FETC 2012 Thinking About the Un-Comfort Zone

This was my first FETC. I got lucky with the weather, I got lucky with the company I got to keep, I got lucky that my presentations (1 and 2) went well (I think). But most important of all, I got lucky with what I took away from the conference.

I spent much of the conference thinking about students as leaders. I included Chris Lehman and Sylvia Martinez in one of my presentations because of how they empower the students they work with.

I listened to stories form the changes Shannon Miller has made in Van Meter, Iowa. I sat and heard Jason Markey and some other folks from East Leyden High School in Illinois speak about empowering students as leaders. I engaged in some great conversations on Twitter:

Heidi Hayes Jacobs spoke about how we are limited by what we know. Many of us tend to do things that we are used to and comfortable with. But she also said that we have to feel uncomfortable in order to grow. I think one of the great ways to get in that un-comfort zone is to put the learning in the hands of the students.

Heidi talked about the following with regards to what makes a good Web 2.0 site:

  • encourage engagement and curiosity
  • deepens examination of content
  • engenders independence
  • reflects quality in student products/performance

But I am thinking that we can apply these same requirements to how we put our students in leadership roles.

So, think about how you can push yourself to try something new. Perhaps that new thing can be a change in the role of the students in your classroom. Please let me know what you think.


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2011 Edublog Awards

I just finished going through the list of winners from the 2011 Edublog Awards. I was particularly interested in the categories for the Best Class Blog, Best Student Blog and Best Teacher Blog as educators that I am working with are always looking for good examples. Please take a look at these:

Best Class Blog (top 5 winners)

  1. Mrs. Yollis’ 3rd Grade Class Blog http://yollisclassblog.blogspot.com
  2. St. Wolstan’s Transition Year Blog http://stwolstansty.blogspot.com/
  3. Mr. Buxton’s 5th Grade Class SAS http://mrbuxton.blogspot.com/
  4. Mr. Salsich’s Class http://jmsalsich.edublogs.org/
  5. 2KM And 2KJ @ Leopold Primary School http://2kmand2kj.global2.vic.edu.au/

Best Student Blog (top 5 winners)

  1. Jaden’s Blog http://jadensawesomeblog.blogspot.com/
  2. Miriam’s Blog http://victoria-miriamsmoments.blogspot.com/
  3. Jake’s Blog http://mjgds.org/students/jakeg/
  4. Jarrod’s Blog http://jarrodsblog.global2.vic.edu.au/
  5. Gemma’s Blog http://gemmaccs11.edublogs.org

Best Teacher Blog (top 5 winners)

  1. Brunswick Acres Art Blog http://baart.weebly.com/
  2. allatc http://allatc.wordpress.com/
  3. Teacher Tom http://teachertomsblog.blogspot.com/
  4. Ms Mac’s Website http://kmcfadzen.wordpress.com/
  5. In search of Scientific Creativity http://problemfinding.labanca.net/

Fantastic! All of them! And congratulations to all the nominees.

Whatever Works – Don’t Fight It!

A middle school teacher that I worked with last year said “whatever works, don’t fight it” when we would talk about all the different things we tried in our classes.   She was referring to how she was engaging her students. Willing to try just about anything, she maintained throughout the year that she was going to keep doing what was working for her.

Because what I was doing wasn’t working, I’ve revamped the plans for one district. The thing is, I wasn’t being effective. It wasn’t bringing on change or improvement. The teachers involved needed something different. It’s difficult to stop something that you were convinced is going to work and to go at it from another angle.

Whatever works, don’t fight it

So, where did this new plan come from? If you look back at my post after Educon, you’ll see that I am thinking that sharing stories is a fantastic way to bring improvement to our classrooms. In order to make this list, I listened to stories from and read and studied information from Kern Kelley, Helen Barrett, the collective wisdom of http://1to1schools.net/ and countless articles and pieces of research.

