Friday, December 3, 2010

Classroom Climate is Changing!

Jennifer Pearson teaches 3rd grade at Manson Northwest Webster Elementary. A few days ago I asked her how her classroom environment has changed this year because of her professional learning and the district's emphasis on technology integraton. She was kind enough to write about it. I want to share it on my blog. You'll find as you read, she is definitely a reflective practitioner. I'd encourage you to visit her blog and website. And, she's a great follow on Twitter.

Jen says:
"Recently I have been doing a lot of reflecting on the look and feel of my 3rd grade classroom as compared to previous school years. As a teacher, I have always been focused on pouring lessons through my relevancy filter. I try to ask myself about relevant work and assessments. Here are some questions I have asked myself: Is it useful to teach cursive handwriting? Why would I expect my students to copy or rewrite (with pencil and paper) a writing project knowing that I would never do the same? Is it important for my students to identify sentences that are written correctly? Wouldn't it be more relevant for them to create their own sentences? Is it relevant for my students to cut and glue and do 'crafty' things?

I have been able to answer some of these questions and, some, I have not. However, these many questions, and the addition of a twitter handle, helped me discover my passion for technology in the classroom. This school year has brought a new atmosphere and new set of partnerships to my classroom. My classroom has become a place to experiment, explore, share ideas, and try something new. The conversations that I hear between my students is evidence that this is a place to learn and share. It's exciting for all of us to be in a place where we frequently try new technology and new learning strategies. The use of websites like kidblog or todaysmeet have given my class a place to work and connect at school and at home. We are now at a place where making global connections is more than possible, it's expected.

Although, I know that my classroom has many aspects that can be improved, I feel like we are headed in the right direction. I still ask myself those questions about relevant work in my classroom. And now I've learned that some of the most relevant work is in the exploration and experimentation of trying something new."

Class blog:
Twitter: mrsjpearson
Skype: mrsjpearson

Related Reading:
Mike Richman's Classroom Blog:

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A 21st Century Resource

Thanks to Julie Harabedian for a copy of 21st Century Skills, Learning for Life in Our Times by Bernie Trilling and Charles Fadel. As agreed, this is a short review in context of connections to Manson Northwest Webster. Before I do that, I’d like to suggest the book for any district that is studying 21st century learning. It’s based on the P21 Framework, and I think it has a lot to offer Iowa schools in terms of implementing the Iowa Core and the Core’s identified 21st Century Skills and Universal Constructs.

The authors talk about the 21st century skills all students must develop to be successful beyond high school. They focus on critical learning skills and innovation. In my opinion, these are essential and should be infused into all content areas. MNW is focused on doing just that. Our Iowa Core and professional development plans focus not only on the Characteristics of Effective Instruction, but also 21st century skills and technology integration. As the authors say, these skills are at the heart of what it takes to unlock a lifetime of learning. MNW's leadership believes all students need to experience learning environments in which they have many opportunities to solve problems, collaborate, communicate, create, and innovate within and across each content area.

I like the authors’ description that our time in education is the “perfect learning storm” for developing new ways of learning. They suggest that Knowledge Work, Thinking Tools, Digital Lifestyles, and Learning Research are all merging and in doing so, will cause us to teach and learn differently. How exciting! I like the big picture look and the analogy they created. Now the challenge comes in making the most of that perfect storm in every district, building and classroom!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Making Sense of Professional Learning Networks

Preparing to present on the topic of Professional Learning Networks at the Iowa Tech Infused Learning Conference, hosted by Newell-Fonda on Oct0ber 20, really helped me to examine and clarify my own journey with my PLN.

I believe building a Professional Learning Network can help you become a connected learner. As educators, if we aren’t connected learners, how can we understand and expect our students to become 21st century connected learners?

Nothing New

The concept of a Professional Learning Network has been around for a long time. A PLN has been the people and information sources that help you meet your needs and accomplish your goals either personal or professional. Included are your co-workers, your supervisor, your friends, the magazines you subscribe to, books you read, experts you consult, etc.

My PLN used to be administrators and teacher leaders—mostly in the area and a few throughout the state along with a few professional journals and web resources. My professional life took a huge leap last spring when my colleague, Shawn Holloway, and I got started on Twitter. Since then I have been cultivating social networking as a way of professionally connecting with others. As a result, I’ve been able to learn and share with other educators across the US and around the world. The real-time web has dramatically altered the way I do my job, the way I collaborate and communicate with others, and the way I learn. New tools for organizing digital networked information, have allowed me new kinds of networks that extend far beyond my old PLN and immediate location and face-to-face connections.

