Monday, August 14, 2017

For Those Early Finishers, The Power of "What If. . . ? and Other Ideas

Educators talk about them all the time and fret about them nearly as often: what to do with those students who finish their work early.

The TeachThought team came up with 27 ideas and I thought I'd amplify that a bit, but first a bit of time travel to the past.

In the 1950s, a man by the name of Donald H. Parker began the work that became the SRA Reading Laboratory. I'm old enough to remember that self-paced reading program and I remember racing through the readings and the tests that accompanied each reading to get to the next level faster than anyone else.

When I saw the Level-Up suggestion from the TeachThought team, I immediately thought of SRA and that meant I had to do some research. McGraw-Hill is no longer updating SRA, but with a bit more diligence I found a history of the reading laboratory.

The first several pages are fascinating reading but then you must get to the page that Audrey Watters quotes in her 2015 blog post about SRA cards:
Parker went on to state, "To give students still more responsibility for their own learning, I had each one keep a chart of his or her daily progress. When the chart showed that the student was maintaining high comprehension, vocabulary, and word-analysis scores, it was time to move up to a higher color-level."

He further notes that they spent a week learning the system they devised because he gave credit to the thirty-two students who helped him figure it out.

So when you think about planning level-up activities, think first about implementing some sort of a learning portfolio system so students can track their learning and then give them the opportunity to design their own level-up activities.

Some of the TeachThought suggestions are fairly rudimentary and, depending on your students, might work really well. Number 18 is "Beads: Allow students to bead something." I confess that I was dismissive when I first read that, but, as so often the case, I saw it a bit differently when I came back to it to try to figure out why it was included. And then I thought about creating patterns and inviting students to bead those patterns. Or having students create patterns and beading those. Or developing some sort of a class programming language and having students use beads to "write" simple programs. Or. . .  the ideas kept flowing and they will for you as well. Just keep it simple or you'll make yourself crazy trying to gather all of the materials students might need.

Oh, by the way, the class programming language? Personally I think that's pretty genius and in my next blog I'll have some more specific ideas about that. This blog post already has enough rabbit trails.

The TeachThought team had some other ideas related to chatting, texting, reading jokes, journaling, or troubleshooting. The chatting corner leads to too much noise simply because kids are kids. Texting could be a problem because of school or district policy. Reading jokes could lead to noise as could designing a game. Journaling is a good idea but kids will want ideas for a journaling topic. Troubleshooting and planning for a new level could also be good ideas though kids will need and want more direction. So let's say the noise issue isn't an issue; there are ways to manage that anyway.

For example, one of "my" teachers has a counter bell in her room. When some students are still working and the chatter volume gets a little too loud, she taps the bell and the volume falls immediately. That's all she does: reach out and tap the bell. Now she had to train her kids to respond to that bell, but she told me it didn't take long for her 4th graders to learn that responding positively to the bell had positive results for them.

Maybe you have an erasable board on which students are able to keep a list of topics in which they're interested. Maybe it's something they pull from newsela (Gr 2-12), Student News Daily, PBS Newshour Extra (Gr 7-12),  CNN Student News (Gr 6-12), and others.

The students can use that board as idea starters for writing jokes, writing stories, designing games, etc. Or, if they want to chat but you're worried about noise, have them table top text. This is a strategy I learned through Discovery Education. One student writes on one side of the paper and the other student writes on the other. They can use different colors of ink. They can pose and answer questions. And, hmmm, it's possible that their table top texting could become the basis of an interview for a PSA or the PSA itself, or a script for a readers theater, or. . . .

Letting early finishers try something in which they're interested and covertly using strategies that might help them learn something they don't realize they're learning can most definitely lead to something powerful, profound, and positive.

By the way, though the SRA Reading Laboratory became something that educators seem no longer interested in buying, you have to admit that there is something to the basic premise. And maybe, just maybe, your students can use the basic idea to create something for themselves, their classmates, or maybe their younger siblings. You just never know what might happen when you let them pose and try to answer, "What if. . . ?".