Here’s the new plan as it stands now (subject to change):

  1. It’s not a tech initiative, it’s a learning initiative
  2. Digital Portfolios (using Google Sites)
  3. Managing the 1:1 Classroom
  4. Starting a student leadership team in grades 5-8
  5. Sharing success stories with colleagues
  6. Parent/Community training and showcases

The thing is though, that this new set of objectives may still not bring on enough improvement and discussion to satisfy the participants. Part of me feels like there isn’t anything wrong with trying to help and ultimately not making a change,  and part of me feels extremely concerned. Each teacher and group of students is unique. How would you cope / deal / discuss / decide what your next step was?

1.       It’s not a tech initiative, it’s a learning initiative

2.       Digital Portfolios using Google Sites

3.       *Managing the 1:1 Classroom  –

4.       Starting a student leadership team in grades 5-8

5.     Sharing success stories with colleagues

6.     Parent/Community training and showcases

The Purpose of Education

This post is my contribution to an ongoing project organized by purpos/ed, “a non-partisan, location-independent organization aiming to kickstart a debate around the question: What’s the purpose of education?“  It is an honor to have my post included among the other amazing bloggers that have also contributed their responses at http://purposed.org.uk/archives/.

The purpose of education is to help students develop a lifelong love of learning.

Don’t you remember what school was like at age 6 and 7? I do. I had teachers that liked to have us explore, play, laugh and smile. I wanted to go to school and I wanted to learn.

I see this in my second grader. There is no “boring”. There is no memorization of facts. She wants to research topics she interested in and report them to her classmates. She reads, write, draws, thinks and discusses.

What happened between 2nd and 3rd grade?

My 3rd grader's bookcase

An appreciation and love for learning at school is something that is absent from the life of my 3rd grader. At homework time, she says:

  • Mom, I can’t draw my comic figures for this report, I have to do it the right way.
  • Mom, I can’t ask my teacher that, she might get mad at me.
  • Mom, I can’t use the computer for my spelling lists, I have to do this worksheet.
  • Mom, I can’t read that book, I have to read this one.
  • Mom, I hate homework.
  • Mom, I don’t like school
  • Mom, school is boring.

It goes on everyday, seven days a week. (Yes, she has homework seven days a week.)

What should we do? Or, how can we help? (Or what should I do and how can I help?)

Do our pre-service and in-service teachers getting enough experience, training and time for:

  • Enthusiasm
  • Empathy
  • Respect
  • Self-confidence
  • Self-awareness
  • The ability to reflect

Because if we can encourage all of this in our teachers, there is a glimmer of hope that they will model them well for our children.

I admit I am critical of those that work with my two girls. Shouldn’t I be? But, I acknowledge that perhaps some are not prepared in the sense that their education and experiences didn’t give them the opportunities to develop enthusiasm, empathy, respect, self-confidence, self-awareness and the ability to reflect.

We need passionate teachers. We need to cultivate a love of learning in all our students. I believe that before test scores rise, more children graduate from high school, and more graduates go to college, we need to focus on the purpose of education – nurturing a love of learning.

Educon 2.3 – Foster Change by Leading and Sharing

What has changed in your school or district in the last year? This is the question I mulled over on my ride home from Educon.

There were two sessions that I thought of as I drove. The Same as it Ever Was, but Does it Have to Be with Leo Brehm and Beth Knittle and The Ethical Obligation to Teach, Learn & Share Globally with Dean Shareski and Alec Couros.

Why these sessions?

Well, I’m concerned as to why I’ve been going to Educon for four years, yet I am still hearing all the same concerns from the attendees.

Beth and Leo

 

If our schools are not doing things correctly, what is it that we want?

We attempted to answer this question in Beth and Leo’s session. They put together a wiki and I’m hoping to see the folks that were there add to it. Here’s what we talked about together:

  • We want learners who can troubleshooting/problem solve
  • We want to focus on thinking skills rather than just skills
  • We want to look at what’s working and clone it rather than work on fixing what’s broken
  • We want self-motivated learners
  • We want the school community to be filled with adult learners (we are all learners)
  • We want to cultivate a lifelong love of learning

Beth recommended viewing  The Tribes We Lead TED Talk by Seth Godin as a resource for inspiration. What he says makes sense to me:

  • You can make change by leading
  • You should connect with people for ideas
  • What we do for a living now is finding something we want to change and assembling a group of people to change it
  • We should organize people who want to talk about something and have the same desires
  • One person can’t do this alone, but together we can get it done. We just need someone to lead us
  • We’re waiting for someone to show us where to go next

What is it that we need?

