Don’t be Afraid of Change

Change is hard. In education, it can be downright terrifying.  As teachers, we pride ourselves on routine and having the answers for everything.  Often, a focus on routine means sticking to very specific types of teaching, assignments and assessments.  This can certainly make teaching more expedient and manageable, but I would argue that by introducing change, we often have the opportunity to make education better.  We give students a chance to experience different ways, new experiences, and some of that ever-vaulted creativity we are looking to instill in burgeoning minds.

I have changed enough in my practice and worked with enough teachers to know that you can’t change everything right away, nor should you.  Many of our practices are good, and are rooted in excellent pedagogy.  So start with something you’ve never been 100% sold on, something that doesn’t feel excellent when you teach it.  When I first did this, I found that I was so excited to get rid of the part of the course I felt was weak, the excitement got me halfway through the work it took to redesign it.

But what to do with it? That’s another challenge that teachers face when dealing with the unknown.  While there are enough theories and ideas out there to make your head spin, I would suggest picking something one of your peers is doing or has already done.  There is strength in experience, and you can always learn more about new techniques, but having someone who has already ‘walked the walk’ will give you a place to turn when inevitable challenges arise.  If you are having trouble with ideas or there is no one around to help, visit my contact page and drop me a line. Supporting teachers is what I do, and I am always willing to support as I can.  If you really have no inkling of how you’d like to change, check out Twitter, or some my previous posts such as: Creating a Buzz in your Classroom, Project-Based Learning: Writing a Classroom Novel. Also, if there is a post on a topic you are interested in that you would like to request, please do so through the contact page!  There will be more ideas and inspiration forthcoming!

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One site to rule them all; Why Wordpress is all you need…

Screen Shot 2014-01-27 at 3.30.01 PMSo to match my reboot on this site, I have taken a step back in my online history, and started managing my class using a blog again today.  You can find my newly redesigned class website at www.keenansclass.wordpress.com.  It’s nothing fancy, but it gives me a place to enter in the days events, post the assigned tasks in each subject, and gives my students a common place to look for online materials.  If you read the first post, you’ll understand.

 

So why step backward?

Because as I so often find with technology, the simplest solutions are the best ones.  I have plenty of tools and methods of completing many different tasks in education, and many of them are great! However, what I find is the more ‘stuff’ I add in, the harder it is for me to maintain.  Wordpress (particularly the free .com site) is simple and easy to manage, and I have really great controls on what is being put out.  Most of the alternate tools I may want to use are embeddable as HTML or links into the site, so it makes a great ‘home base’ to work from.

I also realize that website building is a scary thing for teachers, which is another great advantage that wordpress has.  It has been around for so long, that there are literally thousands of support websites, videos, tips and tricks to support a teacher setting this up.  However, it is simple enough that it will likely only take you an hour anyway, and if you get stuck, it walks you through the process.

There is a reason that educational thinkers like Grant Wiggins use WordPress, it gets out of the way to let you share what you need to, simply.  I wanted that for my students, and I bet many other teachers out there do to.

Create a Buzz in Your Classroom {inspirational teaching, project-based learning, fun in the classroom}

Look, I know we many of us want that perfect room where anyone could walk in at any time and see peace, hard work and learning evident on the focused faces of our diligent students.  When I started teaching that’s what I thought I wanted, but the reality is so much more than orderly information dissemination.  In my classroom these days, the only time my students are quiet is when they are reading, and only because they can’t do that any other way.

Learning is messy stuff, and the best kind of learning requires some noise and movement to occur.  Think about the times when you really felt involved; either in learning, planning or at a meeting.  Were you sitting passively learning, or were you passionately debating, yearning for your ideas to be incorporated, arguing fiercely for your perspective? I am inclined to think the latter is where most of us fall.  So how can we argue that students will learn better with a litany of rules and a passive learning structure? I would argue that the best learning is done on one’s own terms, and with as little direct guidance as is required.  Enough background to understand, or know where to look, read, watch or develop the ideas, but also enough freedom that a student can go ask another student for support, can change the assignment to fit their interest, and a path to learning that can light a fire, not cause narcolepsy.

Take the time to ask what you can do with the curriculum, not how to cover it.  I would rather have my students take a step back from 200 lines of ‘must do’ items and tackle one ‘could we’ item that keeps them up at night thinking of the possibilities.

