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.