Unique Professional Development Program Launched

It’s been several years in the making, but I’ve finally finished the process of developing a unique approach to District-wide professional development.  It involves monthly challenges and microcredentials, both with the ultimate goal of enabling people to become a Connected Educator.

Four possible badges to earn

Four possible badges to earn

As I wrote to my District in an email this morning:

Certified Staff, Administrators, and Board Members,
With each new mandate and each new set of standards, it’s easy to become overwhelmed.  Some days I wonder why I’m still in this profession. 
But then I look to my amazing Professional Learning Network (PLN) of educators from around the world (literally) who are all so positive and see the good in what we do, that I’m recharged and remember why I finally chose education after drifting from job to job throughout my twenties.  It’s because we are the backbone of society – without education, a free democracy cannot exist. 
Since I am a ‘Connected Educator,’ I have access to thousands of teachers’ ideas and resources; I can’t imagine going back to working in the dark, by myself.
Some of you are also Connected Educators, but not very many. I would like to see everyone in this district reap the benefits of establishing your own PLN.  The trick is that, just like our students, every teacher has different needs and comes from a different place, so there is no one-size-fits-all model.  I first started thinking about this in 2012, and came up with the term Personalized Professional Development (PPD).  That blog post became one of my most-read entries, and culminated in a presentation at the Midwest Educational Technology Conference on the same topic.  
Just like in biological evolution when a certain characteristic can appear in completely unrelated populations (like fins for swimming), PPD sprang up all around that year – it’s now a ‘thing’, and a Google search brings up millions of entries.  I firmly believe it’s the best way to grow your professional self, and would like to invite you to a special community.
We are looking for 20 people from District 90 to take part in a Pilot of #OFD90Learns.  
#OFD90Learns is a program where you earn microcredentials. There are two paths:  badges and monthly challenges.  You can choose one or both to work on next year.  I think all your questions will be answered here.  
Remember, this is a Pilot Group of no more than 20.  If this sounds like something you would like to be a part of, click here to accept the invitation and register.  If not, the SIP Committee and I are still planning a great lineup of PD for next year’s SIP Days.  Stay tuned.
If, after you read the Program Description, you still have questions, be sure to ask!
I can’t wait to start.  This is gonna be great!
I welcome any feedback!  Thanks, too, to the many people who have already critiqued, written posts about their own experiences, and presented at #METC16 on their PD programs.  I appreciate you all.
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(Wûrk’ shēt)

Wassup With the Worksheets?!

It is time for the 2nd annual No Worksheet Week! This movement started as a blog post, and quickly went global, thanks to the help of Rae Fearing in California.  To read more about the development of the No Worksheet Week Teacher Challenge you can read here, here or here. Rae and I are collaborating on this post so we can help teachers interested in taking the challenge learn how to to go worksheet free and discover the benefits for their students as well as providing support and new ideas for past participants.

 

What is a Worksheet?

 

Going worksheet free is about much more than not using paper.  A worksheet-free week is not necessarily paper-free.  Remember that both technology and paper are tools for learning.  What we are working toward is real learning, and worksheets do not promote real learning. Think about the last time you learned something.  Did you have to answer a bunch of true/false questions, or did you have to DO it – demonstrate mastery – in order to prove your learning? In order to move away from the dreaded worksheet, we first need a common definition:

  • Worksheets are mass-printed, either by the teacher at the copier, or by a publisher in a workbook.
  • Worksheets are given to every student in the classroom.
  • Worksheets contain questions with black & white, right or wrong answers.  For example, they may be fill-in-the-blank, true/false, multiple choice, or math computational problems.

 

Why Do We Need No Worksheet Week?