Like lighting a fire though, you must have suitable materials for learning, including a solid relationship with and knowledge of each student, otherwise you will have no idea what will strike a cord with them.  Also, you must know your curriculum, the expectations on you and your students, so you know how big the ‘dream project’ must be to encompass it.  Finally, you must let go of your fear; you won’t do it all right every time, but I can guarantee that quiet kid at the back who never gets in trouble because he is too busy with something creative in his desk didn’t get everything his teachers put out there either!

Thanks for reading!

Derek

Education in the age of change: A TEDx Talk

I gave a talk a week ago at TEDx RockyView Schools, and I wanted to share it with a little bit of context for it with you.  One of the biggest hesitations teachers often have when I am working with them on enhancing their practice and working with digital tools is that they are somehow losing in the process.  There is an overwhelming feeling out there that the more teachers ‘put out there’ of their work and skill, the less value there is of having them in the classroom.  I used to be unsure how to respond to that fear.

For a time I thought (mainly to myself) that if the world was changing in such a way that teachers could be replaced by online tools, then I would want to be aware of those tools, familiar with them, because someone has to know how to keep the ‘machine’ running.  If all of us were on the ropes, I would at least be as valuable as I could by understanding the new technology.  Then if the teachers were all ‘let go,’ I would possibly still have some value in the new system.  It was a naïve perspective.

In doing my research for this talk, I found that I do believe that we are in the midst of a change because of technology and that we most certainly need to become familiar with technology.  This is not because technology will replace us, but rather because it could replace us if we aren’t pushing our teaching practice to be as effective as possible.

Make no mistake, there are billions of dollars at work trying to figure out the ‘next way’ in education, you need only look to the United States and the various initiatives at work there to see how money and cost-saving can effect education.  However, if you look to Alberta, Canada, you will also see some amazing efforts by teachers to integrate technologies both personal and publicly purchased, to change practice based on current research, and the possibilities the democratization of knowledge has brought to a modern education system.  These changes have been brought about by an environment of research and study, willing to look at how to best blend the expertise of teachers with the innovation technology brings.  It’s not perfect, but it does inspire hope that instead of looking to replace teachers with some learning program or hardware solution, the answer will continue to be a blended, human approach to learning.

Enjoy the talk!

5 Great Creative iPad Apps for Earth Day {iPads in Education, iOS, EdTech}

Alright, I wanted to write a post about iPad apps that worked with an Earth Day theme, and did a little searching online to see what had been presented.  There are some nice lists of apps (like these: 1, 2) that are focused on the earth, on history, on animals, but few that seem to actually present an educational method for teaching about the purpose of earth day.  While I am all for appreciation of our planet and the beauty contained within, I am more apt to direct students toward action on preserving our planet and appreciating our world.  So, in that light, this post is dedicated to ways students can create artifacts that show their planet love with iPads.

AurasmaAurasma

Aurasma is platform forcreating augmented reality overlays for things in your immediate environment.  What it enables students to do is create wording, video, images that they can ‘tag’ to a camera location, so when others come to that point, they see the content ‘floating’ with the image.  The obvious implication would be to have students tag things in their environment with some of the environmental considerations, so others could become informed as well.  The app is simple enough to use that a single teacher account could catalog all of the student work, or you could have students create their own free accounts.  For younger students, a teacher could pre-tag a school yard, classroom or school and give students the ipads to do a walkabout and learn about things in their environment. I am very excited about this app, and have at least one big project coming up with it soon!

 

Google DriveGoogle Docs

If you have access to Google Docs, or wish to set it up with your students, you can upload your activities for Earth Day and have a paper free learning day!  As Google Docs is connected online, students can share their work with others and reach out to others taking action for Earth Day.  Another option is to have all students collaborate on a document, perhaps a group of strategies to help their peers become more eco-friendly, then share the document and see the feedback you can get.

 

MinecraftMinecraft PE

I think Earth Day provides an excellent opportunity for students to use Minecraft educationally.  In a virtual world where supplies must be gathered, scarcity exists and it takes time to create things, students could be placed into a carefully designed scenario to achieve a goal. (irrigate, build shelter, create a rare item) As students work through the challenge, parallels can be drawn to our world, and the lack of availability of some resources, or the impractical way in which we use those resources some times.

