What is relevant?

I’ve enjoyed reading the reflections post-Educon2.2. There’s been much food for thought. So much that I couldn’t quite pin point what my big take-away from the weekend was. I had Tweeted on Saturday that “mentoring, leadership and individualized learning” seemed as if they were going to be big themes on Saturday, but when I opened my little notebook today, here’s what I saw:

To who was I referring when I wrote this? Was I writing about the students or the educators? I am not sure. It should absolutely be both. Here are my thoughts from Saturday (Sunday is another post in the works).

Disclaimer: I’m putting this all in my own words and not in the words of the articulate conversation leaders.

Session 1: Subversive PD: Creating a culture of collaboration to bring educators into the 21st Century

Danja Mahoney, Michael Springer, and Beth Knittle got us to talk about how to make professional development not suck. (Please see disclaimer.)

Three shared concepts from this session were:

  1. make sure you have achievable goals
  2. encourage your attendees to leave with something tangeable
  3. plan for time to play

These three facilitators did an excellent job in creating an environment where we truly had a conversation. We talked in our small groups as well as a whole group.

I left the session in agreement with many in the room. The best type of PD is individualized. It’s also the toughest, most time-consuming and most rewarding type as well.

Session 2: Taking the load off a learner’s mind: Cognitive Load Theory in Education

First of all. Chris Craft is an excellent storyteller. Second of all. Chris knows a lot of stuff I don’t know. I want to know more.

Cognitive Load Theory:

(We can design instruction that prevents overload.)

  1. intrinsic – our natural level of load
  2. germane – this is what we want for our students
  3. extraneous – what we don’t want

Chris shared that the goal of learning is to effect a change in long term memory. He spoke briefly about what the brain is capable of remembering (chunking) and of  automaticity. The conversation lent itself nicely to Universal Design for Learning and how to reduce extraneous loads for our students.

Session 3: Improving Professional Development with Online PD

Barbara Treacy and  Chris Champion began this conversation with the question “What can and can’t be taught online?”. I really thought my group would come up with a specific list, but instead we began a wonderful conversation about designing effective professional development. The idea is that with the tools available to us today like Screen-cast-o-matic and Scribd, it’s all about the facilitator and the participants networking and using the resources effectively. Ultimately, we can teach anything online.

So, how do we make it relevant for our students be they children or adults? How do we teach with rigor?

I honestly don’t have the two sentence answer. I don’t think it exists. I’m not even working on coming up with it. I am, however, taking pieces of these three sessions and embedding them into my plans for the upcoming weeks hoping for improvement. There’s always room for that.

I’m looking for a Few Good Men/Women

Image source http://www.biojobblog.com
Image source http://www.biojobblog.com

Please take me very seriously when I tell you that I need help. We have had such an overwhelming response to our initiatives this year that there are not enough days in the week for me to visit all the schools involved.

We are looking for consultants for our math initiatives, Universal Design for Learning grants, and the 21st Century Learning Initiative that I piloted last year.

Please contact me directly at lisa dot thumann at gmail dot com if you are looking for consulting opportunities in the New Jersey area.

Thank you in advance! –Lisa

Did You Develop Professionally?

Image Source http://zcache.com
Image Source http://zcache.com

Let’s review the facts.

On June 22, 2009 I responded to Clif Mim’s Professional Development Meme with the following four summer PD goals:

My Goals:

1. Complete the last two video podcasts for the grant project I have remaining and submit them to the funding partners.
2. Record audio and or video of summer PD and upload to the CMSCE Rutgers iTunes U account for archiving.
3. Continue building the UDL4ALL Ning – add resources, build community, cultivate conversations.
4. Add to my iTouch the Future series of posts.

Now, before you judge me, stop and think about how hectic your summer has been. Think about all the time you spent with your family and friends. Think about all the work you did. Think about all you actually were able to accomplish.

Let’s cut to the chase. Here’s the breakdown of the excuses for not accomplishing any of my goals:

  1. I didn’t finish the video project because during my two-week vacation when I was going to work on it (this is funny, right?) I had to manually code the Center’s fall 2009-2010 catalog (link).
  2. The sessions I intended on UStreaming were in fact recorded, I even uploaded them to Blip.tv . But when I went to convert and edit them down to import into iTunesU I ran into all sorts of errors that I just abandoned after a while.
  3. I did add a bit to the UDL4ALL Ning but not as much as I had planned. I have no excuse for this one.
  4. Blogging about the iPodTouch apps became less of a priority for me as my interests went elsewhere. I bookmarked many great resources and explored many great educational applications this summer though.

Though I did not comply with the 7th rule of this Meme in that I did not achieve my goals by September 7th, I do feel that I have developed professionally. Sometimes our priorities shift. Things happen.

I’m getting ready to welcome a new cohort of educators into the Center’s 21st Century Learning Initiative. I’m looking forward to the 3rd year of the INCLUDE grant and helping districts use the UDL framework to help students reach their objectives. I’m looking forward to traveling around New Jersey and the country to various conferences to speak about technology trends in education and exchange ideas with fellow ed-techies.

I’m looking forward to ANOTHER great year. How about you?

Casual Chit Chat with the Family over the Weekend

Source: Allposters.com
Source: Allposters.com

I’m beginning to think that I am not capable of casual chit chat when it comes to talking about children and education.

I don’t remember how the topic of conversation came up, but I was with some of my family over the weekend and one of my relatives was speaking about a local school district and how they can’t seem to hire and retain any quality teachers. He was questioning what the issue was with the administration and why after all these years of receiving additional funding from the government for teacher salaries, students still are not scoring well on the tests.

Pause. Breathe…Lisa…Maybe this is not the time and place to talk about all the… OH FORGET IT!!!

