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Unexpected Treasures: a tale of fine arts, Google smarts, and lawn darts

oil painting of aspen treesOne of my guilty pleasures is watching Antiques Roadshow on PBS. There’s something oddly satisfying about making completely uneducated guesses about an item’s monetary value only to find out moments later unsatisfyingly how uneducated you really are. The most disappointing for me has always been hearing just how out of my price range the artwork is. Beautiful little pastel? $4,000. An effortless little pencil sketch? Better insure it for $10,000. Then along comes an oil painting… Yeah, $100,000 sounds about right. My hopes of someday filling my home with the work of master artists are clearly not based in reality. But while my story is nowhere near as interesting as some of the Roadshow guests, and my find will certainly not fund my childrens’ college funds, at least once in my life years ago I was at the right place at the right time.

It was a little junk shop in Sequim, WA (long-since shuttered, unfortunately)… As my wife and I wandered the meandering hallways of the rundown little house-turned-store, we looked through boxes and shelves for a hidden treasure. It was our lucky day. First it was a little Texas Ware splatter patterned bowl, still in use in our kitchen to this day. Next, a complete set of lawn darts in their original box. Still kicking myself over not buying that one, though in hindsight, it’s probably for the best that my three boys don’t have weighted spears to throw at each other. (Good Lord! Who ever thought those were a good idea for kids?!) And then, there, mixed in with a pile of velvet Elvises and terrible faded seaside prints, was a gorgeous oil painting of an aspen stand. It didn’t matter that the frame was a little dinged up (still is) or that the painting was a little dirty (still is). It was clearly the work of skilled artist and his deft touch shone through the grime.

When I get ready to walk out the door each morning, I’m greeted by the scene of sunlit aspen. I think back fondly to that day when my wife and I spent $50 more than we had on a painting that had no business being in a junk shop, and I’m thankful for finding treasures in unexpected places.

ISTE Coaching Standard 3. Digital age learning environments
Technology coaches create and support effective digital age learning environments to maximize the learning of all students.

If you’ve been a teacher for more than three days, you are probably up to your elbows in Scholastic Reading Club flyers. I’m always trying to find ways to avoid tossing the extras directly into the recycle bin, and this past year I finally came up with an idea for a project.

Scholastic book club flyers

SBA testing was looming (though not as much as the giant pile of Scholastic newsprint next to my desk) and students were losing patience with our endless figurative language cramming for test review (it’s pronounced “hyperbole” not “hyper-bowl”). In a moment of clarity, I created a Google Classroom for each of my fifth grade classrooms. Next I recorded a quick video introducing my lesson idea, similar to this one:

screengrab of youtube video

I created a Google Sheet (a completely new tool to my students) to act as a template for a partnered activity.

Google Sheets spreadsheetFinally, I compiled manila folders for each group, filled with Scholastic book order forms and a booklet of genre posters to assist with the task at hand. The task? Each pair of students had a $150 budget to “spend” on books for their classroom library. The only catch: the books had to be found in the Scholastic flyers and they had to buy at least two books from each of the listed genres (the same as the genre posters that had been on display in their classroom all year).

My fear? That things would go horribly wrong, horribly quick. (The fear was not assuaged by the fact I was being observed during this unit by my administrator). In reality, it proved to be one of the most dynamic and effective periods of learning I’ve been a party to. Kids worked collaboratively together and those that didn’t also had a chance to evaluate themselves and their partner at the end of the project by submitting a Google Form. I came away convinced that taking a risk and managing an activity outside of my comfort zone was not the easy way, but it was the right way.

My next step is finding ways to encourage my teacher-librarian colleagues to explore using Google Classroom in their library teaching spaces. I’ve submitted my proposal to the district for a 90-minute workshop to be held on our next district-directed Learning Improvement Day. My goal is to find ways to encourage my peers to create “effective digital age learning environments”. So what does that even look like? It’s my hope that my proposed workshop can serve as an example of the work of The Gates Foundation and the related work of Soine & Lumpe.

Google Classroom presentation page

Duration
I chose 90 minutes, as a 50 minute session would result in far more frustrated questions than satisfying answers (not that that’s always a bad thing, but it is an unsustainable model for professional development).  Though the workshop will be 90 minutes long, the need for additional training and collaboration time will extend into Learning Improvement Fridays, too.  

Active & Engaged Learning
The extended time frame will allow for use of Socrative http://www.socrative.com/, an online assessment tool, collaborative work, and extended peer discussion. The workshop setting is built around teachers participating as students in Google Classroom to gain a better understanding of both sides of the technology.

Content Knowledge Needs
I’m always looking for ways to extend my library lessons beyond my walls and into the classrooms. The focus of this workshop is encouraging the use of Google Classroom. Classroom, in and of itself, is not a curricular content piece, but it is an absolutely fabulous delivery agent. Math, science, reading, writing… Any subject can be addressed through its use.

Teachers’ Needs
This workshop is intended to directly meet the needs of my peers. We need job-alike instruction. We need chances to brainstorm and collaborate around planning curricular units. We need time and support to explore new instructional tools, with a critical eye watching over us to provide assistance and help us avoid trouble. 90 minutes won’t be nearly enough time, but it’s a start.

Promoting Collaborative Participation
Though it would be tempting to write it off as merely a Substitution tool, the lowest-level of the SAMR model, don’t forget that Classroom was designed to allow for communication and collaboration in all steps of the lesson process. Students can comment on each other’s work, teachers can comment and provide feedback in real time. My proposed workshop follows a similar model, encouraging collaboration through Classroom and conversation during our session, and by utilizing Google Hangouts for follow-up virtual sessions.

Like my beloved junk store painting, teaching is an art. The work of a master teacher is immediately evident (though unfortunately, not as highly valued as an oil painting), and it is my hope that I can collaborate with my fellow librarians to hone my craft, and to create opportunities for our students’ new works to shine. There was treasure hiding in a pile of Scholastic flyers; treasure in a throwaway idea that didn’t quite make it to the trash. Be on the lookout for unexpected treasures in the least expected moments and places. And also for flying lawn darts. Those things are crazy unsafe! And be thankful for those discovered treasures, no matter how small. 

Resources

The Gates Foundation. (n.d.). Teachers know best: Teachers’ views on professional development. Retrieved from http://k12education.gatesfoundation.org/learning/teacher_views_on_pd/

Johnson, K. (2016, June 28). 5 things teachers want from PD, and how coaching and collaboration can deliver them — if implementation improves. Retrieved from https://www.edsurge.com/news/2016-06-28-5-things-teachers-want-from-pd-and-how-coaching-and-collaboration-can-deliver-them-if-implementation-improves

Lewis, V. (2015, October 25). Why most professional development stinks — and how you can make it better. Retrieved from https://www.edsurge.com/news/2015-10-25-why-most-professional-development-stinks-and-how-you-can-make-it-better

Soine, K.M. & Lumpe, A. (2014). Measuring characteristics of teacher professional development. Teacher Development: An international journal of teachers’ professional development. DOI: 10.1080/13664530.2014.911775

Learned Helplessness Attacks!

Alien spacecraft over a panicking city

Learned helplessness: a behavior often seen when an individual believes they have no control over the outcome of a situation, regardless of the reality of their perceived control. “The motivational effect of learned helplessness is often seen in the classroom. Students who repeatedly fail may conclude that they are incapable of improving their performance, and this attribution keeps them from trying to succeed, which results in increased helplessness, continued failure, loss of self-esteem and other social consequences.” (“Learned helplessness” – Wikipedia) “What’s the point of trying?” is often thought or spoken.

ISTE Coaching Standard 3 [Digital age learning environments] calls on “technology coaches [to] create and support effective digital age learning environments to maximize the learning of all students.” Much easier said than done, to be sure. Anyone who has spent even a moment teaching knows the last phrase is the kicker: all students. A few students? Most could do that with little trouble. Most students? Tougher, but still doable with a little hard work and luck. But all students? Now throw technology into the mix and the odds of success begin to seem less likely than predicting the winning PowerBall numbers… twice. Now add in a mindset of learned helplessness, wherein students predict failure and don’t even try. What are those odds of success now? Without a balanced and mindful approach, slim to none.

Let’s take a look at the photo from the beginning of this post. We’re looking at a city square and an alien craft is hovering overhead. How would you react in a similar situation? Looking at the image metaphorically, our teaching spaces are the city square: they’re filled with learners of all shapes, sizes, interests, ages, experiences, backgrounds. The alien craft hovering overhead is the technology or project we’re bringing into our teaching space. How will we respond? How will our students or peers respond? Much depends on our approach. There are clues in the image as to the kind of responses we may likely see in our students and colleagues:

boy running away in fearReaction #1: Run Away!!!