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Understanding STEM: Beyond Those Four Letters

Mundelein HS
The focal point of this article is Ireland (and the relationship Microsoft has with some colleges and schools); however, much of what is true for Ireland is true for the rest of the world. Girls lose interest in STEM and many girls--and educators--do not understand how STEM (or STEAM) is relevant to their lives. What gets in our way, I think, is our understanding of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths. For example, when we think about science, we think about the sciences--chemistry, biology, etc. The same is true for math. The other day there were some kids in my neighborhood who were trying to build a low decorative wall. They were busy building it as I drove by and when I came back by an hour or so later, they were standing there, staring at the wall, hands on hips. I turned and parked on the street and ambled over.

"So what's up?"

They turned to me in surprise. I surveyed the work they'd done so far, the piles of stones, the wheelbarrows, and the tools. Finally one of the sighed and said, "We think we made a mistake because the mortar doesn't seem to be holding. Some of the stones are sliding."

The other also sighed and said, "I'm not sure we measured right for the mortar and I'm sure we didn't measure right for stones because it's not coming out right."

Long pause.

"We didn't realize there would be so much math. . ." said one, "or science" said the other. "We thought we were just gonna get to build stuff."

Someone who appeared to be a supervisor of sorts had joined us and just grinned at those comments. He clapped both boys on the shoulders with a big smile, "Great learning, fellas! Now let's see what we need to do to fix this!"

He nodded at me and they got started discussing options. The boys got animated as they started to problem solve and maybe because they realized their mistakes weren't the end of the world and, I hope, that they could learn from them. I driven past the finished product a couple of times since then. It looks good and it's still standing.

The experiences of these two young men are what we need kids to understand about STEM. Math and science are part of the everyday world. Putting in a garden? There's a reason the nursery has some plants and not others, and why the labels let us know how much sun, space, and water they'll need. What to create your grandmother's famous recipe but for 10 instead of 4? There will be math. There is no getting around that. As you review the recipe while shopping you realize one of the ingredients isn't available? Well, there is some science to that to find the right flavor profile or get the right reaction among ingredients. Many a novice baker has learned the difference between baking powder and baking soda the hard way.

Let's go ahead and make it STEAM. The arts? You bet--in designing that border wall, in designing the landscaping for that garden, in preparing the final product of that recipe (we eat first with our eyes).

Trying to find a more efficient way to remove last season's products and replace them with the upcoming season's products? There is math involved as well as a science of consumer buying and behavior. If you need to make some adjustments to the design and layout of the shelving, there is some engineering involved and maybe even some technology. Oh yes, and art because the designing the layout of those shelves and organizing those products to attract the consumer is no small thing.

My focus is mostly on STEM rather than STEAM because I think we see the "A" in some things more easily than we see STEM. On the other hand, I also know we find it hard to see the STEM in things that seem to be more readily a part of the arts. Even so, I'm going to continue to use the STEM acronym although I'll also reference that which is clearly A. Why? Because most of our schools refer to STEM which may very well be part of the problem.

The other day I was watching one of those building shows when the crew is creating a home out of weird stuff. In this case they were using old dairy trucks as the "base." Yes, of course, there is a lot of math and a lot of engineering and not just because they had to figure out how to move the dairy trucks to the building location, but just all of the "wish list" features and then adjustments based on necessity. There were some really cool features. But what struck me was their use of cedar, which was repurposed. I was surprised they had access to cedar in Bastrop County, Texas. Especially because I'd just watched another show in which they had used cedar in a floating home for a couple in Seattle. Hold on a minute! Those are two different kinds of climates and yet they were using repurposed cedar like it was no big deal. Was it because others had imported to those locations or was it because cedar can really be present in those varied climates and areas? Well, that meant I needed to do some research to get the answer to my questions because it puzzled me. Science? Yes. Among other things.

My point is that elements of STEM--the actual sciences, maths, engineering, and technologies--have a presence in many ways we likely overlook. I might also note that too often we come up with activities that are particular to only one letter of the acronym as though it's not possible or not appropriate for there to be overlap, even though one of the superpowers of STEAM is that it promotes inter- or transdisciplinary ways of thinking and learning.

