Friday, November 18, 2011

Talking About Tech

Christine Sturgeon, the K-12 Librarian and Tech Integrationist at Manson Northwest Webster sent out a tweet from the ITEC conference that went something like this, “We need to do a better job of talking about why technology is important.” Wow, how true! If we believe that tech is important, then we’d better be able to defend it, answer questions about it, have a conversation as to its value, and articulate the role it plays in 21st Century Learning.

I think everyone will agree that while technology has never been viewed as the silver bullet that will guarantee improved student learning, it plays a vital role in preparing our students for their future. As Michael Fullan writes in his recent article, “Choosing the Wrong Drivers,” technology shouldn’t be one of the main drivers of any district’s school improvement. I agree with that, but will also say that it deserves to be a front seat passenger.

When folks question the value of technology by saying texts and paper are less expensive, we can say, of course that’s true. But that’s not the issue. That’s not even a logical argument. We are preparing our students for a world after high school and we can’t deny that technology is significant part of the world we live in, so let's be able to talk about it!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Now 21st Century Learning is Personal.

If you've read any of my blog posts, you know that I'm a big proponent of 21st century learning. But now it's personal. These are my two granddaughters, Madeline and Nora. Since they both live a good distance away, and I don't get to see them very often, we use Skype to connect. They are only 6 and 8 months old, and look at the learning that is taking place as they use technology to get to know me. I hope our schools will be ready for them!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Changing Teaching and Learning With 140 Characters

The staff at Manson Northwest Webster uses a variety of social networking tools for teaching and learning, but in conversation among the staff, Twitter stands out as the number one professional learning tool. Learning is part of being an educator, and Twitter has had a tremendously positive impact on the adult learning environment district-wide. The staff has become empowered as they join in on continuous conversations in Twitter that allow them to make connections, share, learn, ask questions, and get answers to improve their own teaching and learning. As I browse Twitter in the evening, it’s not uncommon to see teachers sharing and connecting or participating in live chat sessions such as #elemchat, #sschat, #mathchat, or #edchat just to name a few.

Most teachers were first introduced to Twitter during the spring and summer of 2010 – over a year ago. The early adopters realized this was a gold mine as a supplement to our own district professional development. They soon saw that they had access to other educators around the world and joined in on the daily and self-directed learning. With Twitter, they were able to begin cultivating their own Personal Learning Networks (PLN) of people and information sources.

A year later, results of the Manson Northwest Webster's Technology Integration Survey indicate that over 70% of K-12 teachers are using social networking for professional use on a regular basis. The tool of choice across the district is definitely Twitter. A few examples will help illustrate how teachers use it in their classrooms.

Annie Schreier, a 2nd grade teacher who was once skeptical of Twitter, has now built a valuable PLN. She says, “I have gotten so many ideas from Twitter and found so many dedicated, passionate teachers to follow and collaborate with. When I first joined Twitter about a year ago, I was convinced that it was way too time consuming. After I began using it for professional reasons to help build my PLN, I began to see the benefits and its potential. The opportunities Twitter provides are overwhelming. One of the benefits this summer was joining the #Daily5 hashtag because it allows me to tap into an amazing community of people around the world who discuss, share, and collaborate about reading.”

Mike Richman is a teacher at MNW Jr/Sr High School. Over the last year Mike and I have had many conversations about Twitter and his PLN. He is one of several teachers who have taken Twitter into the classroom and had students use it. Currently he is teaching a leadership class and is now using #leadmnw for his students’ microblogging platform. Through a tweet last year, Mike connected with Shaelynn Farnsworth, an English teacher at BCLUW. Mike elicited Shaelynn’s senior AP English class to talk with his 9th graders as he introduced blogging. Through skype, the seniors taught the freshmen the ins and outs, of blogging. What a powerful lesson!

Jodi Jacobsen, a 4th grade teacher, talks about using Twitter for connecting and collaborating. She says, “I have made many connections with great teachers using Twitter. A few of these connections have led to classroom projects, such as our Skype partners in Ohio. Following hashtags has led to useful websites, resources, and live chats with other 4th grade teachers.”

