So You Want to Integrate Technology Into Your Lessons?

As part of my master’s program, I had a group task that had to tackle an aspect of design based learning. My group decided to create a lesson planning template, which teachers could use to find ways to integrate technology into their lessons in meaningful and engaging ways. We wanted it to be teacher friendly, and easy to use.

We first created a flow chart, in which teachers could ask themselves questions about ways in which they could revise a previous lesson. For parts 2/4 of the chart, within the lesson template, we developed specific questions which teachers could ask themselves and reflect upon. For part 6 of the chart, we then developed a technology toolbox that could help to guide teachers in choosing an appropriate technology tool. As teachers become more efficient and discover new tools, then can continue to add to their own technology toolbox.

Here is an example of what a revised lesson could look like.

We designed this in hopes of helping teachers to find easy, manageable, and meaningful ways to integrate technology into their lessons. Feel free to share, and challenge yourself and your staff to continue to use technology to engage students!

A link to our presentation.

Credits to Project: WAKE up! (Wun Yeung, Andrea Spinner, Kris Hopkins, Erin Petley)

Do Teachers Over-plan Learning Opportunities?

Teaching can be a difficult process, as we desire our students to get the most out of their learning. We want them to experience transformational changes, whereby they begin to change the way in which they “know” things (Kegan, 2008). We want them to challenge ideas, pose questions, and be creators. In order for this to happen, I believe students need to be actively engaged in their learning. Illeris (2008) defines learning as “any process that in living organisms leads to permanent capacity change (p. 7). Reflecting on this definition and my teaching practices, leads me to the assumption that I need to provide meaningful and relevant learning opportunities for my students. What would this look like in the classroom? Hands-on experiences, real-life situations, interest-driven products, and ideas in the creation realm come to thought immediately. But sometimes I wonder as teachers, do we over-think learning? Do we try too hard to create meaningful learning opportunities which instead result in a superficial experience?

“But situations that bring learning into focus are not necessarily those in which we learn most, or most deeply…Learning is something we can assume – whether we see it or not, whether we like the way it goes or not, whether what we are learning is to repeat the past or to shake it off. Even failing to learn what is expected in a given situation usually involves learning something else instead.” (Wenger, 2008, p. 214)

Wenger’s description of learning above made me think about a personal classroom experience. We had read the story Toto in class, where a timid Ugandan boy finds the courage to overcome his fears of going into the field, and ends up rescuing a trapped baby elephant. I always find that stories involving animals help children to develop a sense of empathy, but what I didn’t realize in this instance, was that my students would be outraged about the cruelty involved in hunting animals. What started off as a simple story, in which I had planned “meaningful learning activities” to occur afterwards, led to discussions of animals cruelty, conservation, education for others, and continued on to animals in the zoo and whether this was in fact another form of cruelty. My students then decided to have a debate about whether or not zoos should even exist.

The point in me sharing this experience is that I think all too often as teachers we try to stretch learning experiences for our students. We want them to have great opportunities and in so we plan accordingly. But perhaps within a classroom environment that supports a culture of care and openness, and welcomes new ideas, learning will just happen.

Sources:
Illeris, K. (Ed.). (2008). Contemporary Theories of Learning: Learning Theorists…In Their Own Words. Florence, KY, USA: Routledge. Retrieved from http://site.ebrary.com/lib/alltitles/docDetail.action?docID=10296951 (Introduction, Chapters 1, 2, 3, 4, 14 and 15 [5 and 11].

“Rat” Removal and Transformative Learning

In the first chapter of Contemporary Theories of Learning, by K. Illeris, he outlines the four types of learning that individuals can experience: cumulative, assimilative, accommodative, and transformative. The one that peeked my interest and the level that I would like my students to attain is the transformative, as this is where reflection, perspective changing, and thorough learning occurs. Yet, after reading the chapter, I struggled to understand how exactly this would look in the classroom and whether or not it is attainable. Can we expect our students to have these transformative moments as learners? Or is this process that occurs throughout a school career?

I came across an article by K.P. King that deepened my understanding of transformative learning. Although her article emphasized this learning through adult educators’ experiences with technology, it provided insights into what this would look like at the elementary school level. Below is an outline of the stages of transformation as summarized by K.P. King:

photo (3)

From reflecting on this chart, one idea of what it would look like in the classroom is through genius hour. Through genius hour it is obvious that students experience several moments of uncertainty, but through exploring, reflecting, and problem solving are able to rationalize new ideas that change their perspectives. However, I am still grappling with other examples of how this transformation learning would occur in elementary school children.

Throughout chapter one, another concept that stood out for me was the difference between defense learning and resistance learning. I initially was puzzled with how to distinguish between the two. A student could come to class disengaged because he/she does not understand a concept, or it could be from an earlier event that occurred in his/her day. In the busy and always lacking time day of a teacher, how do we find means to discover whether a student is demonstrating defense or resistance learning?