For example, I found this activity is listed for art and design: research what happens when mixing watercolors and oils. Um, well, does it matter what percentage of watercolor and what percentage of oil? So maybe there is some science as well as math involved as well as the art and science elements of the artistic result of a watercolor and oil mixture. Does it stay on the canvas? How does it work with different types of surfaces? If an artist really does want to combine watercolor and oil, is there anything an artist has to do to achieve a particular result? Different tools? (Engineering) Specific surfaces? (Science and maybe engineering) If you think oil and water just don't mix, you might want to check out this YouTube video, just for kicks.

In this TeachingChannel video, an English teacher is asking her students to develop a reality TV show. There is math as they think about timing; there is engineering and technology as they think about production; there is social science as they think about what will appeal to viewers but also the possibility of some other sciences as they think about what will be on their show and how it will work.

Michele Perchonok, NASA Food Scientist
I loved watching Good Eats. Alton Brown's show hasn't been on for a while, but one of the things I loved about the show is how he explained the science of food and made that science accessible. It made me wonder if I'd taken a different path if I'd had a different exposure to chemistry when I was in school.

Kids who are trying to figure out how to land a jump or do a trick with their skateboards probably aren't really interested in the physics, but if they understood the physics they might have a better chance of figuring out what they need to do differently. And if they understood the physics and could do the math, they might be able to build better ramps and other features. Just think about the skills and various content knowledge they might need to craft a proposal for a skateboard park in their neighborhood, especially if they had to submit a design for approval! STEM, STEM, and more STEM.

The kids who want to design furniture or clothing need to understand which materials are most appropriate. You want to create a gown that will drape in a certain way? There are fabrics that will work and other that won't. These are the kinds of careers we typically don't associate with STEM, and yet. . .  Going to a fabric store, pulling bolts of fabric off the shelf, and examining those fabrics can be quite a learning experience in STEM. Ask any seamstress or tailor about what they do and how they do it will be an eye-opening experience in various elements of STEM. The same is true for furniture designers. Or jewelry designers. Or those who make designs with clay, glass, and a thousand other kinds of things including food designers, and not just pastry chefs and bakers. They don't think about their work in terms of STEM, but you can be sure there are elements of STEM in the work of almost every single artisan.

One of the reason girls lose interest in STEM-related subjects around the age of 15 has something to do with biology--their own. But it has a lot to do with the way we teach those subjects as though science, technology, engineering, and math have very narrow capabilities and possibilities.

I was going through some old books not too long ago and realized some of them need some binding TLC. Ahh. Book binding. STEM, or STEAM. Which made me think about how typesetting has changed, which made me think about how book publication has changed, which made me think about how even the invention and innovation of writing utensils has changed and that while some think the next edtech unicorn is speech-to-text so kids will not have to learn how to type, I still see some fascination with calligraphy and fountain pens.

We are awash in STEM (and STEAM) and don't even realize it.

We need to realize it so our kids can realize it so that instead of becoming less interested in STEM they become more interested in finding new applications for STEM and new ways of thinking about STEM. And when we refer to STEAM, let's do so as though we mean it and not just as though we are paying lip service to whatever we think the inclusion of arts might mean.

Sometimes you just have to keep dancing

Though school has already started in some part of the country. many educators are currently enjoying the last weekend of freedom before they report back to their first day.

Mindful of how precious time is during the school year and how complicated in can be to schedule effective PD or training during the school and yet how necessary it is, some districts load up on before-school professional development. They bring teachers back before contracts officially start for optional PD days as well as required PD days.

I understand the dilemma in which districts find themselves. I do. I appreciate there are a few zillion things out there with which they want their teachers to be able to incorporate into their planning and instruction, but the reality is this: you put a bunch of teachers in a room for professional development that is not targeted to their needs when they really just want to be in their rooms getting those classrooms ready for the first day of school, well, it's probably not going to be pretty.