Christine Sturgeon is the new Teacher Librarian/Tech Integrationist at Manson Northwest Webster. She talks about the value of Twitter for making connections. “Twitter has been indispensible in reaching out to librarians across the state (#iowatl) and the country (#tlchat). Just now, I checked the #iowatl search and a librarian from Solon has a link to U of Iowa football coach talking about being safe online. Perfect as I work on my first lesson plans in elementary tech! I also follow library leaders like Doug Johnson and Joyce Valenza. A Doug Johnson tweet a few weeks ago led me to the ebook program we're now implementing at the secondary school.” Twitter will also be instrumental in a PLN class Christine is co-teaching with high school TAG teacher Kandice Roethler. Students will have Twitter accounts and will use these to reach out to leaders in the field of their study. Without social media it would be nearly impossible to find such specialized instruction, help, information or advice.

And how do I use Twitter? While I depend on it for learning, sharing, and stretching my thinking, it has also become part of the way I do my job. As an example, here is yesterday’s use:

  • Shared information and asked questions about the new version of the Iowa Tests
  • Asked a question and received input on my district’s APR
  • Gave a thumbs up for the new #alignchat, to discuss alignment issues and the Iowa Core
  • Had a short conversation with Prairie Lakes AEA Chief Administrator, Jeff Herzberg, about the ROWE pilot he is starting
  • Commented on question from MNW’s Leadership Class #leadmnw
  • Read and retweeted a blog post by Jason Glass “Learning From International Experience.”

Excitement is in the air as we begin a new school year, and the #mnwcougars hashtag is busy! The staff continues to learn, share, and connect via Twitter. We strive to prepare our students for life beyond school--to be self-directed and independent learners. Twitter is one avenue that helps our staff model that kind of learning,

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Making 21st Century Learning Real with IACoPi

Below is my guest blog post for Iowa Communities of Practice and Innovation. IACoPi is leading the way for creating online/face-to-face blended courses which will be housed in a state repository for all districts to access. It is exciting work and MNW has three teachers involved in the project. Thanks to Kayla Gaskill, Marcey Gerke, and Andy Jacobsen for their dedication and hard work. For more information, visit the IACoPi blog.

As I think the importance of the Iowa Communities of Practice and Innovation work and what it means for school communities, teachers, and students, I think about an article written by

Bernie Trilling and Charles Fadel entitled, “I Just Want My Kid to be Happy…and Successful.” The authors express what we, and particular parents, all want for our students. They say we want all kids to be, “Happy, motivated, college-bound, work-ready and prepped for success…”

So, what does this mean? My connections with my own work and learning are a simple example. My definition of work has changed. Because of technology, I can now conduct my work from anywhere and it is more driven by results rather than driven by time and place. But more importantly, the way I learn has changed dramatically. My learning has changed from attending meetings and trainings, reading books and articles written by a handful of tried and true experts in the field of education, to attending webinars, reading blogs, websites and comments of experts and practitioners from all over the world. Some are educators, some are not. While I still value my face-to-face meetings with colleagues, my learning has expanded to include a greater community, and I depend on this new personal learning network as I learn, share, and do my job. My thinking has been challenged in ways that I never thought possible. I have become much more of an independent learner which in turn has motivated me to stretch and learn more. As I think of the IACoPi work, and the blended learning courses the teams are creating, I imagine students experiencing similar changes as we move away from the traditional classroom, instruction and learning. How exciting!

As we prepare kids for their future, we know that the traditional fact-based, rote curriculum of the past won’t cut it. We need the work of the Iowa Communities of Practice and Innovation which is project-based, research-driven, and taps into the digital lifestyle our kids are growing up with. As I follow the Twitter hashtag #IACoPi, and read the Better Together Iowa blog entries, I’m excited about what is happening in the content teams. The curriculum is incorporating higher order thinking skills, technology, multimedia, and the multiple literacies of the 21st century. The teacher teams are striving to create the kind of online experiences we want for all students. And while some may still worry, “what about the facts and the basics?” the teams are not forsaking foundational information, but instead are creating experiences that enable students to gain that information through investigation and relevant activities.

These blended learning opportunities will create a new learning environment that will enable all students to be engaged, motivated, independent learners. Students will still have face to face contact and instructor support, but also experience expanded learning outside the classroom. It’s the best of both worlds and is what we need to prepare our students to be “Happy, motivated, college-bound, work-ready and prepped for success.”