 

PathOnPath On

This little app is so simple, but so connected.  Basically, it allows a user to take a picture and then draw a line that becomes the direction of the words the user writes ‘on’ the picture.  So, you put a path of words on the picture.  However, it also has some basic editing functions, similar to Instagram and the like,  and the ability to upload the finished images to social media.  I like the idea of students being able to find something that they want to make a social comment on, taking a picture and making the statement directly on it.  Added to that is the ability to then connect those statements, facts, information to the broader world either through a moderated school account, or their personal social media accounts.

 

TwitterTwitter

Ok, so I am cheating a bit with Google Docs and Twitter, as they are platforms, but there is no substitute for connecting students to the worldwide #earthday conversation as it is happening.  Either on the projector or on their own iPads, have the students listen to the conversation, and then join in, depending on their age.  If I were still teaching High School I would be having my students research and produce valid and poignant tweets using information they have found.  How can they state their facts and a perspective in 140 characters to create a call to action?  If you have your students add a custom hashtag, you can even archive the perspectives for review and discussion in class.

 

My point with these apps is that there are ways to actually get students actively engaged in Earth Day all over the app store if we are being creative with our uses of technology.  I want to make sure my students are learning something that matters to them about the earth the other 364 days of the year as well.  I am looking forward to discovering more ideas for Earth Day in the coming weeks. I know my planning won’t stop until April 21st.  Let me know if you have any great apps or ideas you plan to use!

Why we need to move away from App-Based Learning {iPads in Education, iOS, Educational Design}

I have been and continue to be a huge proponent of iOS in education, mainly because of its effectiveness in getting the tool out of the way as a hindrance to student learning.  You can read more about those perspectives here.  However, in every talk I give, I try to mention several apps for each task I have students perform.  This can, at times, seem counterintuitive to those I am speaking to who want a ‘single solution’ in their classrooms.

Why do I do this?

The answer is simply that I believe students should have the opportunity to pick a tool to do a job.  I want students to have options and think about why they are choosing the tool they do.  If I give students one option, they may learn how to use that app, but have not learned why that app is there and why it was chosen for use.  As opposed to other areas of learning in their lives, the ‘reason’ behind technology is often hidden from the view of the student.  Students understand, or can be easily taught, why they would use a dictionary to define a word instead of a newspaper, though using the newspaper might be an interesting exercise.  However, there are a multitude of reasons for using or not using an app, and my reasons for choosing an app may not be comprehensive or valid for all students.

What do options in apps bring to the table?

I worry about our students’ ability to discern what is best for them if they are always handed the tool and then simply ‘go through the motions.’  If we are looking to inspire learners, we need to give them some dead ends and have them rethink their route.  I understand that this is not always practical or expedient, but students can find more than one way for students to achieve learning and reach outcomes.  To be honest, I am working hard at blending technology and other learning methods in my classroom so students don’t even simply go to technology to answer a problem.  It is tough, and I am learning as I go, but I am learning that there is an advantage to being 1:3 instead of 1:1 in a classroom.  Students learn that technology is but one tool in the cupboard, and not the one they should always turn to.  Good lessons in grade 4!  Likewise, even in a 1:1 environment, having a plethora of apps to achieve a task leads children to evaluate what is working, and isn’t, for them.


Obviously, some apps have particular purpose, and I am not saying that there is no value in having apps to highlight a concept or review learning.  What I am advocating is for teachers to spend more effort on creating great projects that could use any number of apps, than on creating a process in a specific app that students must follow lock-step.  Let’s use our digital tools to broaden the possibilities for our students, instead of narrowing them!

5 Key Learnings From Intern Teachers: A Reflection

I have the good fortune of having an intern teacher right now, the fourth I have taken in my career. It’s not always a perfect match or scenario, but it is always a learning experience. I have taken some key learnings away from each of my intern teachers, and appreciate so much the benefit they bring to my classroom. So, in light of recently being added to the team of moderators at #ntchat and my reflections on my current intern teacher, here are five key learnings I have gained from having an intern in my room. My hope is that if you are on the fence about this process, some of these ideas may inspire you to take the plunge and share your room.