On most days, I'm a pretty good presenter. I can engage with my audience; I can read them sufficiently well to figure out when and how and where to make adjustments. I can figure out how to slow down or when to speed up; when to skip stuff and when to interject some things that might not be in the deck.

This past week made me doubt myself in alarming ways. Nothing I did enabled me to connect with this group. Colleagues assured me it wasn't me, it was them. But that's a lot of them and surely it can't all be them. Some of the problem has to be me. I realized that it was possible that the hive mind collective opted to take out their frustrations on me. That's possible. Teachers who work together for a while have a way of communicating that to each other.

One of the days of the PD we had a lot of activities that clearly engaged them. I even saw smiles on faces as they worked. I heard on-task collaboration as I roamed the room. I got good questions and even had a couple of teachers share something they were trying because, and I quote, "you inspired me to try. . ."

After consulting with an administrator, we decided to make some changes for the last day so the groups were more interspersed. She was looking for a wider range of collaboration. We agreed on a method that meant they were essentially assigned seats. I'd hoped it wouldn't be too provocative but then I also knew the PD team had made just adjustments for the afternoon well aware it was the Friday before they all had to be back at school.

Well, I was wrong. So very wrong. They came and sat down and a couple made jokes about it. Some murmured a bit and what I didn't realize until much too late was that the murmurers are the quiet, unofficial leaders. In fact, that didn't dawn on me until the end of the day. I do blame myself for not being quick enough to pick up on that and attribute some of that to being tired. The thought of making a big joke about it and having them go sit wherever they wanted flashed through my head and I should have paid attention to that.

What was also interesting was that one of the teachers who is somewhat new to that school and district also noticed how they were giving me the stoneface treatment; she even said, "Come on, people. What's wrong with you?" Sadly, that seemed to settle them even further into their simmering resentment of me. Now my plan had been to let them shift again at the break, but due to an unexpected event that crashed my schedule and plan, it was hard to implement that shift because I knew how much time it would take.

I did not expect good evaluation results and my expectations were met. Still, I was shocked by the vehemence of their anger.

In retrospect, I should have heeded that flash thought, that gut feeling and let them make the change first thing in the morning. Failing that, I should have ignored the schedule for the post-break and let them move wherever they wanted.  That would have made them happy and my evaluation results might have been better. Probably not, by the way, because this was just one tough group.

And it's not about evaluation results, except it is. I know how those evaluations are used and, quite frankly, my livelihood depends on my getting good results. There were a number of contributing factors to the ways these days were organized, most of them out of my control because there were a group of us presenting and trying to meet some fairly stringent district expectations. Had I been doing these days on my own, the evaluation results might have been the same but I also would have had a lot more flexibility to make adjustments.

So here's what fascinates me. Across the days, when given an opportunity to give me some insight on what they would prefer, on what would be more useful, I got the same response as I did most of the time. Either they completely ignored me and kept talking to their colleagues or I got the great stoneface treatment.

My colleagues want me to believe it's them and not me; it's their willingness to receive the content and not me. But here's my problem with that. I mean, sure, it could be partially on them and partially on the content, but clearly I could and should have done something different to help them be more willing to be engaged with the content. I have always been reluctant to call out teachers for bad behavior for fear of how that might boomerang and show up in the evaluations. However, by not calling out bad behavior of some, I gave permission to the rest to behave as badly.

The irony is not lost on me though most of those teachers have moved on to their weekends; by Monday with their school-focused PD, I will be only a bitter memory, if that.

Here's the irony. One of the things we were talking about across the days is how to engage students when they are reluctant to learn, even when they are unwilling to participate. There are no easy answers.

I've said before that teaching is part improv. It's true. Teachers develop a lesson plan and when it starts to go sideways--because some lesson plans are just better at the kitchen table than they are real-time--then the teacher has to improvise to make it work, to do what makes sense. With 20 to 30+ students in a classroom, it can be hard to focus on the few that might be belligerently against learning anything or just might have checked out or whatever is going on in their difficult-to-fathom minds. And when you find yourself with a group of 20-30+ students who aren't willing to give you any feedback to help you make adjustments to help them learn, you just keep dancing.