Maybe, just maybe, I was able to tweak this relative’s view on public education a little bit as I talked about the student population of this specific district. I spoke of how most of these students came from foreign countries where formal schooling was not common place. They had to take the State standardized tests, possibly before they even had a handle on the English language. By the time they were finally getting into a routine at school, making friends, adjusting to the schedule, their family would find jobs elsewhere and relocate. The test scores that were published in the local newspaper were not indicative of the time, effort, skill, ability and knowledge of the students or the teachers in the district, merely, the situation of that given day.

The response…”Huh? I didn’t know that. I never thought about it that way.”

I don’t know how I thought he would respond. The others in the general vicinity kind of slinked away. Perhaps I may have ranted a bit.

We went on to talk a bit about Universal Design for Learning (UDL)  and how I’ve been working with schools and educators in NJ on implementing that framework in their classrooms. We talked about being flexible and accommodating students needs. I gave him examples of my own children needing accommodations in their classrooms and situations of when they got them and when they didn’t.

My concern was that the chit chat at my family gathering last weekend just happened to have two sides to the story. It doesn’t always. Many people, including taxpayers, are making judgements on our fellow educators that are placed in near-impossible positions. I wish I could do more to help people visualize what’s going on in today’s classrooms.

Are We Idealistic or Optimistic?

feb2009-misc-010

One of the responsibilities of my job at the CMSCE at Rutgers University is to offer sustained professional development in Universal Design for Learning (UDL). Some of the districts that I have been working with are part of a grant through the NJ Department of Education called the INCLUDE grant and some of them have taken it upon themselves to begin to embed UDL principles in their curriculum. In either case, I get the opportunity to develop a rapport with the teachers, work with them over a sustained period of time, customize the professional development to their needs and the needs of their students and in some cases have the opportunity to go into their classrooms and co teach with them.

One of the topics that we spend a large chunk of time talking about in our professional development on UDL is removing barriers from our lessons, curriculum and classrooms so that more students can reach the objectives of the lessons. We show teachers all types of digital tools that help students decode directions using text-to-speech tools, highlighters and even something as simple as just making fonts larger. We talk about using mind maps and imagery to help visual learners. We offer the concepts of allowing students to represent that they have met the objectives of a unit by a means of their choice versus a single choice assignment or assessment.

I urge educators that are involved in UDL to make use of social bookmarking. I share my Delicious and Diigo bookmarks with them and encourage them to explore the “tag” for UDL. I try to show them the power of collaboration not just with the teachers they are working with, but with other teachers in the state and the nation that are also embracing these same techniques in their classrooms. We join conversations in the UDL4ALL Ning and look for other schools and educators that are implementing these same principles in their classrooms to share their experieinces with us.

During one of my recent UDL sessions, I invited my friend, and UDL guru, Karen Janowski to Skype in with us. When I had first met the group of teachers they told me they were “just not getting UDL”. I talked to them for about an hour and made some suggestions about how I might help them move forward and then explained to them that I don’t learn alone. I learn from and with others.  I asked them who they had learned from and they mentioned Karen’s name and her Toolkit.  I indicated that I would ask her if she was available for a Skype with us and it seemed as if it was a completely new concept. (Many of the folks in my PLN wouldn’t think twice of video conferencing with someone who had the answers to some of the questions they had.) I explained to the group that by making this connection, the answers might be a bit more meaningful to them. They would see Karen’s toolkit not just as a list of valuable links, but as resources from a thoughtful educator from Massachusetts that took the time to speak with them.

Karen gave us some great suggestions after we told her we were still looking for ways to increase our Activity Toolkit. We talked about general tools to help remove barriers for different types of learners and specific ways to make accommodations in our classrooms for the three Brain Networks. Since these teachers were part of the INCLUDE grant and had a focus specifically on middle school math, she suggested Mathcasts and MathPlayground as resources for activities to integrate with the curriculum.

Then the conversation went down a different road. One of the teachers brought it back to a topic we had been discussing before Karen had joined us on Skype. The teacher spoke of three specific barriers that they felt could not be removed from the situation.
The Three Barriers:

  1. Teachers cannot count on support from home. Most students go home to older or younger siblings and do not see parents until much later in the evening.
  2. These are classified students, ELL students and students that tend to not test well. We can’t change that.
  3. Time. There is never enough of it and they are told to get through the curriculum by the end of March so that all content is covered before the State testing. Then after testing they can go back and redo anything they feel needs reinforcement.

After the teacher laid it on the line so clearly, there was really nothing Karen or I could say that was going to bring her back to what she COULD do. These barriers are the realities of her challenges.

What are the realities of your challenges? Karen and I both commented that we might be idealists…

Yesterday I shared these three barriers with the group of teachers I am working with in another NJ district. In this group, there are some non-public school teachers that join our sessions. This made for interesting conversation, since a non-public school might make different requirements for its teachers than a public school with its union teachers.

He offered his districts answers to some of these barriers:

  1. Each teacher is to offer “Office Hours” once a week. These are to be the same day each week from the end of the school day at 2:45 until 3:45. Students are to make appointments and parents are to arrange for transportation. These hours are designed so that students that need help from their teacher outside the typical school day, can get it.
  2. Each teacher is to make themselves available to help students during their recess time. (Recess in this school is held before lunch time.)
  3. In this particular non-public school, the text book guides the curriculum for mathematics. Get done what you can.

I have yet to find anyone who has all the answers. But collectively, we do a pretty good job. I don’t know if I’m an idealist or an optimist. I know there are at least two sides to every story. Really, what are the realities of our challenges in the classroom? Are you the teacher that throws up barriers or walls or excuses at every accommodation that is suggested or are you this teacher? Thanks Chris Craft – you had perfect timing today.

crafty