#1: New Paths

I am always shocked by the range of approaches one can take to any classroom process. Having an intern teacher means opening your mind to the new possibilities and approaches another teacher can take. I have gained so much insight into pedagogy by seeing an innovative approach or a new presentation method that I had never considered, that the intern would never have considered doing my way. You couldn’t buy that kind of teaching insight

#2: Risk

Intern teachers are not set into particular teaching habits yet, they consider everything they do, they are obsessed with it. However, due to inexperience they have to try new things to reach desired learning. Intern teachers will risk a lesson, a few minutes, a little paper, to try something new. How many of us established teachers are willing to go down a new path because it might be worthwhile? Too often our desire to simplify our teaching experience leads us to do what is expedient and easy, intern teachers have less comfort so they are far more willing to ‘shake things up.’

#3: Passion

Slice it any way you want, intern teachers are generally pretty excited to get in front of a class. They are excited about new lessons and their preparation, they are eager! I think I’m still pretty passionate about education (I mean, I do this blogging thing and all) but I have to admit that I still get fired up just seeing how much intern teachers enjoy teaching. It’s a wonderful thing to get that shot in the arm, and witness that passion, particularly at a time of the year when teachers start to wear down for the duration of the year. Having an intern teacher to connect with, share with and redesign learning with is a great inspiration.

#4: Goals

What is your current goal as a teacher? If you are thinking something to the tune of ‘making it through the year,‘ you may want to sign up for an intern. These individuals are busting at the seams just to get into our profession, they have a very clear goal, and they work hard to achieve it. Professionally, many of us can become so focused on the day to day that we forget that there is more out there for us. Interns connect us to that world and allow us to see new places we may wish to take our careers, new directions to move in. They give us pause to reflect and consider our own careers.

#5 Research

Okay, many of you know I am a research junkie. If you don’t, you do now. I love current research and digging for new discoveries. For those of you who aren’t about to start digging through University archives, intern teachers are generally filled up to the brim with current educational theory. You can ask them about current pedagogy, beliefs, thoughts on classroom structure and discipline. If they don’t know about it, many of them will go back and do the research or ask their professors so they know. However, I have yet to have an intern that didn’t have at least a cursory knowledge of current theory. This is wonderful to connect to, even if it only affirms what you do, as some of us have not connected with those places of higher learning where our careers were born in some time.

Clearly there are many more lessons to learn from intern teachers, and this is really just the start of the discussion. If you’d like to hear more from great intern teachers and those new to the profession, join #ntchat Wednesday nights on Twitter. We would love to have you join the conversation!

If you have any other learnings to share in your experiences with intern teachers, please comment below and we will keep the conversation going!

5 Traits of the 21st Century Administrator

What do you believe are the traits needed by an administrator in the 21st century?  I have outlined five of the traits I have found most useful in considering administration in this new educational world. At the end of this post, I have included a PDF version of these traits for you to download and print off if you’d like. Share as you’d like.

The 21st Century Administrator is…

An Active Listener – If there is one thing that social media has taught us, and continues to teach us, it’s that everyone wants a voice. Focus and listen so deeply during conversations that your partner knows every word is being absorbed and processed. It is through deep listening that we get to the heart of concerns and attend to the real issues at hand. Too often we find ourselves having superficial conversations day-to-day, saying ‘hi’ or ‘how’s it going?’ in the hallways. This is not bad in itself, but if these conversations are the only ones we have with our peers for any length of time, we miss important personal connections.

A Connected Leader – Administrators have the ability to connect with many others in education when and where necessary. We do not live in a vacuum in education; if you want to be connected, you can be. This applies to the connections you forge within your own building, but also includes supports from your central or divisional office. These relationships must be cultivated as well, so that anyone from your community that needs support can rely on your connections and abilities to connect to them. This does not mean I am advocating for all teachers to work through you, but rather that in their work, you always have the ability to offer support. In our digital world, there are many connections to be forged through digital media, and I’ve seen many proactive leaders forging those connections to support their work.

An Authentic Conversationalist – Effective leaders know how to have the encouraging conversations, and behaviour changing conversations. We are in great danger of loosing momentum and gains if we as educational leaders do not at times engage in those crucial conversations to bring teachers ‘on board’ with what is going on in the school. While I realize contractual obligations prevent certain discussions, we can go a long way by forging strong relationships where these teachers respect our perspectives as well.