“This is not happening. Not now, not ever. I refuse to take part in this. I’ve seen this movie. I see what’s going down, and I have no interest in participating. I’m outta here!” This is someone who’s been there, done that. There would seem to be no reasoning with them. They know what they need to do, and that’s to remove themselves from the current reality. They’re a survivor, but they’re taking their skills with them when they opt out of the situation at hand. This is a learned helplessness response. Good luck teaching them when they’ve already fled.

man looking over his shoulder in fear

Reaction #2: Frozen in Fear

“What is going on? I am powerless. Should I leave? What is this? I should go. No, I’m not going to run away because what good would it do?” This poor guy is dropping a handful of papers that up until this moment seemed very important to him. His productivity has ground to a halt as he stands motionless, stuck between tasks. Many staff or students may feel this way when confronting a difficult task or a new technology. Fear of the unknown can be paralyzing. Doing nothing is not the answer, though it is also often a learned helplessness response. Teaching someone with such a frozen by fear of failure is not an easy task.

by pointing up into the sky

Reaction #3: Childlike Wonder

“Hey! Look at that cool thing up there!” This child shows no fear, pointing in delight at the unknown events happening above him. The adult next to him seems to be ready to grab hold of the oblivious kid’s hand. The child doesn’t know what the adult knows, nor does the child realize what he doesn’t know. A giant alien spacecraft is overhead… it’s okay (and probably wise) to feel a little fear or trepidation. The absence of fear can result in blindly proceeding into unsafe situations. “There are times when fear is good. It must keep its watchful place at the heart’s controls.” Aeschylus Childlike wonder is a beautiful thing, but a sense of wonder does not mean you have to be dependent and oblivious.

couple standing together looking into sky

Reaction #4: Athletic stance

“Let’s do this.” They’re in this together. Based on their physical reactions there looks to be fear involved. They could easily have begun running away by now, but their stance shows they’re ready to adapt and adjust and respond to the situation. (I like to think this is how I would react, though to be honest, I would probably be taking the car from the frozen guy and racing out of town. I’d at least offer him a ride, if he was quick about it.)

Of these four responses, the balanced approach in #4 is how I would hope to react and how I would want my students and staff to react, whether it be in emergency situations like an inevitable alien attack or during a normal run-of-the-mill classroom activity. There’s no panic, no giving up, a willingness to use the skills they have without truly knowing the obstacles or outcome, a decision to stand together to take on the challenges at hand. So how do we get there in the face of learned helplessness in those around us? Let’s take a look at two of the more popular trends from the last couple of years: growth mind-set and grit.

Growth Mind-set

Having a growth mind-set vs. a fixed mind-set is one topic thrown around a lot as a panacea for reaching even the most jaded learners. The terms were coined by Carol Dweck, Ph.D. in her work at Stanford University. In summary, those with a fixed mind-set see intelligence as largely a predetermined and static commodity, while those with a growth mind-set believe that intelligence can be developed. Focusing on a growth mind-set is said to help students reach their true potential as they feel more empowered and committed. The idea is presented elegantly in this Nigel Holmes infographic:

growth vs. fixed mindset chart

You’ve probably seen ‘Pinterest’y bulletin boards like this one:

change your words, change your mindset

But a beautiful bulletin board like this can do truly more harm than good. Posting these messages on the wall will seldom change a child’s heart. What kid will walk by this in the hallway, pause, and think to himself: “By golly, I just need to change my words. Instead of ‘I can’t read’, I’m going to train my brain in reading. Why didn’t I think of this sooner? Thanks, bulletin board from Pinterest.” (The irony of a message about not being able to read being printed and posted on a bulletin board is not to be missed.)

To clarify my “more harm than good” assessment, a project like the mind-set bulletin board can give a false sense of accomplishment. I imagine the staff meeting conversation: “Are we focused on growth mindsets around here?” “Well, we’ve got that amazing bulletin board by the lunch room.” “Great, keep it up! Now, let’s talk about the latest state testing results.” Nothing was accomplished more than artistically covering a hallway wall with uplifting messages. The bulletin board message itself is a great idea. We should absolutely work towards helping those around us reach their true potential. But is that bulletin board in your hallway reflective of the work being done in your school? Truly focusing on developing a growth mind-set requires a massive mindshift from many students, staff, and parents alike. A bulletin board alone doesn’t cut it. Dweck herself admits that shifting thinking like this cannot be oversimplified: “Changing mind-sets is not like surgery,” [Dweck] says. “You can’t simply remove the fixed mind-set and replace it with the growth mind-set.” (Krakovsky, 2007) Recently Dweck revisited her work and how it’s been applied in the educational world. “In many quarters, a growth mind-set had become the right thing to have, the right way to think. It was as though educators were faced with a choice: Are you an enlightened person who fosters students’ well-being? Or are you an unenlightened person, with a fixed mindset, who undermines them? So, of course, many claimed the growth-mindset identity. But the path to a growth mind-set is a journey, not a proclamation.” (Dweck, 2015)

Grit

Fostering a culture of grit is another popular movement in education and business alike. “Grit”, coined by University of Pennsylvania psychologist Angela Duckworth, is the idea that an individual exhibits “perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Grit entails working strenuously toward challenges, maintaining effort and interest over years despite failure, adversity, and plateaus in progress. The gritty individual approaches achievement as a marathon; his or her advantage is stamina. Whereas disappointment or boredom signals to others that it is time to change trajectory and cut losses, the gritty individual stays the course.” (Duckworth, 2007)  This infographic by Sylvia Duckworth (no relation) summarizes the idea that success is achieved through an often messy combination of failure, sacrifice, hard work, and dedication:

iceberg illusion infographic

So What Now?

Back to “digital age learning environments” for all learners and thinking back to the impending alien attack, how do we prepare for all of varied responses? 

Edutopia has some great resources on the topics and here are just a few:

5 Steps to Foster Grit in the Classroom by Andrew Miller
Avoiding “Learned Helplessness” by Andrew Miller
Developing a Growth Mindset in Teachers and Staff by Keith Heggart
True Grit: The Best Measure of Success and How to Teach It by Vicki Davis

Are we training our students and staff how to properly respond when faced with unexpected obstacles? Should we focus on grit or on growth mind-set? There really isn’t a single approach that will snuff out learned helplessness. A multi-pronged approach is needed. What works for one learner or colleague may totally fail with another. Luckily there are some common threads throughout these and other educational theories, and I’ll highlight three: (1) Trust, (2) Communication, and (3) Patience.

Trust

When there is a culture of trust, people are willing to try and even to fail. Allowing for failure is an underutilized and powerful teaching tool. Creating trust means being vulnerable. When the learner knows they’re not alone, great things can happen. When there is trust, there is honesty.

Communication

Open communication is based on honesty and self-awareness. When you need help, be honest about those needs. When sacrifice is needed, be honest about that, too. Ongoing reflection and revision will help learners to find their voice. Allowing for feedback throughout the process will allow for growth in your teaching as well. Honest feedback is more powerful than feel-good feedback. End-of-unit feedback can help you spot holes in instruction or in learning. Talk about grit and growth mind-set, and about how learning is hard work. Find others in the community who are willing to visit and share their experiences (great opportunity for a Skype/Hangout visit), to show that learning is not just a school-thing.

Patience

These types of culture change and mind shifts take time and lots of it. Like Dweck said, this isn’t an operation. It’s often said that teaching is an art. Well, art is messy. “Rules” in art are made to be broken. Embracing differences in the artists and their work is what makes art so powerful and cross-cultural. Creativity is an innate human ability, and reminding learners of that ability will take effort, and effort takes time.

So there you have it. Take a little growth mind-set, mix it with trust, communication, and patience, and then grind it up with a little grit…  And you, too, will be ready for an alien invasion. And for teaching how to write a persuasive essay. And for teaching kids how to read. And for helping a colleague overcome their fear of technology. But mostly, keep an eye out for those aliens.

Resources

Barr, R. D., & Gibson, E. L. (2015). Sowing seeds of hope. Educational Leadership, 72(9), 22-27.