Sometimes it's hard when you're tired, when the audience is non-responsive and maybe even a little hostile. But you just keep dancing and working to find ways to engage them, cajole them, entice them.

The next time I encounter a similar group of folks in a professional development session--and I've no doubt I will-I just have to remind myself to just keep dancing.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Preparing for schools and classrooms

As we approach the close of summer, there is a scent of change in the air. Stores started packing away the summer goods or putting them on sale or clearance, and rows of shelves are now filled with back-to-school products: rows and rows of binders, folder, crayons, markers, lunch bags, backpacks, and more.

Wrapping up summer activities and changing schedules in preparation for school is no small thing, but one that must be done.

Even kids who weren't overly fond of school may be looking forward to returning to school to see friends they haven't seen over the summer. Kindergartners and first graders might seem to tremble with excitement as they start to prepare for their First Day of School because it is a rite of passage.

Though there is the persistent myth that teachers get the summer off, my social media connections make it clear that while most teachers try to disengage for at least a couple of weeks to vacation with their families, their thoughts are rarely far from lesson plan ideas, new resources and strategies, things they want to learn to introduce to their students, and what they can do differently to organize and arrange their classrooms.

In the past two weeks, my Facebook and Twitter associations have been pinging almost non-stop with the growing excitement that many teachers have about returning to their classrooms. We don't always think about change when we think about the day-to-day for teachers in the classroom, but their worlds are fairly constantly bombarded by change. New policies with new administrators, new state or federal guidelines or regulations, new resources, new colleagues. For those who have changed schools, the laundry list of change is much longer and potentially riskier. But one thing that encourages them, even energizes them, is the opportunity to have a fresh start with a new group of students.

More teachers than most people imagine are quick to shuck off the lessons and strategies that didn't work. They work long and late hours to refine lesson plans; to find new resources; and to comb Pinterest, TeachersPayTeachers, their Facebook and Twitter groups for new ideas and to ask those same virtual colleagues for suggestions for improvement and change. When they have collegial relationships that work, they are eager to see those colleagues again to start planning and to share their summer learning. And often well before the official school year starts or before their contract year has begun.

More teachers than most people imagine are motivated by change and even welcome it. . . when it makes sense. #dowhatmakessense

Years ago I was introduced to Knoster's Model for Change. I embraced it with the fervor of a zealot and became a sort of evangelist for change management using that model. It made complete sense to me. It still does. The image I've shared with hundreds, maybe thousands, of educators is easy to follow. Inevitably I see heads nodding as they process the information as I review the model. We stumble a bit at the incentives column because we then have to talk about extrinsic and intrinsic incentives.

Yes, educators can be altruistic and often are. But they are also professionals too often treated unprofessionally which puts them on the defensive and which makes them seem greedier than they are when they expect to be paid for time spent on extra projects. They are more than willing to put in extra time--those long, late nights and weekends--as they work to improve opportunities for their students, but they will often balk, and rightly so, at unrealistic expectations that seem to be dumped on them. So the incentives for some change, at least for some teachers, needs to be intrinsic as well as extrinsic and there is no magic formula for either.

Even with that noted, administrators must examine the calculus for change in their buildings. As individuals who have had a career in the classroom, they are acutely aware of the vagaries of change simply proclaimed by a district with a vague expectation of implementation and no clear idea of a new policy's impact. They are equally aware of the fact that teachers will embrace change when there is a clear vision and plan for that change and when the district or administration is providing funding and opportunity for them to get the skills and resources they need to be successful. Provided the change makes sense. #dowhatmakessense

As an independent consultant, I get to work with companies that sell products and services to schools and districts but also provide the wherewithal for those schools and districts to be successful. There is a project manager who works with a point of contact (POC) to design the pathway that makes sense. They will customize when necessary but have been very successful in working with turnkey products that may only occasionally require some tailoring. They rely on the professional instincts and savviness of people like me to make adjustments as we go to ensure the experience is the right one, even the best one, for those educators.