 

Worksheets do not support deep thinking or reflection.  If the answer to a problem is only found in the textbook and must be copied or paraphrased on a worksheet, it only demonstrates the student’s ability to copy down information.  A completed worksheet, or getting an answer right on a worksheet, does not demonstrate understanding of the material. When I was in the classroom I used to ask my students three open ended questions about a topic; if they could answer those questions verbally and discuss the topic with me then I knew they were ready for assessment.  Try asking a student to explain and discuss material after completing a worksheet, and you will be surprised by the lack of understanding they have obtained.  According to Best Practice (Zemelman, Daniels & Hyde, 2012) meaningful and useful assessment “involves students in developing meaningful responses, and calls on them to keep track of and judge their own work.” To achieve this, we need to change the way classrooms work and we also need to involve students in activities and collaborative projects that foster discussion and deeper thinking.

 

There are many ways to guide students to deeper learning as you ditch those worksheets.  Take a look at Matt’s Autopsy of a Worksheet post or Rae’s Thinglink image that takes on a 4th grade worksheet about sentence rules. You can see more examples of #NoWorksheetWeek ideas or share your own on our collaborative Padlet wall.

The Two Big Ideas of #NoWorksheetWeek

 

  1. Increase the 4C’s – Creativity, Critical thinking, Collaboration and Communication in the classroom.
  2. Bring relevance to learning through real world applications of learning and authentic assessment.

What Does a Worksheet-Free Classroom Look Like?

 

Do more of this Do less of this
communicate thinking busy work (work that’s required but which doesn’t advance learning)
sharing ideas learning about other people’s ideas
discover answers trying to put down the ‘right’ answer instead of the best one.
communicating understanding showing the teacher you can provide the answer they like/are expecting
creating authentic learning products using technology as a substitute for a worksheet
engaging students in meaningful, academic conversations asking students for the ‘right’ answer

Please participate in the No Worksheet Week Teacher Challenge and share your experiences using the hashtag #NoWorksheetWeek.  We will be sharing some of your best ideas on our blogs, so get creative!

 

You can also join our Google+ Community

Autopsy of a Worksheet

This post was originally titled, “Anatomy of a Worksheet,” but such a title  implies something worth learning about and carrying forward.  I think it’s more apropos to learn about was, why it died, and how we can prevent it from happening again.

The first question people ask is, “What is a worksheet? I’ve been handing them out for years!”

WS_example

Fill-in-the-blank worksheet: No understanding required.

My definition of a worksheet has three parts:

1.  Worksheets are mass-printed, either by the teacher at the copier, or by a publisher in a workbook.

2.  Worksheets are given to every student in the classroom.

3.  Worksheets contain questions with black & white, right or wrong answers.  For example, they may be fill-in-the-blank, true/false, multiple choice, or math computational problems.

Why is a worksheet not the best instructional model?

1.  Worksheets do not promote depth of learning.  In his keynote at #METC14 in February, @Kevinhoneycutt told the story about how he was tired of being the ‘dumb kid in the back of the class,’ so he asked to be moved to the front where all the action between the teachers and the students took place, and what did he learn?  All the right answers to the questions were in bold, right in the text!  He didn’t even have to understand what the words meant to start answering questions correctly.

2.  Worksheets do not promote creativity.  When students know there is only one right answer, they work to respond with what they think is expected.  Check out this video by Sir Ken Robinson from the #ASCD14 in Los Angeles this winter:

3.  Common Core does not support Worksheets.  Common Core is about teaching kids the HOW and WHY of things –  explaining, creating, analyzing, evaluating, and understanding.  A worksheet shows a teacher their students understand two things:  the WHAT of things, and that they are adept at filling in blanks.

I hope you will join our #noworksheetweek challenge the week of April 7 – 11, 2014.  Join our No Worksheet Google+ Community, and check out these other educators who are in on the Challenge:  Rae Fearing (CA), Dan Gibson (IN), and Kristie Burk (PA).

What do you do instead of worksheets to promote student creativity in your class?  What lesson are you the most proud of?

Ground Zero: Creating a Tech Integration Program From Scratch

As I sat down today to really think about creating a technology integration program, I was struck by the magnitude of opportunity I have before me.

How often does one have the chance to create a program from the ground up?  How often does one have the ability to create it on your own, since you are the program?  Not often, if ever.