Davis, V. (2015, July 28). True grit: The best measure of success and how to teach it | Edutopia. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/true-grit-measure-teach-success-vicki-davis

Desautels, L. (2014, June 11). Emotions are contagious | Edutopia [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/emotions-are-contagious-lori-desautels

Duckworth, A.L., Peterson, C., Matthews, M.D., & Kelly, D.R. (2007). “Grit: Perseverance and passion for long-term goals”. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92 (6), p. 1087. Retrieved from http://goo.gl/dQkkf

Dweck, C. (2015, September 22). Carol Dweck revisits the ‘growth mind-set’ – Education Week. Retrieved from http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2015/09/23/carol-dweck-revisits-the-growth-mindset.html

Gerstein, J. (2014, August 29). The educator with a growth mindset: A professional development workshop | User Generated Education [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://usergeneratededucation.wordpress.com/2014/08/29/the-educator-with-a-growth-mindset-a-staff-workshop/

The Hechinger Report. (2016, April 18). Grit under attack in education circles | US News. Retrieved from http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2016-04-18/grit-under-attack-in-education-circles

Heggart, K. (2015, February 3). Developing a growth mindset in teachers and staff | Edutopia. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/discussion/developing-growth-mindset-teachers-and-staff

Hicks, K. (2015, March 17). Why creativity in the classroom matters more than ever | Edudemic. Retrieved from http://www.edudemic.com/creativity-in-the-classroom/

International Society for Technology in Education. (n.d.). ISTE standards for coaches. Retrieved from http://www.iste.org/standards/standards/standards-for-coaches

Krakovsky, M. (2007, March/April). The effort effect | Stanford Magazine. Retrieved from https://alumni.stanford.edu/get/page/magazine/article/?article_id=32124

Maats, H., & O’Brien, K. (2014, March 20). Teaching students to embrace mistakes | Edutopia [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/teaching-students-to-embrace-mistakes-hunter-maats-katie-obrien

Miller, A. (2014, January 7). 5 steps to foster grit in the classroom | Edutopia [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/foster-grit-in-classroom-andrew-miller

Miller, A. (2015, May 11). Avoiding “learned helplessness” | Edutopia. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/avoiding-learned-helplessness-andrew-miller

Tough, P. (2016, June). How to teach students grit – The Atlantic. Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2016/06/how-kids-really-succeed/480744/

Wood, C. J. (1991). Are Students and School Personnel Learning to be Helpless-Oriented or Resourceful-Oriented? Part 1: Focus on Students. Journal of Educational and Psychological Consultation, 2(1), 15-48. doi:10.1207/s1532768xjepc0201_2

Wood, C. J. (1992). Are Students and School Personnel Taught to Be Helpless-Oriented or Resourceful-Oriented? Part 2: Focus on School Personnel. Journal of Educational and Psychological Consultation, 3(4), 317-355. doi:10.1207/s1532768xjepc0304_3

Images

“Childhood’s End” concept art by Neal Adams  http://goo.gl/nnl4lT

“Two Mindsets” by Nigel Holmes  http://goo.gl/FhtDRc

“Growth Mindset bulletin board” by RoomMomSpot  http://goo.gl/eWXJl1

“The Iceberg Illusion” by Sylvia Duckworth  https://goo.gl/aJap3U

Finding & Sharing eResources: Where do we begin?

Power is gained by sharing knowledge, not hoarding it© Justin Haney 2016 (CC BY-NC 4.0)

“Work smarter, not harder.”

There are few combinations of words that will raise hackles more quickly among teachers than the command to “work smarter”, as if we had never considered the idea. The problem is there’s more than a sliver of truth in that infamous business credo.  We as educators are working harder than ever before to overcome ever greater obstacles.  A mindshift is needed.  “Work smarter” is a loaded phrase that should be put to pasture for a bit.  Instead of “smarter”, though, the word we should focus on is “sharing”.  

Many teachers, myself included, are reluctant to share the work that we do. The easiest way to work “smarter” is to share our work.  When a quality resource is found, it makes no sense to hoard it.  If a system or structure is in place to share resources, teachers will use it.  The difficulties begin to arise quickly, though.  Who controls the sharing process?  Who approves the electronic resources?  What’s the best way to share?  And, as with any processes that are put in place, is it sustainable?

ISTE Coaching Standard 3: Digital age learning environments

Technology coaches create and support effective digital age learning environments to maximize the learning of all students.

B – Maintain and manage a variety of digital tools and resources for teacher and student use in technology-rich learning environments

F – Collaborate with teachers and administrators to select and evaluate digital tools and resources that enhance teaching and learning and are compatible with the school technology infrastructure

Guiding Question

What effective systems and structures do school districts have in place to manage recommendations for websites, apps, technology tools?  

Historically my school has had no solid plan for dealing with apps and digital resources.  When it comes time to find e-resources to use, teachers are on their own.  Different curricular areas have sporadically created lists of recommended websites, with little sharing of said lists.  The lists become less effective over time as links become dead or because more effective sites and resources are not added.  With that said, what I’m really concerned with is the process and not specific products and sites: how to share resources within the district and beyond, what processes are in place to recommend and share, are FERPA/COPPA/etc. taken into consideration, and what recommendations to make to our district technology administrators?  

share© Justin Haney 2016 (CC BY-NC 4.0)

So How Hard Can It Be?

School District of Osceola County, FL: Software or Web Tools Selection  I’m beginning with this site as an example of what I fear these processes can lead to.  There is a lengthy multiple-step process involved, with several pages of notes required at each step.  Committee meetings to approve/deny resources are monthly, so timeliness could often be an issue.  Approved sites and resources are shared alphabetically in a .pdf file, with no search functionality.  Teachers are concerned about losing autonomy of their classroom instruction and this district’s process seems like exactly what many educators fear.  Also, it’s astounding to think of the amount of time and effort invested into this process when there are only 13 sites/resources on the “Denied” list.  More astounding is the fact that this oldest items on the “Approved” list were reviewed more than ten years ago, meaning little more than 1 resource is denied each year, on average.  My gut tells me that many sites and resources are being used without approval, with staff choosing to bypass the cumbersome process, though I could certainly be incorrect in my assumption.  If the process becomes too much work, staff will find an easier way.

On the other end of the spectrum is Denver Public Schools’ amazingly polished and extensive Academic Technology Menu.  My primary fear is how sustainable would a resource like Denver’s be? I can’t even imagine how much work it was to create this elegant site.  And if it’s primarily the work of one or two gifted individuals, would it fall into disrepair when those individuals inevitably move on?  

Is There a Happy Medium?

Michael Gorman wrote two interesting blog posts in November 2015 on the topic of vetting Internet resources: 10 Ideas to Consider Before Using an Internet Resource and Vetting Web 2.0 Educational Tools.  I appreciate Gorman’s approach as I feel it would be a great place to start this conversation with my staff.  He doesn’t provide forms to mindlessly check boxes and fill-in dots, but rather, he first encourages us to pause and focus.  His list of ten ideas in the first post covers a wide range of topics that are often overlooked in the process of finding the right electronic resources.  For example: 1) Read and understand your school district’s AUP or RUP;  4) Check to see if there is already a district approved tool that does the same thing; and 7) Incorporate good digital citizenship at all levels.

Guilford County Schools of Greensboro, NC have an interesting process in place for approving apps for use in their district. Guilford County Schools: Elementary App Approval Process  Of particular note in this district’s process, I appreciated the first step which requires that educators self-evaluate a resource using a rubric. Crowdsourcing work like this saves time and resources, and it also requires that educators self-reflect on their instruction.  I was unable to find a shared list of approved resources, though.

Englewood High School in Englewood, CO, does a nice job of explaining the reasoning behind having an approval process in place.  Technology Resources / App Approval Process The approval process begins with a one page document, with simple questions to consider and respond to.  The language is clear and the process encourages conversation with the building principal.  Approved apps are listed in an accessible Google Doc with informative summaries.

Concerns/Questions/Next Steps

Student privacy issues are seldom mentioned in the policies I’ve found (though it is on Gorman’s list:  9) Become familiar with CIPA, COPPA, and FERPA).  Education on the issue could be an effective first step towards bringing it more to the forefront of educators’ thinking.  Valerie Strauss’s The Washington Post article “The Astonishing Amount of Data Being Collected About Your Children” provides some interested fodder for conversation with staff and parents alike.

The toughest question may be, where do we start?  I don’t think the answer is a complicated form or a fancy website, as they would never be fully utilized without a deeper understanding of the “why”.  Instead, a conversation framed around Gorman’s 10 ideas could lay the groundwork for a strong foundation of sharing knowledge and resources.  We’re already working hard.  Now it’s time to share our work with those around us.  I’m committing to more intentionality in my sharing with colleagues this year. When we as educators find a high quality resource that meets a curricular need, it would be foolish to keep it to ourselves.  Power is gained by sharing knowledge, not hoarding it.  