During the last school year, I read a wonderful book called, You Can’t Teach Through a Rat, by Marvin Berkowitz. Berkowitz acknowledged the idea that students come into classrooms with “their lives,” thus are not always ready to learn and instead can put up defensive learning mechanisms. As teachers, we are responsible to remove, what Berkowitz called “rats” in order for learning to occur, and through the process listed below:

Berkowitz, 2012, pg 17

Berkowitz, 2012, pg 17

Although this may seem like a daunting task, if we ultimately want our students to be active learners, we need to set them up for success. We need to show them that we care not only for them a learner, but also as a person. I think only then can true learning occur.

Sources:
Illeris, K. (Ed.). (2008). Contemporary Theories of Learning: Learning Theorists…In Their Own Words. Florence, KY, USA: Routledge. Retrieved from http://site.ebrary.com/lib/alltitles/docDetail.action?docID=10296951 (Introduction, Chapters 1, 2, 3, 4, 14 and 15 [5 and 11].

King, K. P. (2002). A journey of transformation: A model of educators’ learning experiences in educational technology. In J. M. Pettit & R. P. Francis (Eds.). Proceedings of the 43rd Annual Adult Education Research Conference, (pp. 195-200). Retrieved from: http://www.adulterc.org/Proceedings/2002/papers/King.pdf

Berkowitz, M.W. (2012). You Can’t Teach Through a Rat. Boone, NC, USA: Character Development Group Inc.

Are Teachers Scared to Let Students Make Choices?

This year I set the goal for myself to try to give more choice for my students within my classroom. I was feeling I was making decisions for students, in terms of their projects, seating plan, novel study, etc… and after reading numerous articles about the benefits of student choice in the classroom I decided to put to the test.

As a teacher, it is shockingly hard to give over control and decision making processes to students. After all, my kids are nine years old, could they come up with various options that would encompass what I was looking for? I also think as teachers, we’ve been trained and “programmed” to be the ones in charge and be creative with the way we deliver and design our lessons. It’s scary to give a part of that over, and risk the chance to fail.

Failure had always had a negative connotation in my mind, and it hasn’t been until the beginning of this year, where the ideologies surrounding that word have shifted for me as well. Through elaborate discussions with my PLN, I am now able to look at failure as an opportunity for growth: a way to reflect, develop an understanding, and improve and grow. Failure is no longer something I fear entirely, but instead my mindset is changing. I’m trying to instil that in my students as well.

As I began to give more choices to my students throughout the year, there were a few things I discovered:
1) Kids are WAY more creative than I am. When I told them you can show me what you learned about…in any way you’d like, it was incredible to see the differences in their approaches, but also how their personality shone in each one. They expressed themselves in ways I never even thought of.
2) They were engaged! When students have choice, they are 100% engaged in what they are doing! No ifs, ands, or buts about that.
3) They used each other for support and collaborated more frequently. When they had a question about how to use a device or how to do something, they would ask another classmate. They would seek out support, and share ideas with each other.
4) They took pride and ownership in the things they chose. They were generally excited about their work, and put effort into their assignments. There never was any moaning or groaning, but instead a buzzing of excitement.
5) They had fun, and generally appreciated the fact that they had a say in the decision making process.

Within all the craziness of the last few weeks of school, I decided to let my students choose who would sit in their group. I know this isn’t a huge deal, but to my kids it was, and honestly I was a little concerned with some of their choices and the fact that school is almost done and they are wild enough already. After school a boy came up to me and said, “Thank you so much for letting me sit with my best friend.” I hadn’t really thought much about it, but to this boy, it clearly made a positive impact on him, and that’s what I’m always looking to do. I never imagined that something so small could be so appreciated. But it is always the little things. Those smalls things that make the difference and make learning better for students. Allowing students even just a little bit of choice can make all the difference in their lives. So what are you afraid of?

Chatting the #ffcaedu Way

phonto

On Monday night, my district hosted our first ever twitter chat, run by our fabulous Director of Technology, Salima. For some, it was their first twitter chat to date, others were solely lurkers, more active twitters participants, and several new to chatting but participated. Overall, it was a great learning experience for everyone involved.

Our topic for the evening was technology integration in the 21st century. Here’s a brief summary of our discussion:

Question #1: What technology can you never live without (in the classroom)? Why? Examples?

Question #2: Do you think technology motivates students? Why/why not?

Question #3: How do students benefit when given the opportunity to use technology to create-when technology is in their hands?

Question #4: How do we help students become “ethical citizens” when using technology? Tips? Tricks? Suggestions?

Question #5: Why is twitter a powerful tool for educators? What are the benefits? How has twitter helped you professionally?

As you can see, there was lots of good discussion going on during this chat, and a few things that stood out for me:
1) As teachers highlight their favourite technology tool, the thing they couldn’t live without in the classroom, I always wonder how it’s used. For example, I have a document camera and use it several times a week, but it wouldn’t be a go-to-tool for me. How does another teacher feel that tool is essential for instruction? What am I missing?
Education is a field that is constantly evolving, and now with technology, things seem endless. But the great thing about it is learning is also continual. There’s never a time when teaching should be repetitive, or stagnant. We can always learn from one another, and always improve how we teach or the way we teach.