I've had colleagues who hate change; it makes them cranky and nervous. When I asked one colleague why she didn't like change, she told me it's because she doesn't know what the outcomes be but she also worried about whether or not she would be able to keep up with any expectations brought by whatever the changes might be.

Thoughtful consideration of Knoster's Model of Change means that administrators have considered the skills and resources of their staff as well as their own skills and resources. It also means that administrators proceed with options to ensure the willing and the uncertain reluctant are able to be as successful as their efforts warrant. Let me talk about that for a bit.

Based on a couple of decades of anecdotal observation that teeters on the edge of legitimate empirical evidence, I've come to think of those faced with change as the willing, the uncertain reluctant, and mulish. I know the Law of Diffusion of Innovation has more and much cleverer distinctions, which often comes in handy. But most of the educators I know seem to fall into one of these three categories: the willing who embrace change and soak up new information, coaching, and training like they can't get enough; the uncertain reluctant who kinda sorta want to change but worry about being too far out of their comfort zones too soon (the image is my mind is that squirrel who ventures into the road, flicks its tail a few times, and then moves towards the center of the road then back towards the edge of the road, and then finally darts in some direction though you've already slammed on your brakes and heard everything on any seat slide onto the floor of the car); and the mulish who just don't see the point in change because it's just something old by a new name and besides it will change again next year. By the way, the mulish aren't always the long-term veterans who are in countdown mode towards retirement.

Regardless, my recommendation to administrators is to ignore the mulish for the time being and focus on the willing and the uncertain reluctant. The latter are more likely to commit to some degree of change if they feel fairly certain they're not about to be flattened.

So how does an administrator or an educator prepare for change? First, know your team. That might mean hauling out the diagram of the Law of Diffusion of Innovation which might make it easier to identify the strengths of one's staff, though I'm not sure if "laggards" is any nicer than "mulish" for those who humbug a trend.

It might also mean having them self-identify on this continuum because many will readily admit that they prefer to see how something works for others before they try to adopt, and that might be because of confidence, experience, time, or all of the above. Knowing where they place themselves and why will be invaluable information.

Second, know why. If you haven't watched Simon Sinek's TED Talk, do so. You don't have to watch the whole 18 minutes if you don't think you have time; watch the first five minutes. (Then you can skip to about 8 minutes in for the story of the Wright Brothers and how he connects that to the Law of Diffusion of Innovation and The Golden Circle.) Sinek talks about what he calls The Golden Circle with the emphasis on WHY people and organizations do what they do. I introduced this concept to some administrators who wrestled with it a little bit but weren't quite sure what to do with their discussion. I introduced it to another group of administrators who grappled with it as they contemplated how they wanted to be able to brand their schools and get teacher buy-in to a vision and a plan they had to improve the learning experiences of their schools. The difference in the two groups of administrators seemed to be a willingness to think beyond "I've got a great school with great teachers who will give their students a great education."
People don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it. --Simon Sinek
Knowing why gets us back to Knoster's Model of Change. Knowing why informs the vision which helps inform the plan which helps determine the needed skills and resources and might even help you land on the appropriate incentives.

I should note I share this model with teachers, too. Every day, or so we hope, they have a vision for how their students might learn and be successful and they have designed lesson plans to help their students learn and be successful. They have thought about their own skills and resources and they have thought about their students' skills and resources, which are two one of the reasons they cruise Pinterest and TeachersPayTeachers. They tend to stumble over incentives as well because not all students are motivated by good grades or the joy of learning.

I think most educators are already prepared for change. It's part of their professional DNA. Even so, administrators and classroom teachers both do well to think about how they prepare for what kind of change and how they implement change: district, school, or professional/personal, or all of the above.

Though most might readily prepare for any kind of change, it makes sense to provide an infrastructure to help everyone prepare for change and understand not just the "how" of change, but the "why."