What you create; What the world sees; where they intersect is Your impact© Justin Haney 2016 (CC BY-NC 4.0)    inspired by James Clear’s illustration on http://jamesclear.com/vivian-maier

References

Denver Public Schools. (n.d.). Academic technology solutions menu. Retrieved August 6, 2016, from https://atm.dpsk12.org/

Englewood High School. (n.d.). Technology resources – App approval process. Retrieved August 6, 2016, from http://www.englewoodschools.net/Page/4142

Gorman, M. (2015, November 4). 10 ideas to consider before using an internet resource: the web in the classroom, part 1 [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.techlearning.com/blogentry/9948

Gorman, M. (2015, November 17). Vetting web 2.0 educational tools: the web in the classroom, part 2 [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.techlearning.com/blogentry/10002

Guilford County Schools. (n.d.). Elementary app approval process. Retrieved August 6, 2016, from www.gcsnc.com/pages/gcsnc/Departments/804180865931116562/Resourcfes_Page_Documents/Elementary_App_Approval_Proces

International Society for Technology in Education. (2016). ISTE standards for coaches. Retrieved from http://www.iste.org/standards/standards/standards-for-coaches

Johnson, K. (2016, March 15). Resources to help you choose the digital tools your classroom needs. Retrieved from https://www.edsurge.com/news/2016-03-15-resources-to-help-you-choose-the-digital-tools-your-classroom-needs

School District of Osceola County. (n.d.). Software or web tools selection. Retrieved August 7, 2016, from http://www.osceolaschools.net/departments/media_and_instructional_technology_/software_or_web_tools_selection/

Strauss, V. (2015, November 12). The astonishing amount of data being collected about your children – The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2015/11/12/the-astonishing-amount-of-data-being-collected-about-your-children/

Professional Development: Small Steps & Giant Leaps

space craft

Spaceship: image by Justin Haney

NASA and Mars Exploration

On July 20, 2016, US scientists celebrated the 40th anniversary of reaching the surface of Mars with Viking I.  Forty years later, a new generation of scientists and engineers are up to their elbows in development and planning for an even bigger vision.  NASA has plans to have astronauts orbiting Mars by 2033, with a further goal of astronaut boots on the ground by the end of the 2030s.  In seventeen years, I may be able to turn on my VR device and see what astronauts are seeing when they take those first steps on the Red Planet. In less than twenty years, scientists will (hopefully) have taken the necessary steps to ensure safe passage for humans on a 225 million km voyage.  By the time my kids have graduated from college, astronauts will be be playing Pokemon GO on Mars.  And all because of a mix of careful planning, a willingness to fail, and taking first steps…

Educators & Professional Development: Disconnected

As educators, we know there is hard work to be done if we want our teaching to help our students today and tomorrow reach further heights than ever before.  Like those early NASA scientists, our future success will depend on our work today.  There is a profound need for professional development for the K-12 librarians in my school district, and especially at the K-5 level, as many of our elementary librarians have not pursued a library media endorsement for their teaching certificate.  So how can we improve the quality of our teaching?  What form(s) of professional development will work for a district-wide K-12 librarian team? Is there a particular model of staff learning and instruction that will be effective, sustainable, and promote collaboration?  Teachers are encouraged to be lifelong learners.  Professional development can take on many different forms.  Traditionally the model for many librarians has been to attend whatever trainings are taking place for classroom teachers. In the recent past we’ve successfully lobbied for librarian-specific offerings, but those in-service days are so few and far between that, by necessity, often those sessions act as a general “catch-up” time.  

My goal for this year is to help with the development and implementation of a sustainable and effective K-12 library professional development model for our district’s librarians.  So what does that mean? What would that look like?  First, let’s take a look at what’s not working…

2016-07-25_2309

chart retrieved from page 5 of “Teachers Know Best” report at http://www.teachersknowbest.org/  (Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation)

Karen Johnson distills from the Gates Foundation’s findings five things that educators are searching for in their professional development.  “Death by PowerPoint” is all-too-real for many teachers.  Instead, we’re longing for “professional learning opportunities that are: 1) Relevant; 2) Interactive; 3) Delivered by someone who understands their experience; 4) Sustained over time; and 5) Treats teachers like professionals.” (Johnson, 2016) https://www.edsurge.com/news/2016-06-28-5-things-teachers-want-from-pd-and-how-coaching-and-collaboration-can-deliver-them-if-implementation-improves

Professional Development: Path to Success

Think about it…  What if early NASA scientists had sat idly by, watching other countries take the lead…? If they had opted out of exploration and innovation because the risks were too great…?  If they had chosen to stay within their comfort zone and not test the limits of physics and engineering…?  Our astronauts would be like landlocked tourists, crossing the country in RVs with nerdy science bumper stickers, rather than taking those first amazingly red and dusty steps millions of miles away.  A leap of faith is required before we can achieve our goals.  As of yet, there is not a Star Trek transporter that allows for near-instantaneous travel between two ports.  If we want to explore new and distant worlds, we’ve got to do the hard work to get there.  We’ve got to plan, test, collect data, revise, collaborate, innovate.

And so it is for the team of fellow teacher-librarians in my district.  If we want to achieve great things with our teaching, and we want our students and staff to reach even further, it’s time to take the first small steps towards changing our professional development model.  This year I’m committing and looking forward to exploring the development of a librarian-focused EdCamp in the Pacific Northwest region.  I know that organizing and hosting an EdCamp won’t fill all of the gaps in our professional development needs.  Thinking back to NASA’s Mars vision, they didn’t just strap a few astronauts into a rocket and hope for the best.  Instead scientists started with small unmanned probes, monitored, evaluated, adapted.  They collaborated.  They created.  And they’re not satisfied with what they’ve achieved.  I strongly feel that a librarian-focused EdCamp could be an important piece of the professional development puzzle for myself and my teacher-librarian colleagues for years to come, and I’m excited to start this journey.  A few small steps, and then a giant leap into EdCamps!

So What’s an EdCamp?

Kristen Swanson, one of the founders of the EdCamp movement, summarizes the format of the unconference model, a model that is growing exponentially in popularity with educators throughout the nation and beyond.

An EdCamp is…

  • Free: Edcamps should be free to all attendees. This helps ensure that all different types of teachers and educational stakeholders can attend.
  • Non-commercial and with a vendor-free presence: Edcamps should be about learning, not selling. Educators should feel free to express their ideas without being swayed or influenced by sales pitches for educational books or technology.
  • Hosted by any organization or individual: Anyone should be able to host an Edcamp. School districts, educational stakeholders and teams of teachers can host Edcamps.
  • Made up of sessions that are determined on the day of the event: Edcamps should not have pre-scheduled presentations. During the morning of the event, the schedule should be created in conjunction with everyone there. Sessions will be spontaneous, interactive and responsive to participants’ needs.
  • Events where anyone who attends can be a presenter: Anyone who attends an Edcamp should be eligible to present. All teachers and educational stakeholders are professionals worthy of sharing their expertise in a collaborative setting.
  • Reliant on the “law of two feet” which encourages participants to find a session that meets their needs: As anyone can host a session, it is critical that participants are encouraged to actively self-select the best content and sessions. Edcampers should leave sessions that do not meet their needs. This provides a uniquely effective way of “weeding out” sessions that are not based on appropriate research or not delivered in an engaging format.  (Swanson, 2016) http://www.edutopia.org/blog/why-edcamp-kristen-swanson

EdCamps: More Information

The best way to learn more about EdCamps is to attend one.  Here are three upcoming Pacific Northwest EdCamp events that I would encourage you to attend, as well as a link to the national EdCamp Foundation website for even more information.

Tech EdCamp Wenatchee (Wenatchee, WA) 8/16/16  https://sites.google.com/a/wenatcheeschools.org/techedcamp/

EdCamp Lake Stevens (Lake Stevens, WA) 8/25/16  https://sites.google.com/a/lkstevens.wednet.edu/edcamplssd/home

EdCamp Edmonds (Edmonds, WA) 11/19/16  https://sites.google.com/a/edmonds.wednet.edu/edcampedmonds/website-builder

Further EdCamp information:  http://www.edcamp.org/

List of Resources (for further information on EdCamps & Professional Development)

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1zju1Vl2UXCWkH7B8GyL-2qT8ihjEpbj9-bJ2xyTaUUI/edit?usp=sharing

PD for Librarians: Let’s Fix It

if its brokeI’ve been a librarian for 13+ years and I’m still learning every day. Through trial and error on the job I’ve learned about Follett’s Destiny circulation system. I’ve learned that Shel Silverstein books will never go out of style. I’ve learned that the right book at the right time in the right kid’s hands will fuel their love of reading. I’ve learned that keeping a tidy library is like stringing beads on a string with no end knot. I’ve learned that technology often experiences glitches when it’s truly most inconvenient. I’ve learned how to save time for teachers by focusing on what they’ll need, and, in best cases, before they even know they need it.

While all of that knowledge is important, very little of it was gained in traditional professional development experiences. The main problem for building specialists such as teacher-librarians is the professional development model in place in many districts is focused on classroom teachers and their needs, and building specialists are often left to try and find applicability where there is little. Or better yet, librarians are clumped together with music or art teachers or PE specialists in a corner table and we’re tasked with goals such as working collaboratively on a specialist schedule or planning assemblies instead of focusing on teaching and learning. If we are able to meet with job-alike colleagues, it’s often after-hours or at an annual professional conference, if we’re willing to fund our own way.

CassetteTapeGuiding Question: What are some professional development options for my job-alike colleagues and me as we try to develop a more cohesive teacher-librarian cadre in our district?