Inspirational and Empowering – Empower teachers to be able to do great things. As leaders we are the enablers of the teaching and learning we want to see happen. Take as many roadblocks out of the way as you can for teachers doing great things, and let them fly. Often, once they have a taste of the kind of teacher they can be, they will start breaking down their own walls. In addition to empowering others, leaders that have solid beliefs about education and create strong vision statements and craft a school culture around them, are the leaders that people flock to because they make a difference in the lives of students. If you are such a leader, share your experiences and skills with others!

A 21st Century Learning Specialist – I know the difficulties some educators have with technology, that is not going to go away. I like the old saying, “Use your strengths and manage your weaknesses.” Educational Leaders that are well versed in the traits of the 21st Century Learner can attract and maintain those who are skilled in technology implementation and collaborative learning. While I see immense value in maintaining these skills for myself, those who don’t can still be focused on what they want to see happen in schools and put the right people in positions to be able to achieve it.

What do you think of these traits?  Do they fit with your vision of educational leadership in the 21st Century?

https://mrkeenan.files.wordpress.com/2013/03/21st-century-administrator-r11.pdf

Project-Based Learning: Writing a Class Novel

I recently had a request on #ntchat to share a project that I have done many times over in High School English.  Writing a class novel requires an investment of time and a great deal of organization, but overall is a tremendous experience for your students, and one that can fundamentally change the way that your students look at literature. Not only is it a great team-building activity, and one that forces students to work through differences in perspective, ability, authority and discipline, but it is also a TON of work that students are willing to do because of the desire to reach the final product.

The Project

I always start this project by letting students know that we are engaging in one of the hardest acts of writing known to man, and that they have the chance to achieve something that few people ever do, and even fewer classes take the time to experience.  Now that I am more familiar with the process, I actually let my students know at the beginning of the year about the project, and that we will be working harder to complete the rest of our work and build in time for this activity.  On the assignment sheet (posted below) you will see I have listed some outcomes, but ultimately the project reaches far more standards than I could assess and the students even realize, so I simply chose the ones that matched up with what the students needed to fulfill at that point in the course.

http://wp.me/a31Gro-62

In the assignment sheet, you will see that the project functions around three central parts: Brainstorming, Planning and Writing.  Students assume different roles through the process, and some of those roles do not run concurrently, so it is important for you to plan that some students will need to complete other tasks at various points in the process.  Personally, I like having the students do some research on novel writing, structure and process during the unit to round out their knowledge.

Brainstorming

In this portion, I have students come up with general ideas for the novel.  I have done this several ways.  I have chosen two students to facilitate class discussion, with the ability to veto and modify ideas, but create a list of possible choices.  Alternatively, I have had students come into class after a night of contemplation with an idea that they have vetted through several other students, so we come up with 4-5 solid ideas to discuss as a class.  Either way, I generally give a class or two for this initial choice of topic, as it is important that most students are interested, and that the idea is fleshed out enough to begin work.  I prompt the students with a plot diagram and have them think about some of the characters, the twists and turns of the plot, what makes the story original, and the importance of time and place.  As all of this information is handed over to the committees, it is important that it gives a good starting point, but is not too prescriptive to work with.

Committees

I generally set the committees based on the abilities and need of development in the classroom.  The committee work days are some of the busiest for me as a teacher, and some of the busiest for the runners as well.  I will let you read the various roles on the PDF above, but the runner is the most essential role to working with the committees, and they must be engaged students who want to see the project work.  This is not the place to put students you are not sure about.  They must be able to resolve conflicts between the ideas and changes necessary in the various sections, and they must be constantly listening to the groups and aware of what other groups will need to know.

Writing

The last few times I have done the writing process, we have been able to collaboratively work with a Google Document, which is a much simpler process than having separate files for each chapter group as I had done in the past.  The idea of the writing groups is that the plot is divided into logical chapters that groups are then assigned to write.  They use the information from the committees to ensure consistency in the novel.  For this reason, it is essential that character descriptions, setting layouts and plot descriptions are thorough.  If these sections are not completed well, students will have trouble maintaining consistency in the novel, and details become confused.  However, if done well, then students will be able to follow the story throughout, and the editors will have a much easier time in tying the novel together.