Now if you get to end of Simon Sinek's TED Talk, you'll hear a few times that people do what they do because of what they believe. It is their "why."

Why do teachers continue to teach in difficult, troubled schools? It could be because they can't get a teaching job any place else. It could be because they're too close to retirement to start some place else. It could be because they like and trust the principal. I'd wager on the last one being part of the reason they stay, but it's likely that plus something else.

Towards the very end of Sinek's TED talk you'll hear him say, "Those who lead, inspire us. . . we follow those who lead not because we have to, but because we want to." That's true of administrators and that's so very true of classroom teachers.

Classroom teachers can be leaders in their own ways. We know that, but we need to acknowledge that consciously. Teachers can and do inspire students to follow them because of the way those teachers invest in their kids in ways that make sense to the kids.

So as administrators are preparing for change, the wise ones are thinking about their vision and their plan but also noting that some of the skills and resources that will contribute to the success of their schools are, in fact, their teachers. The wise ones are recognizing that their best and better teachers are leaders in their classrooms and one of the reasons for their success in the classroom is that they inspire their students because those teachers tap into something that helps students connect with their own why for learning.

As teachers are preparing for change, they are thinking about their students and how they can make those connections--whether it's the new products and services or the new strategies they've found or the new tools they've learned.

Whenever I get to deliver a training or a workshop, I can identify the best and better teachers because they are asking how this change will help their students in their own learning. The more I think on this, the more I realize I have to make some adjustments to help teachers contemplate what they are doing and what they are asking their students to do so the willing and the uncertain reluctant can embrace their own why for learning. As for the students who are mulish or the laggards, teachers will not give up on them. In fact, they will work harder to find what will make the difference for that kid or those kids. It's a very significant "why" teachers do what they do. #dowhatmakessense #nevergiveup

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Summer stock: Prepping for next school year

Ahh, summer. That enviable time of the school year when teaches haul out their chaise lounges and brain candy books to loll about and wonder how in the world they'll fill all those hours until school starts again. Yea. Right.

For those of you who are teachers or know teachers, you know how misguided and offensive that particular teacher trope is. As school years are winding down, preparation is underway and has been underway for summer school. Administrators have been planning for summer professional development and/or summer work that needs to be done to review and revise whatever didn't work as well as hoped during the past school year. Classroom teachers are revising lesson plans or starting anew if they're changing to a new grade level. Educators are also starting to explore resources they've been setting aside for when they have time, even as more resources are recommended to them. In other words, there is no chaise lounge, no brain candy books, and most certainly no umbrella drinks. Or not many of them.

Not sure how to get started preparing for next year? Check out what Matt Miller has to say. He's got 12 great ways for you to grow this summer. Twelve things is overwhelming to me, so focus on the first three. You can modify the PD Bingo Board to suit what makes the most sense to you and your colleagues. If the first three don't do it for you, find three that do. But only three.

You can revisit an "oldie but goodie" from Vicki Davis who always has great ideas for teacher growth and development.

Because Vicki is a wealth of ideas, you should follow her blog and follow her on Twitter. Just do that. Right now. I have a list of others you should follow, at least in my opinion, and I'm happy to share that with you.

Most educators love to learn and often think that summer will be their time to "catch up." Which can be possible if there are no kiddos to get to travel sports teams practices and games, or to camp, or to wherever it is that the kids need to be. In fact, their expectations of teacher-as-parent availability skyrockets during the summer. Too often teachers get to mid-July and wonder what happened to summer and their plans.

So review Vicki's list and Matt's list. Then pick no more than three. If you find you have more time, wonderful. Add another something to your list but if you pick only three and can really explore those three, you'll be in great shape for the school year.

I've created another Personal PD Bingo board you can find here. The second page includes some notes for how you might accomplish some of the items on the board if you're not sure where to start. I'll continue to add to that but don't hesitate to reach out if you've got questions about any of the options or possibilities.

The bottom line is this: learning doesn't stop for learners. Educators want to be better and do better every year but are often overwhelmed by the choices. Find three things that will help you accomplish your personal professional goals for the upcoming school year. Focus on those three things and grow, grow, grow!