2) Technology must be used as a tool to enhance learning, support instruction, and allow students to create masterpieces. If it’s used solely to replace a pen and paper, then the motivation and engagement may not always be there. Students need to be excited about their learning. They live in a world where technology is always at their fingertips. We can’t ignore that, but instead need to support it, and teach children that they too can be creative geniuses.
Traveling hand-in-hand with the use of technology, comes digital citizenship. It is key that as teachers we model what it looks like, but also provide students with the knowledge to be responsible digital citizens. Equally as important, is the need to educate parents. Parents need to be on board with this, and speak that same language at home. Parents are just as important role models as teachers, and should be setting that example for their children as well. It’s our job to provide them with the tools necessary for this to happen.

3) Twitter continues to be an extremely powerful tool for educators. Time and time again, every tweeter you talk to will reinforce this. It’s an amazing tool to connect with others around the globe, access experts, be supported in learning, and build a powerful PLN. For those who are “anti-twitter” I would challenge you to try it again. Dedicating some time will prove to be more rewarding than one may think.

Here are a couple resources discussed during our chat:
Book – It’s Complicated
Storify Summary

What’s Your Summer Learning Plan?

It’s hard to think of summer when I awoke to large, fluffy snow flakes accumulating quickly on the ground this morning. And yes, it is May 3. Whether you’re staying in town, going on a traveling expedition, or spending time with your family and friends, it seems as educators we always find ways to integrate some kind of learning into our lives. Although summer is consider a break or holiday, teachers still find the time to do what they do best: learn!

Continuing with my own learning, I joined the vibrant twitter #satchatwc chat this morning focusing on summer goals and learning plans. Below I’ve summarized our discussion:

Question #1: Summer provides a great opportunity for us to focus on our own new learning. What’s on top of your list to learn this summer?

Question #2: What learning opportunities are you making available for staff this summer? Share topics and any innovative practices.

Question #3: Share your recommendations – What book and/or blogger do you think is a “must read” for the rest of us? Why?

Question #4: How about for our students? What are you doing or what do recommend to keep students engaged in learning this summer?

Question #5: What would an ideal day of learning look like for you this summer?

The last question asked about non-educational plans for the summer and of course many answers consisted of spending time with family members. The great ideas in this chat made me think about what my summer plan is. What do I want to learn this summer and how do I want to grow? This will be the first summer in years, that I won’t be traveling to an exotic place, and as much as that aches me, instead I am embarking on a new journey of starting my masters. Continuing and expanding my learning is something I’ve always wanted to do, but hadn’t the time. Having to be in town for my sister’s wedding and family visits seemed like the perfect opportunity. A great balance of educational and fun!

Regardless of if you have plans, or are trying to build some now, I challenge you to do something for yourself. Take control of your own learning and follow the path you desire. You may be surprised with where it leads you.

Why Genius Hour?

It has been my own personal goal this year to learn and understand more about the idea of “Genius Hour,” and how and what it would look like in the classroom. It is a constant buzz word that always includes the ideas of passion, engagement, and self-directed learning for students.

Genius hour is a relatively new movement in education based on the idea started by Google, whereby employees are able to spend 20% of their time working on projects they are passionate and excited about. You could refer to it as “free time.” A chance to explore and research something that interests you. The ideas are entirely student generated, and of course will vary as student passions are different.

On paper, the idea sounds great, but in the crazy life of the classroom, where would this fit? How do teachers find the time to implement yet another idea? What program or subject do you ignore? In the end, is it worth it?

Tonight the topic of the twitter chat #mnlead focused entirely on genius hour. The passion, energy, and belief in the benefits were apparent with every participant. It was an incredible chat to be a part of. Here’s a quick summary of our discussion:

Question #1: What do you think of when you hear the term genius hour or 20% time?

Question #2: How do students benefit from a genius hour philosophy in the classroom?

Question #2 Follow Up: How do teachers benefit by allowing students to learn focused on their passions?

Question #3: How can genius hour projects be celebrated within the classroom, school, community?

Question #4: What are some of the challenges facing an implementation of genius hour in the classroom?

Question #5: As a leader, how can you support and promote genius hour?

Question #6: What possibilities does the genius hour concept have for professional development?

The discussion tonight further reinforced my preconceived ideas of the benefits of genius hour. When you give students choice, when you take the time to build relationships with them, when you allow them to be advocates for their passion, and when you embrace their learning (whether it’s successful or a failure) an opportunity for growth and further learning continues. This is exactly what genius hour provides!

Here are further resources on genius hour:
What is Genius Hour?
Genius Hour Resources
Mr. Solarz’ Class Examples
Genius Hour Starter Questions