Another advantage of the Google Doc is the ability of students to review the sections before and after them to ensure that the novel blends well together.  This is by far the most difficult area of the novel to do convincingly, and the Editors do a great deal of work here as well.  However, having students in groups consistently check with and read over sections before and after their work will pay great dividends in the end.

Editing

While it may be tempting to have many editors, in my experience one or two exceptional students will do a far better job, as they read the whole novel to make sure it all works together.  Generally, if they wish I will print off a copy of the draft novel so they can write directly on the draft and do not have to read the whole thing on a screen.  I generally give them a weekend or longer time period to complete the edits, and then they can return the drafts to the chapter groups for final edits.

Publishing

I use Lulu.com to publish my books.  My district has a policy that does not allow for the sale of student books, so I simply produce the book as an independent run, and offer the students the ability to purchase the book at cost.  Depending on the rules your own district has, I have thought that offering the novel for sale might work as a fundraiser for your department or school might be a great real-world use for this project.

Results

I have had varied results with this project depending on the students in my class in any semester.  There are times when the project doesn’t get all the way complete, and publishing is not an option.  There are times when the ideas the class came up with hit stumbling blocks, and we’ve had to go back to planning half way through the unit, and there have been times when the whole project has run perfectly.  However, one consistent takeaway has always been present; student learn much more about the novel form and understand literature much more after doing this activity.  I have had students respond after this unit and tell me that they were never able to understand how a novel works until this project, and they were so happy to finally ‘get it.’  I do multiple novel studies in a semester, and the responses to literature present after this project are consistently more insightful and deeper than prior to.

Overall, this project has become one of my favourites. Though the time investment is high, many teachers tell me they could not fit in a month for writing a novel, I believe the learning more than offsets the cost.  My advice to teachers trying this approach is to be flexible and seek to inspire learning, not push for completion.  You can’t undo the learning that an inspired student engages in by not completing a project, but a student being pushed to completion will never reach it in the first place.

I have given presentations on this process as well, and this PDF gives an overview of that presentation, it may help clarify some of what I have discussed here, and offers the research behind the process:

https://mrkeenan.files.wordpress.com/2013/03/collaborative-novel-project.pdf

What do you think?  Would you like to try writing a novel as a class? What do you need to make it happen?

Shifting Conversations: iPads in Education

I am quite amazed at the transition that is taking place in education. After attending the Florida Education Technology Conference, and reconnecting with many of the amazing educators I have had the pleasure of getting to know on Twitter and elsewhere, I have noticed the depth of conversations about the integration of technology and particularly iPads has shifted. While I am sure that there are many educators out there who still have not used iPads in education, the ones who now have a year or two of integrated use of these devices have shifted their analysis of the value that they bring to education. Generally, the initial conversations were theoretical and dealt with the surface level outcomes to be reached. As conversations have moved forward, there is more of a blend of pedagogy, curricular outcomes and real assessment of the learning processes that students are are engaged in. I have seen amazing lists of apps sorted into Bloom’s taxonomy, but going even further I have seen highly developed criteria for assessing the value of an app.

In my current school, we are looking at taking a significant number of apps off of the iPads, as they aren’t meeting our developing need to use these devices in a more focused and less ‘edutaining’ way. We are developing a committee and criteria to do this, a way to maintain the educational integrity of this technology and move the iPad fully from toy to tool in the classroom and move out of the ‘wow’ factor and solidify its position as a regularly accessible technology.

On the converse side, the concept of gamification of education is taking hold and maintaining traction in education. I don’t think that this is an either/or scenario. I really think that true gamification, the use of game design and immersive game-based learning is a far different thing than using edutainment to rehearse a concept as a worksheet might. Gamification is not about a device, but rather an environment, and is really quite distinct to using a tool like the ipad educationally. I will write more about both of these concepts soon, as I am completing more research on game-based learning, but in my research and mind, I see iPad implementation as significantly different, even as the depth of gamification increases as well.

I’m curious to know if others are seeing this shift as well, and whether you have seen your own conversations around iPads in education changing. If so, let me know what you think the key takeaways are, and how you are distinguishing the valuable apps from the ones that are less about learning, and more about entertainment.