For the past several years, the librarian professional learning community (PLC) in my district has met for one full day, either in the fall or spring. Substitute teachers were provided for all of us, and we all met in a meeting room at our district headquarters. Last year, our annual meeting day was cancelled due to a district snow day. It was never rescheduled. When we finally met as a whole group this fall, it became apparent that our current instructional model was broken. It is impossible to form an open and collaborative culture when you’re literally meeting someone for the first time after they’ve been in their job for almost two years! Think of the implications of placing teachers in the same boat… Imagine seeing a teacher coming down the hall, saying “Hi” to that person and introducing yourself only to find out they’ve been teaching the exact same topics as you a mere two doors down. Wow! You’re not alone in this academic endeavor! You eat lunch with them, share a few stories, trade a few tips, then you each go back to your respective classrooms, closing the door behind you, emerging again to work together… twelve months later!

It was after this fall’s somewhat annual meeting that I realized, the system’s broken. It’s been said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results. Well, we’ve been doing the same thing over and over again, and the results aren’t only different than intended, they’re trending in the wrong direction. While it is certainly energizing and engaging to gather as a large group, waiting for those whole-group gatherings does not seem to be a sustainable instructional model. At the same time, I’m also hoping to extend our cohort model — moving from an in-district-only cohort, to beyond our district boundaries.

That is not to say that there is no value in attending staff-wide trainings and professional development offerings. Stephens writes about this in her blog post, Rethinking What We Do. “‘Do we need to go to whole-school PD? Yes!’ We are a part of a learning community…you can’t operate a successful school library program in a vacuum” (Stephens, 2013). But vacuums and being stuck in a time-wasting staff development meeting share a common trait… major suckage.

One emerging professional development model that is trending in popularity is the “unconference”. Rebecca Bagley provides a great description of the unconference: “The concept is fairly simple. At an unconference, no topics have been predetermined, no keynote speakers have been invited, no panels have been arranged. Instead, the event lives and dies by the participation of its attendees. They decide what topics will be discussed and they convene the individual breakout sessions. In other words, an unconference has no agenda until the participants create it.” (Bagley, 2014). In the world of education, unconferences have taken the form of “EdCamps”. A recent Scholastic Teacher article highlighted EdCamps. “EdCamps are all about the room being smarter than the individual.” (Borris, 2016). This is the disconnect that’s so pervasive with our current professional development model. Collectively our district library cohort has a wide array of skills and knowledge, but like so many organizations, our skills and knowledge are siloed. The unconference model seeks to disrupt the tradition of “stand and deliver” instruction, while empowering and encouraging all parties to take an active role in our professional development.silos2

The Washington Library Media Association (WLMA) has held a multi-day professional conference, with sessions, keynote speakers, vendor booths, and all the normal conference accoutrements. But as Washington state schools and teachers alike have been forced to tighten spending over the past years, attendance, participation and membership rates have consistently diminished, so much so that WLMA has merged with the Washington Library Association (WLA) to save costs. Gone too is the annual conference. In its place, in October 2016 WLMA will be shifting to a one-day unconference: WLMA 2016 unconference. There are pros (free/lower-cost conference for participants, sessions are adaptable to the interests of attendees, all participants are encouraged to share ideas rather than only listening to presenters) and cons (can be an uncomfortable model of professional development for introverts, success is dependent on attendees’ participation, and conferences are on a much smaller scale). It will be interesting to see if an annual unconference model will be a sustainable one for WLMA in the years to come.

Another model of instruction that is worth exploring is on-demand and web-based professional development, often in the form of webinars or videos. The American Association of School Librarians (AASL) provides archived webinars with topics such as “Brains Change @ Your Library” and “Coaching the Leader Within”.  Pros: webinars can be completed independently, there are numerous free resources available, and they’re often available anytime/on-demand. Cons: access to full offerings often requires membership or other payment, there is often little interactivity in the delivery, and sound/video quality (as well as the quality of the presentation itself) can be inconsistent. One wondering I have is the feasibility of using webinars in a blended model, with independent viewing of the material followed by small and/or large group discussions.

Finally, I’m deeply interested in web-based (Hangouts & Google+ communities). As our district has shifted to a Google Education platform, it’s becoming easier and easier to integrate Google applications into our learning. A web-based community has many advantages over traditional in-person professional development, but it’s also not with its own issues. Pros: free access to community of job-alike colleagues from around the world, ease of 2-way conversation, no transportation requirements. Cons: our district has not opened access to Google+ for teachers, much like EdCamps these communities are dependent on members’ participation to bring value, and privacy issues — including some teachers who prefer to not be on camera.
Some examples of applicable Google+ communities: https://plus.google.com/communities/114899053206458405634 TLChat (538 members — invite)
https://plus.google.com/communities/117972083606648197914 School Library Media Specialists (2,258 members — open)
https://plus.google.com/communities/109025267965562834348 LSSD Teacher-Librarians (9 members)

Ideas and wonderings moving forward with online communities:
If I can’t convince the district to open up access to the Google+ features, what are my other options to get things started? Who will lead the sessions? Is it worth the time and effort if only a few colleagues participate?  I think these applications have the greatest potential for meaningful job-alike professional development in my current role as teacher-librarian, and I think a few proof-of-concept sessions would go far to convince district leaders of the value to teachers. And an added benefit with these new approaches… I won’t have to wait two years any longer to meet the new-hires!

Resources:

American Library Association (ALA). (n.d.). School libraries: Online learning. Retrieved June 1, 2016, from http://www.ala.org/onlinelearning/schoollibraries

Bagley, R. (2014, August 18). How ‘unconferences’ unleash innovative ideas | Forbes. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/rebeccabagley/2014/08/18/how-unconferences-unleash-innovative-ideas/#26b5f2045e12

Borris, C. (2016, January/February). Happy campers. Scholastic Teacher, 125(4), 24-29. Retrieved from http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/article/how-edcamps-are-changing-face-pd

Evans, S. (2016, June 4). Our first Google Hangout for professional development [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://librarymediatechtalk.blogspot.com/2016/06/our-first-google-hangout-for.html

School Library Journal. (n.d.). School Library Journal. Retrieved from http://www.slj.com/

Stephens, W. (2013, October 14). Rethinking what we do: Professional development for school librarians. Retrieved from http://yalsa.ala.org/blog/2013/10/14/re-thinking-what-we-do-professional-development-for-school-librarians/

There’s a Pony in Here Somewhere!

manurepile

excerpt from “How Ronald Reagan Changed My Life” by Peter Robinson

Chapter One
Journal Entry, June 2002:

Over lunch today I asked Ed Meese about one of Reagan’s favorite jokes. “The pony joke?” Meese replied. “Sure I remember it. If I heard him tell it once, I heard him tell it a thousand times.”

The joke concerns twin boys of five or six. Worried that the boys had developed extreme personalities — one was a total pessimist, the other a total optimist — their parents took them to a psychiatrist.

First the psychiatrist treated the pessimist. Trying to brighten his outlook, the psychiatrist took him to a room piled to the ceiling with brand-new toys. But instead of yelping with delight, the little boy burst into tears. “What’s the matter?” the psychiatrist asked, baffled. “Don’t you want to play with any of the toys?” “Yes,” the little boy bawled, “but if I did I’d only break them.”

Next the psychiatrist treated the optimist. Trying to dampen his outlook, the psychiatrist took him to a room piled to the ceiling with horse manure. But instead of wrinkling his nose in disgust, the optimist emitted just the yelp of delight the psychiatrist had been hoping to hear from his brother, the pessimist. Then he clambered to the top of the pile, dropped to his knees, and began gleefully digging out scoop after scoop with his bare hands. “What do you think you’re doing?” the psychiatrist asked, just as baffled by the optimist as he had been by the pessimist. “With all this manure,” the little boy replied, beaming, “there must be a pony in here somewhere!”

“Reagan told the joke so often,” Meese said, chuckling, “that it got to be kind of a joke with the rest of us. Whenever something would go wrong, somebody on the staff would be sure to say, ‘There must be a pony in here somewhere.'”

As our district moves to a 1:1 model for students and staff alike, [A] what practices can we put in place to encourage responsible technology use? And [B] are there exemplars of device user agreements, specifically for younger elementary students (2nd/3rd grade), to set the groundwork for later years? With those guiding questions in mind, these past few weeks I’ve been exploring ISTE Teacher Standard 4.

Promote and model digital citizenship and responsibility

Teachers understand local and global societal issues and responsibilities in an evolving digital culture and exhibit legal and ethical behavior in their professional practices.

With Standard 4 in mind, how do we work achieve goals A & B? The optimist might look at things and say, “We can do this! We’ll find a magical device that will meet all of our needs. Maybe an iPad or a Surface Pro.  Kids today know all about technology — they’ll know how to use them.  And if they try to misbehave, our I.T. folks will have all our bases covered. People are going to write research papers about our amazing results. It’s gonna be great!” But blind optimism with only surface-deep planning is often a recipe for disaster [see Los Angeles Unified School District’s infamous iPad plan].