The group shared examples of what was happening in their schools. Some stories were encouraging and others were what seemed to be a recurring theme of schools in need of help. Here’s what we brainstormed:

  • Learners need to know it’s okay to fail
  • All learners should be empowered in a school
  • Schools should provide/allow for flexible learning environments
  • Learners should be encouraged to be passionate problem solvers
  • We need more time
  • Let’s not focus on the minute details, but work towards a common goal
  • Realize that it may be curriculum redesign that is needed

How are we going to get there?

This brings me back to Alec and Dean’s session as in both our small group and large group discussions, people shared stories.  Is this the solution to our bringing on change? Should we all just talk about what is working and then replicate it? I’m thinking so. What do you think?

Connecting with Your Students (VSS2010)

Yesterday I sat in on several sessions at the Virtual School Symposium in Glendale, Arizona. Two turned out to be vendor driven, one never really got to the point and one truly provided some great ideas to think about.

The presenters were from the Branson School Online. Leanna Christians is the K-12 virtual principal and Christina Narayan is an elementary virtual school teacher. The theme of their presentation was the “Circle of Trust”. The idea that you don’t want anyone involved with the school to feel outside the circle. They talked about parents, students, teachers, administration and staff.

The entire time I was listening to Leanna and Christina I was thinking about how everything they were saying applied to every BAM (Bricks and Mortar) school.

Here are some of their suggestions:

  • Students need to connect with other students
    • Leadership groups
    • Peer counseling
    • peer tutoring
    • social events to build community
    • class pets (whether real or stuffed)
    • Reading buddies
    • Collaborative storytelling
    • Blogging
    • Group discussions
    • Learning Circles
    • “Gotcha” awards if the student is doing something exceptional
  • Survey families about themselves
    • They use Google Forms to do this
    • Christina subscribes to Hallmark.com for $10 a year in order to send out digital birthday cards to students and parents.
  • Administrators need to connect with the teachers
    • teachers should feel safe and free to take risks
    • admins can connect with staff via phone or e-mail
    • Administrators should make sure that teachers are competent in their abilities
  • The school needs to connect with parents
  • The school needs connections to the Community
    • College Fairs
    • County Parks
    • Career Planning
    • Field trips with other schools

In Leanna’s closing comments she said “if you don’t fail at atleast one thing, you are not trying hard enough”.

I challenge you to find three new ways you can connect better with your students and then implement them!

Social Networking in High School

Is the average high school student able to define social networking or give an example of it? I thought most would use Facebook as an example, but during a recent visit to a local high school, one freshman student used e-mailing his teacher in First Class as an example.  Many of his classmates were of the same opinion as he, so it opened up a much-needed conversation during which this classroom full of 20 students spoke about where they preferred to network with each other.
Their preferred places to communicate with their friends:
As for social networking in schools, the students felt that there were just too many places to have to check already (a complaint that teachers share themselves).  It was the one topic of conversation that period that everyone in the room seemed to agree on. The complaint was that in one subject area the teacher would use Moodle, the next Google Apps, the next Diigo and that ultimately they forgot to check something and missed turning in an assignment.
Image Credit: http://treatingyourself.com

When asked which network would be the preferred place to use for school, students had a tough time coming to a consensus. We posed a similar request as to which gaming system the majority of the class would prefer to use (ie X-Box, Wii, Nintendo DSi) and they could not make a decision either. We reasoned that teachers felt the same and found it difficult to find a content management system or collaboration tool that satisfied every staff member in a building which resulted in all these different tools the students had to use.

The conversation ended with a link to a Wallwisher we had set up in the hopes that those that didn’t particate in the conversation might take a stab at it this way. They didn’t really. The comments left were from the same boys (the young ladies remained very quiet during our session together) that shared their opinions during class and the tool, in this case, didn’t reveal anything that our talk hadn’t uncovered. But it did introduce the classroom teacher to an easy way to post a question or topic and have students share answers.
Yet another place to have to check for information.