The IACoPi teams are truly pioneers in the field of online learning. I want to thank Nancy Movall, the IACoPi leaders, and Iowa teachers who are creating the blended courses. Together you are reshaping what it means to teach and learn in Iowa.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

My Reading is Changing. What's Going On?

I finally got started on Shelfari yesterday. It was something I’d wanted to do for a while. As I was entering a few of the books I’ve read in the last year and books that I plan to read over the summer, I realized how my reading material has changed. And as I reflected, I realized the way I read has changed as well. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad, it’s just different than it used to be.

I always believed that when you read a book, or article, or anything for that matter, you read the whole thing – beginning to end. I have even finished books I didn’t like. Maybe it’s that philosophy I have, “when you start something you finish it.”

My reading habits have also changed with a huge increase in reading online news and blogs. A couple of years ago, I never would have dreamed that I would be reading blogs and be so interested in what other folks have to say. I used to equate blogs to talk radio, and I really dislike talk radio. But I've found I learn so much from bloggers. They really stretch my thinking as I continue to learn.

Another change I’ve noticed is the speed at which I read. I do a lot of skimming and scanning. Hardly ever do I hang on every word authors have to say even if I do respect them and consider them to be experts.

I also like to listen to music while I'm reading. Noise in general doesn't bother me anymore. What can be more distracting is the silence. Not so a couple of years ago.

This change in reading has wreaked havoc with my reading for pleasure. Or maybe not. Maybe it’s the fact that the genre of my pleasure reading has changed. I used to lead a book club. In fact we were together for three years, and I really enjoyed it. I relished not only my reading (every word, cover to cover) but also the discussion that went with each selection. Now I rarely read for pleasure the old way, and when I try, I find myself skimming and scanning—not exactly the best way to enjoy a good novel.

I wonder what’s going on. Is it a physiological change? Is it simply a change in my preferences? Have I become impatient and expect instant access to all kinds of online material? Or does it really matter? What I do know is that I read so much more now than I ever used to even though it is a different kind of reading. And, I am enjoying it.

However, it's summer. And I AM going to get back to Madame Bovary, the classic novel I started several months ago, and I AM going to read it word for word, cover to cover. I’ll do that though, after I skim the first few chapters—I don’t remember what the book's about.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Personalizing Learning to be Successful in the 21st Century

The Manson Northwest Webster School Board had it's monthly Education Board Meeting on March 3, 2011. The agenda focused on reform and preparing our students for the future. It was an exciting evening and there was rich discussion about education in the future, preparing students for life beyond school, and what Manson Northwest Webster might look like in the years to come. I feel priviledged to have facilitated such a rich discussion about what's best for students. We used this guiding question as an umbrella for conversation.
What do our students need to know and be able to do to be successful in the 21st century?

The basis of the discussion was framed around the report that came out of the Personalized Learning Symposium that took place on August 4-6, 2010 in Boston. The symposium brought together three key groups of education leaders – local and state practitioners, national thought leaders, and senior technology executives – with participants selected for their vision, leadership, and expertise with personalized learning.

The following five essential elements were identified as being central to personalize learning. These elements provided the framework for the MNW Board's discussion. The bullets under the elements below are summary points of the discussion.

1) Flexible, Anytime/Everywhere Learning

you don’t need to be in the building to learn (or access curriculum)

learn at their own pace

don’t have to be with peers

focus on student interests

kids need to be engaged and accountable for their own learning

What does this look like, might look like? Do we know for sure?

Kids coming and going to see instructors

might be referred to as the open campus model.

It could mean a more automated system

more access to experts (Kahn University)

is there a base or core knowledge that all students need to have?

teachers become facilitators of the learning

2) Redefine Teacher Role and Expand “Teacher”

Teacher is facilitator

Students may not always go to the teacher for information

Students have advisors

Perhaps not one teacher per group of students, but a team of teachers with differentiated roles.

Teacher would not necessarily have to be in building

3) Project-based/Authentic Learning Opportunities

We don’t want virtual learning without collaborative projects

What is the role of project-based collaboration in virtual learning?

If teachers trust student inquiry--children will discover great things.

Classrooms become nation-wide/ world-wide and students collaborate online

When technology increases, the authentic learning opportunities grow

4) Student Driven learning Path

Long range planning needed

Gives individual students more opportunities to learn, their method of learning

Students would have more control of the pace of their learning

Time should become the variable, not the learning(mastery)

5) Mastery/competency-Based Progression/Pace

The only place this happens now is in the alternative program

Quarters, semester, trimesters wouldn’t work in this type of learning

How does this impact funding?