The pessimist’s response is more common in the educational world.  District leaders think about the headaches that come with technology purchases and decide to prioritize limited resources elsewhere. They talk about value-added growth measures and question (wisely, at times) whether or not technology provides an adequate return on investment, often focusing on highly publicized disasters such as LAUSD’s iPads.  They focus more on locking down access to bandwidth, email, rights, and privileges, not to deny student achievement, but acting in fear of what might happen. “Give ‘em an inch, and they’ll be hacking computers.”

“Are you an optimist or a pessimist?” my own kids asked me as I was writing this piece. Would I dive headfirst into the pile to find that missing pony or cry over the toys and over what might happen.? Optimist or pessimist?  Which approach will work?  I would argue for Option C, pragmatist.  I’m looking at that room full of manure and I’m thinking, “We could sell that manure and get someone else to shovel it out. And if there’s a pony in there? Endless supply of manure! And if we posted on social media about our new school-based business: Let’s Doo It! [trademark pending] Think about the learning opportunities for our staff and students…”

Goal A: Responsible Tech Use

I could talk for hours on the value of focusing on digital citizenship, but I’ll be mercifully brief here.  Instead I’ll direct you to two outstanding resources that provide more information than I could fit into this article:

Digital Citizenship: Resource Roundup (Edutopia) http://www.edutopia.org/article/digital-citizenship-resources
K-12 Digital Citizenship Curriculum (Common Sense Media)https://www.commonsensemedia.org/educators/digital-citizenship

Goal B: Device User Agreement

As our students and staff are shifting closer to a 1:1 device model, I think a pragmatic approach would be to focus on getting out in front of problems before they arise.  What do we expect from our students with regards to technology use?  While they are certainly digitally native, they’re most certainly not digitally savvy. Students’ relative lack of fear with regards to technology is not an inherently good or bad thing. It can definitely get them into trouble in a hurry (e.g. unwise use of social media).  On the other hand, their lack of fear is a quality that many educational staff would be wise to emulate in moderation.  Making mistakes is okay, and modeling how to respond to mistakes is an area where we grown-ups often miss out on teaching opportunities.

With that in mind, I feel that one low-cost, high-impact approach would be a device-specific user agreement.  In this case, I focused on a Chromebook user agreement for 3rd-5th graders at my school.  There are a lot of misguided examples of student forms to be found online, often filled with legalese and educational jargon. They often focus on costs and restrictions, and are one-size-fits-all (one form for K-12 students).  Going back to Goal A, digital citizenship must be embedded into learning to be successful and to find meaning.  Very few of the examples I found online included elements of digital citizenship, and of those, fewer still went beyond merely a vague reference to the digital citizenship skills and learning involved.

The K-12, one-size-fits-all approach is one of the biggest blunders that many in education leadership make.  In the world of educational technology, oftentimes the K-12 approach is the easy way when it comes to those in I.T. leadership.  Uniformity allows for ease of response, opportunities for streamlined training, and for optimized repair and maintenance plans.  But uniformity is not an effective practice at a classroom level.  Each child is different, each classroom different, each teacher different, each grade level team different… the list could go on and on.  While many in leadership roles spend a great deal of time crafting the perfect mission statement, arguing over semantics of whether saying “each child” is more impactful than “every child” or “leaving no child behind”, they lose sight of the fact that there needs to be flexibility and freedom in how we empower our teachers.

Teachers need tools.  Not tool.  Tools, plural.  What works for one teacher or child may not be needed in the classroom two doors down.  A user agreement for K-12 is destined to fail in its goals.  There needs to be a user agreement for kindergarten students and parents.  A different form for 1st or 2nd graders and their parents.  A different user agreement for 5th graders than for 12th graders.  And we need to revisit the idea often: why are we having them sign the form to begin with?  Is it merely to warn them off of undesired behaviors? And if so, what message does that send?  If not, does the document truly reflect our goals?

SBA testing requirements have resulted in an incredible influx of Chromebooks in my school.  A wonderful opportunity for students, but with little guidance or time to prepare, we as a staff soon found ourselves in a room with a pony (including aforementioned pony byproduct).  Nuts and bolts issues, such as how to plug/unplug devices or how to properly carry Chromebooks, soon took center stage as staff found they were having to constantly deal with the effects of poor/misinformed choices on the part of students.  Working with a fellow teacher at my school, we developed a Chromebook user agreement for our 4th and 5th grade students:

Chromebook agreement jfeOur work was guided by two examples of documents that we found online:

Redondo Beach Unified School District http://tes-rbusd-ca.schoolloop.com/file/1244185264194/1406346522769/1457584482771379047.pdf
South Orangetown Central School District https://blogs.socsd.org/soms/files/2015/06/somschromebookprogram-t1aguu.pdf

In developing this Chromebook user agreement, our hope is that this document can be used to guide conversations before/during/after using the devices, not only between student and teacher, but also with parents.  And in the inevitable moments of missteps by students, this document can guide conversations about learning from mistakes rather than repeating them ad infinitum.

There’s gotta be a pony in there somewhere and I think I’ve found it…

fat-pony

In writing this post, my mind kept drifting to one of my favorite new books from this past school year, Kate Beaton’s The Princess and the Pony. Princess Pinecone is small but mighty and longs to be a princess warrior.  Her birthday wish and dream of a battle-ready horse is shattered when she finds that her newly-gifted trusty steed is in fact, a corpulent and flatulent pony with a lazy eye.  But rather than focusing on her plump equine’s shortcomings, she trains the horse for battle as best she’s able and rides the odiferous beast to greater achievement than she ever thought possible.

What’s any of that have to do with our Chromebooks and user agreements?  It’s a stretch, but here goes…  We’ve been gifted a pony (carts full of Chromebooks) and a pile of manure to boot (little training or additional supports provided).  We could focus on the shortcomings of our pony (Chromebooks are definitely not perfect) and its lazy eye (our students don’t always see things clearly either) and its emissions (…) or we can take the pony we have into battle (teaching our students and not just focusing on SBA) after adequate training and preparation (ongoing professional development must be a part of any successful technology plan). Princess Pinecone’s moment of victory was not a fluke; it was the direct result of finding the right tool for the right teacher, who fully utilized the tools she was given.

Now go find your pony.  It’s gotta be around here somewhere…

Resources

Geuss, M. (2016, May 13). After LAUSD iPad program failure, Apple’s help spurs success in other schools | Ars Technica. Retrieved from http://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2016/05/after-lausd-ipad-program-failure-apples-help-spurs-success-in-other-schools/

International Society for Technology in Education. (n.d.). Standards for teachers. Retrieved from http://www.iste.org/standards/ISTE-standards/standards-for-teachers

Jefferson Elementary Chromebook user agreement (4th/5th grade)  https://docs.google.com/document/d/1L0rgRwkT1B4C7nYD9BSox_4VQLZ44vF2V4PB1KppepQ/edit?usp=sharing

Morales, T. (2003, July 30). Writing for Ronald Reagan | CBS News. Retrieved from http://www.cbsnews.com/news/writing-for-ronald-reagan/

Robinson, P. (2004). Chapter 1: The pony in the dung heap. In How Ronald Reagan changed my life (pp. 15-16). New York, NY: Regan Books.

Images

Manure pile http://modernfarmer.com/2014/08/manure-usa/

Pony from “The Princess and the Pony” by Kate Beaton (ISBN 978-0545637084) http://amzn.to/1TGAN6V
The-Princess-and-the-Pony-300x225

Parent Communication – What’s Working? How Can We Improve?

Email-Failed-DeliveryIn an effort that represents ISTE Teacher Standard 3 (Model digital age work and learning; 3c: Communicate relevant information and ideas effectively to students, parents, and peers using a variety of digital age media and formats) my district utilizes Blackboard Connect: K-12 ConnectED’s automated phone system to communicate with parents and guardians via phone and text.  In our district, this allows administrators and trained office staff to send out messages to specific student groups in an immediate and what is often a time-saving way.  

Pros

Important messages that can’t wait are delivered to the contacts that need them in a quicker manner than ever possible before. Vital information no longer languishes away deep in backpacks in the form of a 1/2 printed note.  Safety messages can be delivered far more quickly than simply sending notes home with students at the end of the school day. 

Cons

In our district, teachers are not allowed to use the messaging system.  Instead, they must filter requests through the office staff and/or building administrators.  As a result, many teachers simply print notes and messages, or send them via email to those parents who have email addresses on file.  Another issue that is becoming more prevalent is the fact that people are using phones differently now.  Many younger parents no longer check voicemail, but rather they see a missed call and simply return a call to the same number.  Unfortunately the ConnectED system registers that all calls originated from the school office.  As a result, when a school-wide message calls out we immediately see a two hour spike of phone calls to the office from people who are simply returning phone calls — they’ve completely bypassed the “time-saving” information in their voice mailbox and the office staff are pulled from any productive work while they repeatedly answer identical parent questions.  The system seems impossibly difficult to signup for — I wonder if we are reaching all of the parents that we think we’re reaching?  (Signing up in 5 easy page-long steps)

Ways to Improve

Are there ways to improve communication?  Currently phone messages that are texted out cannot be responded to.  Is there a way to allow for that level of communication?  Would a school Twitter feed assist or enhance the ConnectED system?  Are we reaching ELL families? Low-income families with less electronic access?  The instructions are ridiculously difficult — could we provide a parent training night, where staff can assist families with signing up for these resources?