The construction of a PLN enables educators to harness the power inherent in 21st Century technologies in order to create a professional growth tool that is accessible whenever, wherever. My PLN provides me with a constant supply of resources, thought-provoking discussions, knowledge, leadership strategies, help with compliance issues and state initiatives, and ways to successfully integrate technology. It gets me outside my box and outside my small rural community.

To justify social networking as a sound professional learning strategy, I’ve included a short summary of a learning theory behind PLNs.

Connectivism - George Siemens

According to Siemens, “Considering technology and meaning-making as learning activities begins to move learning into the digital age.” Inherent to this new viewpoint on learning is the idea that we can no longer personally experience everything there is to experience as we try to learn something new. We must create networks which, simply defined, are connections between entities. By using these networks - of people, of technology, of social structures, of systems, of power grids, etc. - learning communities can share their ideas with others, thereby “cross-pollinating” the learning environment (Siemens, 2005). For more information about Connectivism, visit this website.

Below is a sample of PLN starting points and resources. The presentation by Kevin Wood, Shawn Holloway and myself included the first four bullet-points. Thank you to Eric Sheninger for compiling many of the resources on the list.

  • Twitter: Microblogging platform that allows educators from all corners of the globe to communicate in 140 characters or less. Allows for the sharing of resources, discussion of best practices, and collaboration. For more information on Twitter check out this video.
  • Social Bookmarking: Method for storing, organizing, and sharing bookmarks online. Popular sites such as Delicious, Diigo, and Symbaloo allow you to add descriptions as well as categorize each site using tags. Educators can even join groups and receive email updates when new bookmarks are added. For more information on social bookmarking check out this video.
  • RSS Readers: RSS stands for "Real Simple Syndication". An RSS reader is a tool that allows you to keep up with educational blogs, news, wikis, and podcasts all in one convenient location. By subscribing to various RSS feeds educators then have a customized flow of information that is continually updated and accessible through the use of mobile devices or the internet. Educators can even create their own RSS feeds! Popular RSS readers include Google Reader and RSSOwl.
  • Digital Discussion Forums: Consist of communities of educators interested in similar topics. One of the most popular sites is called Ning where educators can create or join specific communities. Ning sites offer a range of learning and growth options such as discussion forums, event postings, messaging, news articles, chat features, groups, and videos. Popular educational Ning sites include The Educator’s PLN, Classroom 2.0, English Companion Ning, and Ning in Education. Another fantastic digital discussion forum is ASCD Edge (you must be a member of ASCD to join). In addition, the new 1:1 Laptops Schools Ning has attracted many members as a place to collaborate and share resources around 1:1 technology.
  • Link-In
  • Facebook
  • Blogs
  • Wikis
Professional Learning Networks have come a long way. As I mentioned earlier in the post, my newly developed PLN has changed my professional life. It's exciting to be a self-directed and self-propelled learner. Thanks to all of you in my PLN!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Helping Struggling Learners with IRIS

How do we help struggling learners at the secondary level? It doesn't seem to be as easy as it is at the elementary level.

I'm so excited about what we're starting at Manson Northwest Webster Jr/Hs to help our struggling students and IRIS (Iowa's Rapidly Improving Schools ) grant has made it possible. We are in our 2nd year of IRIS support that has helped make possible the development of a sustainable framework for helping all young adults that struggle.

Last week, I spent 3 days with our team consisting of teacher leaders and our jr/hs principal. The first day was spent in a site visit with the state IRIS team. During that time we discussed, 1) our framework and criteria for identifying and meeting the needs of students who struggle, 2) the process for assisting those kids and 3) the data collection methods for determining our success. We've worked hard to make sure this framework is one that not only follows best practice, but is one that can be sustained after the IRIS support is gone. During the site visit we talked about using our well established collaborative teams to work with the strugglers and within each team assigning a teacher advocate for each identified student. We all agree that kids need to know someone cares about them and that there is an individual teacher who will be their advocate--will look out for them, check up on them, and go to bat for them. I'm so fortunate to be part of a team who cares about what's best for all kids. Our IRIS team of @shawn_holloway, @mike_richman, @kyleteeselink, @briannelsonmnw @valeriejergens, @pjobgen and myself are all committed to doing what it takes so all kids will learn.

The last two days of IRIS consisted of a fall kick-off meeting in Ames with the nine other schools in Iowa. Our facilitators, Warren Weber, Peter Holly, and Mark Draper dedicated a great deal of time to collaboration. We not only learned from each other, but spent time developing an online network for learning and sharing. Thanks to Marcia Powell and Shawn Holloway for creating a Google Group and helping get everyone connected on Twitter. It's all about collaboration and doing what's best for all kids. And IRIS is providing support.