It’s not like I sat down and just put something down.  With the help of my PLN, I’ve been learning about what’s really important in education, how to best teach teachers technology, and how technology can really drive positive change in schools.  So clearly I’ve been pondering this for about the last year.  About three-quarters of last year’s time was taken up with teaching and all that goes with that (’nuff said).  This year, I will be a full time Tech Coach, so I need a structure, a curriculum with standards, from which to work.

To accomplish this, I started with the biggest picture and progressively narrowed the scope.  I looked at my District’s vision and mission statements, and then the same documents from the Technology Department.  With those open in one window, I was able to craft a first draft mission statement for my Program:

To provide District teachers, administration, and staff with the resources, training, and support necessary to integrate technology into the existing curriculum emphasizing 21st century skills and authentic, relevant learning.

 Taking this mission and Danielson’s Instructional Specialist Rubric (which is used by my District for my evaluation), I was then able to create three broad goals for the program:

1.  training – To develop and provide relevant and meaningful training sessions for faculty and staff of District 90 in the areas of iPad use in the classroom, Web 2.0 tools using the PC labs, and District software programs.

2.  resources – To develop and provide relevant and meaningful digital and print resources to help teachers and staff integrate technology tools into their professional lives.

3.  method for data collection & program improvement – To continually collect and review data from teachers and students on the effectiveness of the Program, and to then modify the training and resources to better fit the needs of the teachers and staff as a whole.

I then went on to create timelines, action steps, resources, etc. (but I don’t think you want to see all those).  HOWEVER, I do want feedback on these goals and on my Mission Statement.  What needs to be added/deleted/substituted?

Thanks in advance for your comments!

Importance of Focusing on the Big Picture in #EdTech

I’m in a bit of a quandary right now.

photo: strategydriven.com

photo: strategydriven.com

It’s (almost) the end of the year, and planning has started for the next.  At this point, I’m feeling like I need to be more effective – to work smarter, and to focus myself so that I can focus others.   In order to achieve this goal, I find that the first step is to focus on the bigger picture.

Like many others with the title ‘Technology Integration Specialist’ (or something similar), I came to this new (for my district) position last year in a round about way.  For me, the idea of being the person to define a brand new position was too enticing to pass up.  So, after several years in the classroom and several years in administration, I became the District Technology Integration Specialist.  About 4 weeks before school started, the superintendent told me that I would also be teaching elementary kids Monday – Wednesday, reducing my time for interacting with teachers to two days each week.

Planning for next year has started, and I won’t be teaching any more (as of now).  I’ve sent out Google Forms to see which apps should be put on the iPads going out to our next school with the tech upgrade.  I’ve sent out a Google Form to obtain information on how people like to receive their PD.  I’m glad I sent those out.  The results are not what I expected (that’s a whole other post!).

I feel like this year has been kind of the shotgun effect.  I tried many different methods of trying to spread the edtech word: weekly disctrict-wide emails, personal conversations, weekly Techie Lunches in my computer lab, random emails to people who would appreciate different resources I found on Twitter (thanks, PLN!), etc.   Somehow I feel like the 80/20 rule can be applied here somewhere, and I’m looking forward to going through my survey results in a couple days when the window closes.

To be honest, our district is WAY behind where it could be.  We are still proud to be moving into using PowerPoint instead of an overhead, and yet as the only connected educator in my district,  I am on the Internet seeing classrooms like this one where 4th and 5th graders are backchanneling a Skype conversation with Twitter and GDrive, while others are preparing a blog post and still others recording the whole lesson.

So.

I put on my administrator hat, stepped back, and looked at the whole picture.  I dug around on the website and found our Technology Vision Statement.  The good news is that it’s decent  (The bad news is that I had to dig for it).  I then searched for other people in my position on the Internet.  I found good stuff from Bill Ferriter, Kim Cofino, and Nancye Blair, just to name a few.