Learning to Fly (and Tweet): Managing Twitter

Robot-and-Bird-03_small-779473Guiding Question:   What resource is available to assist with managing multiple social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, Google+, etc.; and multiple accounts within each)?  On a related note, what are the best practices for utilizing social media tools in the classroom? 

It’s become apparent that I need a better system for managing multiple social media accounts, a social media dashboard. I have multiple Twitter accounts (personal, professional, school, district library team) not to mention Facebook, Google+ and more). I would love the ability to post messages from more than one account at once and also to quickly switch between the various accounts. I’ve already stopped myself from posting the right thing from the wrong account more than once, and my hope was to find a one-size-fits-all approach (and a free one, at that!). My hope was for a Windows and/or Chrome-based application, as I will primarily be posting from school computers under the direction of our district’s communication office (in a recent social media training session they highlighted the legal implications of using personally-owned devices for district business).

Resources:

HootSuite: https://hootsuite.com/
hootsuite1Tweeten for Twitter: http://mspoweruser.com/tweeten-updated-with-slimmer-columns-more/
tweeten1TweetDeck: https://tweetdeck.twitter.com
tweetdeck1

All of these resources similar in functionality and are classified as social media dashboards. There are numerous tools available in this genre of apps, many of them start-ups trying to fill this growing market niche. Google searches are frustratingly unrewarding as information becomes outdated almost as soon as it’s posted. The resources that I listed all allow for managing multiple Twitter feeds (other offerings such as Buffer https://buffer.com/pricing seemed great but were limited to one account per social media platform). They all allow for scheduling posts, for posting from multiple accounts at once, and for tracking multiple account feeds simultaneously.

Issues/Concerns:

* all of the tools require providing account log-in information to an outside entity
* the free account plans are limited in their scope: HootSuite allows for three social media accounts (including multiple Twitter accounts) and their feeds; SocialPilot allows for three accounts but no feeds; TweetDeck allows for unlimited accounts, but Twitter-only; Tweeten is the same as it’s basically a more polished interface for TweetDeck.
* none of the social media tools I could find provide support for Google+ accounts as Google has not opened up API (application program interface) access for outside apps
* Twitter is very much still in development, and accesses are frequently changed. TweetDeck once provided access to Facebook accounts (as well as Google Buzz, LinkedIn, FourSquare), but is now Twitter only. Twitter purchased TweetDeck in 2011. On 4/16/16 Twitter discontinued support for the Windows-based standalone version of TweetDeck. Subsequent reviews on TweetDeck’s Chrome App (https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/tweetdeck-by-twitter/hbdpomandigafcibbmofojjchbcdagbl?hl=en-US) have been scathing in their feedback
* many of the tools are overwhelming in their feature sets– they’re created for folks who rely on social media for the success of their business. I’m not ready for analytics — I’m just trying not to tweet out posts from my work accounts!

I really struggled in my search for a complete tool with the features I was hoping for. Change is constant. Just when folks settle in with an app, permissions are revoked, features are added or removed. I’m moving forward with Tweeten (http://www.wpxbox.com/review-tweeten-windows-10/ and https://chromebuzz.wordpress.com/2016/03/01/tweeten-beta-review/) with HootSuite as an alternative, as I’m going to focus on finding a rhythm and routine for posting on Twitter only before adding Facebook and other social media accounts for my library classroom or school. Tweeten is in Beta form, is available cross-platform, and seems to be the approach that many users are taking following the end of support for TweetDeck’s Windows-based version.

Best practices/additional information on Twitter:

Guide to Twitter for educators:  http://www.nysecta.org/Twitter%20for%20Educators%20-%20A%20Beginner’s%20Guide.pdf
The Ultimate Guide for Twitter for Schools from Campus Suite: https://www.dropbox.com/s/fdf75v3rr36wsnd/Ultimate%20Guide%20for%20Twitter%20for%20Schools.pdf?dl=0
Twitter overload by Kathy Schrock: http://www.schrockguide.net/twitter-for-teachers.html

Learning to Fly (and Tweet): Why Twitter?

Robot-and-Bird-03_small-779473ISTE Teacher Standard 3: Model digital age work and learning
Teachers exhibit knowledge, skills, and work processes representative of an innovative professional in a global and digital society.

According to Wikipedia, Twitter debuted online in July 2006.  More than ten years later, in September 2016, I finally joined the Twitter universe.  The connection to ISTE TS-3 was immediately evident.  As an educator, I’m tasked with preparing students for functioning productively in a global society.  I can’t imagine accomplishing that goal effectively without using the Internet in my teaching.

Recently I worked with a third grade class to help them create a book award of their own.  We had just been studying ALA Caldecott books, Newbery winners, Coretta Scott King honorees, and many others award-winning titles.  My hope was that students would take a more personal view towards evaluating books… it’s okay to have favorites and some books are better than others.   Many students named awards after themselves, a favorite teacher, their pets, a family member.  A few kids thought beyond their sphere of influence, naming their awards after famous authors or their favorite athletes.  As we wrapped up the brief lesson and activity, I noticed the finished award of one boy:twitter2

The “Inspiring and Anti-Cyberbullying Award” was his creation, awarded to a Minecraft-themed book, Invasion of the Overworld by Mark Cheverton.  The student wrote: “I was a cyberbully until I read this book.”  Now, I don’t know Mark Cheverton.  I haven’t read any of his books (though my boys have many times!).  Quite honestly, Invasion of the Overworld is not in my summer reading plans.  I doubt that the author has Newbery Medal aspirations.  With all of that said, it was clear that the student made a connection to the text like few of his peers had been able to do.  

In the past, that would have been the end of things…  I would have sent the finished posters onto the teacher so they could see their students’ work.  I may have posted a few of the most interesting examples in the hallway for other students to see.  Some of the projects may have even found their life briefly extended by being posted on a proud parent’s refrigerator.  Thinking back to ISTE Teacher Standard 3b (“Collaborate with students, peers, parents, and community members using digital tools and resources to support student success and innovation”), though, I quickly came to the realization that Twitter was a perfect vehicle to extend our classroom to the greater community — in this case, the author’s ear.twitter1

Within the same school day, the author had responded to the student’s award.  I immediately printed screenshots of the Twitter conversation for the student to see.  (I’ve had to reprint them twice for him, as the prized printouts seem to develop feet!)  I emailed screenshots to the boy’s parents and his teacher, creating great opportunities to talk about the positive value of social media.  In the days ahead, I used the conversation in related lessons with other library classes, and in response their output and efforts were far more focused than the first class.  Modeling positive interactions such as this one are a powerful responsibility that I’ve overlooked in the past.  In the future, I’m going to make every effort to not miss those kind of opportunities.

In the past school year, the value of Twitter for an educator and librarian has become increasingly clear.  In fact, I’ve gone from avoiding Twitter to having a new issue…  managing multiple Twitter accounts and social media feeds.  My next blog post will explore some the tools that I’ve found to assist with that task.  One of those tools, HootSuite, highlighted some of the reasons for harnessing social media in a classroom setting: (1) Use technology to create a culture of collaboration, (2) Use technology to empower students to contribute, and (3) Remember: students don’t always understand the difference between personal and professional social media use.  My limited time spent exploring Twitter’s strengths has made me feel foolish for avoiding it in the past.  Lesson learned.

Resources:

Byrne, R. (2015, July 29). Using HootSuite to spread your school’s message. Retrieved from http://www.freetech4teachers.com/2015/07/using-hootsuite-to-spread-your-schools.html

Kushin, M. (2014, August 18). How the social media mindset can be an asset to your classroom. Retrieved from https://blog.hootsuite.com/how-the-social-media-mindset-can-be-an-asset-to-your-classroom/

Crompton, H. (2014, July 24). Know the ISTE Standards T3: Model digital age learning. Retrieved from https://www.iste.org/explore/articleDetail?articleid=109

 

Danger, Will Robinson! Computerized, Incentivized Reading Ahead!

Wally_Cox_Lost_in_Space_1966

As an elementary school librarian, fostering students’ lifelong love of reading is my penultimate duty.  I embrace technology like few around me, but this unit study has been a personal struggle.  My exploration of the ISTE Standard 2 for Teachers (Teachers design, develop, and evaluate authentic learning experiences and assessments incorporating contemporary tools and resources to maximize content learning in context and to develop the knowledge, skills, and attitudes identified in the ISTE Standards for Students) was centered on assessment of students.  My guiding question became:  What forms of assessments and digital tools would be appropriate for 1st through 5th graders to use during the course of an independent summer reading program?