Monday, September 20, 2010

What is 21st Century Learning Anyway?

21st Century Learning is in the title of my blog and I’ve come to realize the phrase is rolling off everyone’s tongue. It’s almost cliché. So what does it mean? A reflection written by a colleague on MNW's Summer Book Study Wiki sticks in my mind. Concerning 21st Century learning she said, “Understanding what students are doing as they work on an authentic learning project is not always easily understood for people not involved in this important movement. Bringing the projects into the community as presentations or displays could help to make the learning more evident.” She is so right! We need to educate our whole school community about what it means to learn in today’s world. This includes considering the kinds of skills kids will need in the future for they are growing up in a different world than the generation before them. So, what skills do they need for the future? They need meaningful opportunites within each discipline and across disciplines to develop skills as problem-solvers, communicators, creators, innovators, and collaborators.

Do students and teachers have to use classroom technology in order to achieve these characteristics? No. Does it help? Absolutely. Technology, and in particular the Internet, can eliminate barriers and give students the opportunity to create authentic work that has real meaning in the world around us. It’s the read-write web. They can collaborate literally 24/7 with others across the state, the country and the world, and their products can be published and disseminated at no cost. We just need to give them opportunities to do it.

Helping educators understand and implement a 21st Century vision of meaningful and relevant learning can be a challenge. We can look at our PreK12 Vision for Teaching and Learning and say, “There it is—Manson Northwest Webster has it covered.” Of course, not so. As I suggested in an earlier post, our vision is only the beginning. If it doesn’t move into the classroom, it was a wasted effort all around—teachers’ time and tax-payers’ money. Educators (this includes all educators in the district, not just the teachers) need to:
• Change the classroom environment, leaving behind memories of their own traditional learning experiences.
• Get rid of old, outdated “default” teaching practices.
• Examine the concepts and skills students really need to know and forget the sound bites of information that will be long forgotten.
• Use assessments and timely feedback to guide instruction and learning,

In a recent post in Weblogg-ed, Will Richarson talks about unlearning teaching .
"I think that’s one of the hardest shifts in thinking for teachers to make, the idea that they are no longer central to student learning simply because they are in the room.”

There are great things happening at MNW. Teachers are changing the traditional environment perhaps by "unlearning teaching" and more than ever are involving students in real, meaningful work. Here are a few examples.
• Recently, 3rd grade teacher, Jennifer Pearson used her classroom blog for posting a “homework assignment”. Together parents and students explored a website that she had introduced and blogged about their learning. Jennifer used the postings with the class as a start to a new unit.
Mike Richman, a co-teacher in 9th grade Language Arts, recorded a recent classroom experience. He partnered with Shaelynn Farnsworth and her Creative Writing students at BCLUW. Mike writes, “we called them on a video chat with Google...Yes, we had seniors teaching freshmen about blogging, it was awesome.” I watched the live U-Stream and I agree with Mike. Yes, it was awesome!
Jodi Jacobsen recently introduced her class to their new learning partners, via Skype. Jodi’s 4th graders are partnering with a school in Ohio. They will be collaborating on projects and learning together. I was there for their first “meeting.” The excitement was unbelievable.

I hope this post for now, begins to answer the question—What is a 21st century learner? What are your thoughts on the topic? I’d love to hear from you.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

It's All About Learning

I’ve been recently working with district and building professional development plans in addition to re-examining how we do professional development at MNW. Our board has always been very supportive of our inservices because they know they are a critical component to improving. Our professional development goal has always been to increase teachers’ knowledge and skills to improve student learning. That will remain the same.

As I reviewed and learned more about current best practices in professional development, I found a quote by Linda Darling-Hammond that sums it up well. She says, “Effective professional development is intensive, ongoing, and connected to practice; focuses on the teaching and learning of specific content (reading, math, science, social studies);…and builds strong working relationships among teachers.

With that in mind, here are the bullet points of professional learning at MNW:
• All staff participate—it’s not optional
• We choose our content based on what students need. In other words, what do teachers need as a result of what students need?
• Our collaborative teams meet to discuss and analyze what’s happening in the classroom as a result of what teachers are learning and implementing.
• Our initiatives are based on current best practice and are implemented as they were intended.
• Everyone, including teachers and administrators are committed to sustaining our efforts. Our efforts are ongoing.
• Although there is a K12 focus, the inservices meet the needs of the students and teachers in individual buildings.

Where does technology fit into professional development? Technology integration comes with a high learning curve for some staff members. We appreciate this and have had many technology rich inservices as well as informal summer learning sessions (see my August blog post). We believe integrating technology with sound pedagogy is at the heart of authentic learning and preparing students for success in the 21st Century. Integrating technology is also part of our K12 Vision for Teaching and Learning. While technology is new and exciting and very engaging for students, it’s important to keep the goal in mind—student learning.

