provide support for teachers in the area of tech integration
•with a LOT of help from a wonderful assistant, I oversee the network, troubleshoot problems, install software, order supplies, fix anything tech related, help teachers with technical problems, act as administrator for edline (our school's web portal)
•with Silvia Tolisano, our 21st century learning specialist, host monthly "parent coffee talks" to educate parents on relevant issues
•meet weekly with Silvia to collaboratively plan and strategize. Work on various projects or parts of projects with her.
•teach 8th grade weekly Jewish Lens class and technology resource classes in the middle school
•maintain my own Personal Learning Network and devote regular time to my own professional development through reading articles, blogs, exploring multimedia, commenting and otherwise engaging in the network, writing, reflecting, planning and exploring online resources, taking
classes and attending conferences. This takes time, but I believe it is a necessary and vitally important part of my work as an educator. The vast majority of this time is after school hours.
•maintain a classroom blog to share student work

In previous years I have run an after school tech club and keyboarding classes for students and an after school tech club for teachers. Before the addition of Silvia Tolisano to our faculty, I provided more professional development for teachers and tried to get into classrooms to work with teachers and students on unique, tech-infused projects. This year, Silvia has taken on more of the role of professional developer and tech integrationist.

So, that's the past and present. What about the future?
What does our school need and how can I use my time, energy and talents to best help?
There's a bit of a tug of war going on in my mind...
First of all, there are the weekly computer lab classes. A big part of me feels that it is time for those to change or to disappear altogether. As much as I enjoy my time with the students and my freedom to explore without many boundaries (no grades, no set curriculum, etc), I feel that the model of once-a-week computer resource classes conveys a message that computers are a "class" instead of a tool. We all know that kids don't really need to learn computers, right?

Well.....I think that's basically the case. But I still believe there are skills that the kids get from my class that they might not get without my class. File management, troubleshooting, that type of thing. Ok, I admit, they probably could get those skills without my class.
So then what about the things I do in my class that I know are valuable for students but that don't fit into a typical lesson plan? The creative, playful, open-ended explorations; the "educational free choice" time, the public sharing and presentations? Some of these can (and probably should) be brought into the classroom, but my fear is that some of the activities that don't have an easy to recognize curricular goal (but are still incredibly important) will get lost. Think Scratch, for example.

Then there is the issue of how teachers see me. Most teachers see me first and foremost as tech support (weird because I am an educator NOT a techie, I just learned the tech stuff because there was no one else in the building to keep the network running). And though they are often, but not always, too polite to admit it, the K-5 teachers view me as relief so that they can have a break from the students. While I think every teacher deserves prep time, bathroom time, make a phone call time, whatever....I am not a babysitter. And I really resent the implied notion that whatever happens in my class is not REAL learning.

So why do these things matter? It's because my dream job as a teacher is to be a true collaborator with my colleagues. I do have the tech skills, but I have much more than that. I envision a coaching type of job- going into classrooms and working together with teachers and students. Embedded professional development. But for it to work I think that teachers would have to view me differently than I think they do now. Because it's not about me demonstrating a SMARTboard lesson. I would want to be a team teacher and if I went into classrooms and the teacher just "tuned out" and started checking email, grading papers, etc. which happens all the time at this school then I would rather keep my lab classes the way they are.

So, potential new head of school, as you can see I need some help with this decision. I thank you for asking me about my dream job. But my dream job might not exist. I guess if I was the right person for the job I would figure out the way to make it work, but I think I would need your help.

image credit