Then, based on my personal reflections and what I learned from others, I came up with the skeleton of a plan:

1.  Start by communicating the big picture.  Share the district’s vision for technology integration, and share instances of some other classrooms around the world who are practicing our vision to the nth degree.  “This is what’s out there folks, and this is where you COULD be if you want to.  And I will help you get there.”  [I know, the whole buy-in piece is missing.  I’d like to be able to work on this for a good bit of time with the staff as a whole, but I’ve been told that time is limited; this year alone, I had at least a day and a half of School Improvement time rerouted from tech to something else!]

2.  Continue to build relationships with teachers.  Fortunately, that’s always been pretty easy for me, and I can enumerate dozens of examples where the relationships I have nurtured have paid back huge dividends.

3.  Model good teaching.  Start where the student (in this case the teacher) is, set attainable goals, and keep planting those seeds for their next step while fully supporting and celebrating their current efforts.  Realize that not everyone is going to jump in with both feet (as I tend to do!).  Use baby steps, and have the teachers become familiar with that one puzzle piece before showing them another.

I’m interested to see what others have to suggest.  I am passionate about education and helping people be the best they can be.  I also strongly believe that technology can take us to levels we haven’t even dreamed of yet in education.  Please comment or email with your insights!

Changing Teachers’ Expectations of Teaching

If we are going to rethink/re-imagine/reform schools, we need to start by changing what teachers expect out of education.  And by ‘education’ I mean teaching: its impacts, its pedagogy, and itself as a career choice.  The public has new expectations, the students have the ability to develop expectations, lawmakers have new expectations, lead-learners in schools have a new vision, but the vast majority of teachers need to re-examine what they expect out of their chosen career.  Education as a commodity and as a profession is evolving, but the practitioners themselves are holding it back.

  • teacher tenure is out of date and should never be an expectation.
  • teachers should expect a fair salary, but not a guaranteed raise every year.
  • teachers should always want to improve and learn.  Ask questions.  “I haven’t received training on {insert variable}” or “I’m too old” is NEVER an excuse for not doing.
  • Schools should be on the frontier of innovation.  People who do not like change should choose another profession.
  • Teaching is a difficult profession that should prepare people for such.  Teacher training should be longer and more intense/immersive, should only happen at the beginning of the school year, and only with cooperating teachers who are good role models.

If we can develop a strong cadre of teaching professionals who will constantly work to better the profession as a whole, high-stakes testing will not hold schools captive for a month because real, authentic learning will happen every day.  Ineffective teachers will not be allowed to stay in the classroom.  And most importantly, American Public Education will once again have a leadership position in advancing global citizenship.

 

21st Century Teacher Skill: Embracing Change

Alternately titled, “Buck Up, Sissypants!”

As I spend some quiet time on this Snow Day catching up on some computer work, I take a moment to reflect on all the issues swirling around my district’s educators right now.  While the entirety of this list may be unique to just me, I’m sure many of them affect you, too.  Among them:

1.  Trying to pass a $.49 increase in the Education Fund tax rate to make up for delinquent payments from the State.

2.  Planning iPad implementation at another school next year, and trying to figure out how to excite/involve teachers.

3.  Finding time to educate myself on edtech tools and trends so that I can pass on the best to my teachers.

At the heart of it all bubbles up this resentment – why should I have to work so hard to cajole other teachers into keeping current?  How is it my responsibility to motivate them into wanting to do better for kids?  Why is providing exemplary customer service a mantra for everyone else except teachers?  I think that when we interview teacher candidates, one of the most important questions we can ask them is, “Describe a time in your life when you had to stretch out of your comfort zone.  What was the issue, what was your response, and what did you take away from your experience?”

I find myself remembering an episode from ‘The Big Bang Theory’ where Leonard’s mom tells him to “Buck Up, Sissypants!”*  and I want to start off a staff meeting with this quote.  And just sit there for a good 10 seconds of silence.

But then I think that maybe I’m the one who needs to quit being a sissy pants and to “Buck Up.”  Baby steps, Matt, baby steps.

*Season 5, Episode 2