My district (like many) is always striving for excellence in our students, and (like many) we measure our students’ success primarily with summative test scores and data.  With that in mind, we will be encouraging students at the elementary and middle school level to participate in a summer reading program.  Students are tasked with reading (primarily independently) with testing immediately following completion of books.  The students’ results on these comprehension tests will serve as proof of their understanding and efforts.  Our district is contracting with Renaissance Learning to provide summer-month access to their Accelerated Reader (AR) program.  My immediate concerns: (1) staff training (2) equitable at-home access for this online resource (3) ELL supports in place? And (4) cost.

I’ll be honest… Librarian-me wants no form of formal assessment in the summer months for my students.  Dad-me wants my three boys to read for pleasure while on break.  Today’s kindergarten students are yesterday’s first and second graders when it comes to academic expectations.  It’s vital that we allow our young readers to discover joy in reading at an early age, so it’s an ingrained part of who they are.  In her wonderful books The Book Whisperer and Reading in the Wild, Donalyn Miller talks about the keys to developing lifelong reading habits. “Wild readers” as she refers to them: (1) Dedicate time to read (2) Self-select reading material (3) Share books and reading with other readers (4) Have reading plans, and (5) Show preferences for genres, authors, and topics.  

So what’s absent from this list? Summative assessments.  A student who is reading and making connections to text and self is fully engaged in their task.  Readers often talk of getting lost in a book.  At the same time, I’ve never once in my 14+ years in classrooms and libraries and homes ever heard a child say the words, “I can’t wait to take a test on this book to prove my understanding” or the follow-up “And please make it multiple-choice, and focused on vocabulary and short-term memory questions!”  Miller says, “Comprehension tests feed into a classroom cycle of assign it, then assess it.  But where is the learning and teaching in that cycle? Teachers assign these summative assessments in order to motivate students to read and to determine whether students did, in fact read a book. Where is the joy that we hope reading will engender in students?” (Miller, 2011, 131).

Going beyond my gut reaction as a librarian to many and a dad to three vibrant readers, I have to ask: is AR what’s best for kids? Is it truly the most cost-effective way to approach reader development?  Or are there better, more meaningful ways to inject reading into summer reading programs and beyond?  According to their website, the Institute of Education Sciences  “is the statistics, research, and evaluation arm of the U.S. Department of Education. [They are] independent and non-partisan. [Their] mission is to provide scientific evidence on which to ground education practice and policy and to share this information in formats that are useful and accessible to educators, parents, policymakers, researchers, and the public.”  The IES website What Works Clearinghouse summarizes its findings: “Accelerated Reader was found to have no discernible effects on reading fluency, mixed effects on comprehension, and potentially positive effects on general reading achievement.” (Institute of Education Sciences, 2008) This is a remarkable statement when you consider that AR is the flagship product for Renaissance Learning, Inc., a privately-held company with a market valuation of over $1.1 billion.

So is AR the right tool for the job? In my experience and research, I would strongly argue it is not, especially when you consider the service we’re contracting for is on the low-end of the SAMR model.  In my opinion, any funds would be far better spent on providing more access to reading content, whether it’s printed books, online databases, or even e-content providers such as Overdrive, especially as we shift to a 1:1 device model at our upper grades. Reading guru, Jim Trelease: “Before committing precious dollars to such a program, a district should decide its purpose: Is the program there to motivate children to read more or to create another grading platform?” (Trelease, 2013)  Dr. Stephen Krashen is professor emeritus at the University of Southern California, and he’s written extensively on the topic of incentivising student reading with programs such as Accelerated Reader.  “It remains mysterious to me why the obvious, most pleasant, least expensive, and probably the only effective way to improve reading ability — providing readers with interesting, comprehensible reading material — appears not only to be the last resort, but is often not even mentioned.” (Krashen, 2009, p. 25)

So now I’m a Luddite?  Not yet!  Technology definitely has its strengths.  We can encourage our students to communicate with classmates and kids around the world at sites like Wonderopolis and Biblionasium.  Responding to books is so different and so much more powerful on a longterm basis than online multiple-choice book quizzes.  We can encourage our kids to research online for the joy of it, seeking out answers to questions that arise during the freedom of summer months.

My initial search lead me to an adult reading challenge on the PopSugar website.  What I especially loved about their approach was that it focused on exploration and playfulness on the part of the reader.  “Read a book with a blue cover.”  “A book that takes place on an island.”  These were seemingly random identifiers, but I loved that aspect of it — what a great lead-in to get kids to explore library shelves for unread books!  So the search was on… was there anything similar already prepared for elementary and intermediate students?  The best example I could find was Scholastic’s 2015 100 New Year’s reading resolutions for kids.  They have published similar pieces before and since but the 2015 list is the one I’m going to adapt for my students’ use.  I am required to follow the district plan (AR testing for all books completed), but I’m going to do all that I can to encourage reading for fun and joy.  My hope is that students will use this checklist as a tool for self-reflection and self-assessment.

Reading is an art. It requires practice. It requires connections and support and beauty and time and freedom and curiosity.  The problem lies in the inherent difficulty of quantifying that sparkle in a child’s eye when they find a book that is right for them. There’s no rubric for it, but it’s a very real thing.  We get so caught up in 5-Finger Rules, and SBA scores, and Lexiles, and AR results, and we are losing sight of the sparkle.

 

Resources

Common Sense Media. (2014, November). Accelerated Reader educator review | Graphite. Retrieved April 24, 2016, from https://www.graphite.org/website/accelerated-reader

Greene, P. (2015, November 17). Accelerated Reader’s ridiculous research | Curmudgucation. Retrieved from http://curmudgucation.blogspot.com/2015/11/accelerated-readers-ridiculous-research.html

Hill, H. (2015, March 26). 37 Ways to help kids learn to love reading | Edutopia. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/discussion/37-ways-help-kids-learn-love-reading

Institute of Education Sciences. (2008, October). Accelerated Reader™: What Works Clearinghouse. Retrieved from http://ies.ed.gov/ncee/wwc/interventionreport.aspx?sid=12

International Society for Technology in Education. (n.d.). Standards for Teachers. Retrieved from http://www.iste.org/standards/iste-standards/standards-for-teachers

Kohn, A. (2011). How to create nonreaders: Reflections on motivation, learning, and sharing power. In Feel-bad education: And other contrarian essays on children and schooling(pp. 87-99). Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

Krashen, S. (2003). The (lack of) experimental evidence supporting the use of Accelerated Reader. Journal of Children’s Literature, 29(9), 16-30. Retrieved from http://www.sdkrashen.com/content/articles/does_accelerated_reader_work.pdf

Krashen, S. (2005). Accelerated Reader: Evidence still lacking. Knowledge Quest, 33(3), 48-49.

Krashen, S. (2009). Anything but reading. Knowledge Quest, 37(5), 18-25.

Lapowsky, I. (2014, February 19). Education company Renaissance Learning raises $40 million from Google Capital | Inc.com. Retrieved from http://www.inc.com/issie-lapowsky/renaissance-learning-40-million-google-capital.html

Miller, D., & Anderson, J. (2011). The book whisperer: Awakening the inner reader in every child. New York, NY: Scholastic Inc.

Miller, D., & Kelley, S. (2013). Reading in the wild: The book whisperer’s keys to cultivating lifelong reading habits. New York, NY: Scholastic Inc.

Neary, L. (2013, June 11). What kids are reading, in school and out | NPR. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/sections/monkeysee/2013/06/11/190669029/what-kids-are-reading-in-school-and-out

Pennington, M. (2010, January 24). The 18 reasons not to use Accelerated Reader | Pennington Publishing Blog. Retrieved from http://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/the-18-reasons-not-to-use-accelerated-reader/

Platt, R., & Wolfe, J. (2014, August 20). AR killed my dog and now it’s coming for you | We teach, we learn. Retrieved from http://www.weteachwelearn.org/2014/08/ar-killed-my-dog-and-now-its-coming-for-you-a-defense-of-accelerated-reader-and-a-plea-for-less-drama/

Renaissance Learning. (2012). The research foundation for Accelerated Reader goal-setting practices. Retrieved from http://doc.renlearn.com/KMNet/R001438603GC81D6.pdf

Shin, F. H., & Krashen, S. D. (2008). Summer reading: Program and evidence. Boston, MA: Pearson/Allyn and Bacon.

Trelease, J. (2013). The Read-Aloud Handbook chapter 5, pg 3. Retrieved from http://www.trelease-on-reading.com/rah-ch5-pg3.html

Photo

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/c4/Wally_Cox_Lost_in_Space_1966.JPG

By CBS Television (eBay item photo front photo back) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

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