I recently participated in a live, interactive web interview with George Siemens, a social media strategist and learning theorist. He talked about technology integration and suggested that whenever you partner technology with anything, for example student learning, technology becomes the dominant partner. If this is true, we must be very careful about what our technology integration looks like. It should be based on the strong content of the Iowa Core and implemented with a sound instructional foundation such as the Characteristics of Effective Instruction.

Even though there is some angst around the technology integration and a 21st Century Learning emphasis, there is also excitement with students and teachers alike. I think most teachers will agree that we are learning with and from each other. Our professional development is about learning. Our inservices are learning environments.

Henry Ford says, “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty.” Since I consider myself a learner first and an educator second, does that mean I’ve stopped growing old? If that’s the case, anyone want to join me?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Summertime Learning at MNW

As I write this post, I’m reminded of the song “Summertime,” a current hit by Kenny Chesney. Some of the lyrics go like this--School's out and the nights roll in…

For many staff members those lyrics meant a time for learning and sharing.
It was exciting to see teachers voluntarily participating in informal professional development focused on integrating technology to change their classrooms.

Highlights of the informal learning include:
1) A book study wiki. The District Leadership Team read and reflected on 21st Century Skills, Rethinking How Students Learn, an anthology published by Solution Tree. Teachers and administrators shared their insights into what 21st Century Skills mean.
2) Flexible sessions were held to learn the basics of Twitter, Diigo, Blogging, and various Web 2.0 tools. It was fun to tweet back and forth as teachers learned Twitter and started to develop their individual Professional Learning Networks.
3) Teachers learned about connecting with others as they participated in #edchat, #elemchat, and #mathchat while making connections with teachers all over the world.
4) Several teachers and administrators attended The Reform Symposium, an online conference for educators, administrators, parents and students. This year the conference focused on innovative practices in education and what role these practices play in educational reform.

After a summer packed with learning and sharing, two teachers shared their thoughts. One said, "Building a PLN through Twitter has provided me with amazing professional collaboration opportunities. I have found other passionate educators that have given me tools to use in my classroom. This year I believe my students will be immersed in a 21st century learning environment. Without my PLN through Twitter, I don't know that I would have had the tools or connections to provide this for my students."

Another said, "I have been trying to use technology in my every day life to catch up with those digital natives! What I really have enjoyed about this process (informal learning) is that I can collaborate (ie...Twitter, meetings, etc.) with other teachers, while also doing some independent learning."

So, for many, summertime at MNW doesn't reflect the stereotypical 3 months off. Our staff has an ongoing restlessness and passion for improvement and our informal summer learning is a great example of continuous learning.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Vision For Teaching and Learning

As the Curriculum and Assessment Coordinator of Manson Northwest Webster, I’ve struggled with what to write about in my first post. I’ve learned so much from my newly developed (and growing) PLN and from my colleagues at Manson Northwest Webster, and I’m overwhelmed with the exciting possibilities of how we can change the classroom for the benefit of all students. However, I thought, it is a lot easier to reflect on 21st century learning and write about the classroom if you are a principal and have a building full of teachers and kids in your charge. But perhaps that’s just been an excuse. A central office administrator needs to consider the whole system and look at the big picture, so there’s plenty to focus on! Since I’ve recognized that, I’ve had several good ideas come to me and I’ve “written” many posts. Unfortunately, that “writing” has taken place when I’ve been swimming laps, riding my bike, or taking a walk. And now, what seemed really profound at the time, is gone.

So, after additional thought, I’ve decided to write about what I consider one of the most important initiatives I’ve coordinated since beginning my position 7 years ago--MNW’s shared vision for teaching and learning. As I make connections from discussions with district colleagues, friends on Twitter, and from my professional reading, it’s clear to me our overall goal should be to become a 21st Century School, and I believe our vision will take us there.

While the vision itself is important, the process we used to create the vision is equally as important. We have had a strong collaborative structure in the district for several years. In 2008-2009, we began a visioning process led by Prairie Lakes AEA and our District Leadership Team. This process used our collaborative teams, which allowed for all teachers to have input into the vision. Since then we have used our vision has an umbrella for all we do in the classroom. Last year we began early attempts at tracking the progress of our vision as it moves into the classroom. This school year we will do the same with plans for improving our tracking process. I believe this vision, will be our guide as we move forward and strive to do what’s best for all kids in preparing them for life beyond the walls of Manson Northwest Webster.

I look forward to learning and sharing in future posts, because as I’ve come to realize, I’m a learner first and an educator second.