Reauthorization of NCLB will be based on the growth model (Jeff H.)

Does this system lend itself to year around school?

As soon as a student masters a topic, s/he moves on.

The meeting was live streamed, collaborative Google notes were taken and shared, and several teachers and anonymous viewers joined in via the u-stream and Google Doc.

The discussion will continue at the April Education Board Meeting.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Metacognative Thinking in 4th Grade? Yes!

Jodi Jacobsen is a 4th grade teacher at Manson Northwest Webster. Besides that, she wears several other hats. She's on our District Leadership Team, the Elementary Assessment Team, and our Iowa Core Leadership Team. In her "spare" time she agree to write a post for my blog.

As I read it I was impressed with how succinctly she describes the importance of questioning and metacognition. I recently did a walk-through in Jodi's class and I can tell you that her blog post isn't just a description. It really happens in her classroom. The deep thinking, and collaboration that went on among the 4th graders during my visit was remarkable. It was concept-based, 21st century learning all the way.

Jodi writes:

"When you were a child, did you ever have a teacher or parent ask, "What were you thinking?" It typically had a negative connotation. I'm pretty sure that was my dad's first question when I had a fender bender at age 17. This was, of course, a legitimate question. He wanted to know what I was thinking when I took that corner too quickly. I didn't know it at the time, but maybe he was on to something. He made me think about what I had done, and why I had done it.

Now that I'm a teacher, I realize the power of that question. It is my favorite one to ask my students, and I do it often - probably to the point that they now answer it before I even ask. As we study the Iowa Core Curriculum and its Characteristics of Effective Instruction, questioning seems to be at the heart of good teaching and learning. As teachers, we strive to develop life-long learning in our students. To achieve that, we must nurture thinking - and thinking about thinking. Metacognition develops in my fourth graders when I ask them appropriate questions. I see them grow when the questions I model for them are not necessarily about what answer they want to give, but why they want to give that answer. The challenge is to pose questions that will encourage them to think more deeply than they thought possible. When faced with complex questions to ponder, students develop confidence and higher-order skills. This means teaching with flexibility and being ready for those teachable moments. I used to worry that I was getting off track when that happened. Now I realize that these moments can sometimes benefit students more than planned out lessons. I have also decided that asking myself, "What were you thinking?" is very valuable. It helps me reflect on my day-to-day teaching in a way that encourages relevancy and strategic instruction.

A positive effect of open-ended questioning with students is that they tend to pick up these habits themselves. When listening to small groups collaborate, I often hear them ask each other questions like, "How did you get that idea?" To me, that's the end goal - that students are naturally able to ask each other and themselves questions that will make them think things through before making decisions. When they are able to do that, and learn more about their own thought processes, life-long learning is sure to follow. "What do you think?" "

Twitter: JodiJteacher

Diigo username: jodijj


Monday, January 10, 2011

Chatting About Iowa Core

Last night, January 9, I participated in the first Iowa Core chat on Twitter. The topic was "What is the Iowa Core?" I always learn a lot from my PLN, and last night was no exception.

Comments and questions came from administrators, teachers and DE folks alike. I always appreciate teachers' comments as they bring the reality to implementation - in this case the complexity of the Iowa Core.

What did I like best about the chat? Once again, I'll put in a plug for Twitter. I previously spent two years on the State Network Team through Prairie Lakes AEA and during that time learned SO much about the Iowa Core! Now that I'm back at Manson Northwest Webster full time, and even though Prairie Lakes does a good job with the Iowa Core roll out in our area, I still feel at times that I'm out of the loop. I depend on my Twitter colleagues to bridge the gap and help continue my learning and growing.

The chat was organized by Matt Townsley of Solon CSD, and he did a great job facilitating. Those of you who have participated in a chat know how easily the conversation can get side-tracked, and Matt did a good job of keeping the discussion focused while providing helpful resources.

I'm looking forward to our next Iowa Core chat. I hope some of MNW's District Leadership Team will join in! For others that may not be as aquainted with the Iowa Core and all it involves, besides participating in the next chat, I'd encourage you to check out your AEA's website for resources.