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Becoming Future Ready

"Future Ready." The phrase has a nice ring to it, but what does it mean and what does it mean not only for educators but for the work place?

In 2014, as part of the ConnectED launch, Future Ready became an initiative of the Office of Educational Technology. Superintendents who attended the launch event at the White House were the first to sign a pledge to support the transition to digital learning in their schools.

Over the past few years, "future ready" has become a thing for K-12 educators as well as library media specialists/librarians. That makes sense to me because a school's library media specialist (LMS) should be well attuned to resources to assist in a digital transition.

While there are plenty of schools that are working towards a digital transition, there are many that are not for lack of planning, funds, and/or inclination. But I suspect there are some that have failed to make headway for lack of knowledge, understanding, and/or expertise.

What is "future ready"?
It doesn't mean your school is 1:1 or has "gone Google." It does mean your district and your schools have put together a plan to figure out what makes the most sense for your student population to help ensure they can stay in school, graduate from high school, and apply successfully for college if that is their desire. It also means students and educators in your district have the wherewithal to make decisions about the skills and knowledge they will need to find suitable employment.

It means that educators in your schools and districts, regardless of the student population, realize that just as the one-size-fits-all model does not fit for professional development, it does not fit for student learning. Differentiation, made popular by Carol Tomlinson in the 1990s, has staying power because of its relevance.

Future ready means recognizing that education is not static just as learning is not static. Sure, technology will continue to change and change rapidly. That should be a strong indicator that teachers need to be willing and able to make adjustments. They and parents need support in providing the kind of support and opportunities students need to learn and prepare for their futures and a world we cannot begin to imagine.

Understanding future ready
Part of being future ready is aligning thinking, planning, and action to these seven categories of the Future Ready Framework:
  • Curriculum, instruction, and assessment
  • Personalized professional learning
  • Robust infrastructure
  • Data and privacy
  • Community partnerships
  • Budget and resources
  • Use of space and time
Note what is central: personalized student learning. The phrase that excites and encourages many educators and terrorizes others who believe they cannot support personalized student learning for many reasons or who believe their students are not capable of personalized student learning. Let me say this to that: balderdash.

Most of the framework categories are not new but some of the elements of these categories are different. Wifi bandwidth is part of the infrastructure. Managing the school day and allowing teachers to have freedom in determining how their classrooms are furnished and organized is part of the use of space and time as is allowing teachers to have some freedom in determining how best to use the time they have with students.

I worked with a teacher who had a wonderful idea about how to organize her day into large blocks of learning time but a district administrator was not happy that each day didn't have a specific amount of time allotted at a specific time of day for each of the content areas. The teacher was frustrated because that structure of 30 minutes for ELA, 30 minutes of science, etc. simply reinforced that learning is compartmentalized. But when her students were doing project-based learning in larger blocks--still with reading, writing, math, and science--they were learning in a more transdisciplinary  capacity which makes so much more sense for a future ready student.

Just as teachers worry about letting go because of technology, administrators must worry about letting go because they have to learn to allow their teachers to have more autonomy in their classrooms and with their students. It's not that simple, I know.

However, I believe that if teachers have more autonomy and are trusted to do the best thing for their students AND administrators provide the kind of personalized professional learning and instructional coaching teachers need and want, then teachers will be more likely to ask for help and specific help when they need it.

Teachers want to do well. They want their students to be successful. The best teachers with whom I've been privileged to work are already good teachers but have no qualms about asking for help because they know that's how they will continue to stretch and grow and learn their craft. They don't always realize that when they ask for help and coaching, they model something very special to their students.

Supporting future ready
As with the seven categories of the Future Ready Framework, the centerpiece of the Future Ready Librarian is personalized student learning. The focus of the Future Ready Librarian is curriculum, instruction, and assessment, though I think I could argue that the librarian is not limited to this single area. I know far too many librarians who are outstanding resources and learning partners in most of the other categories, too.

These elements of curriculum, instruction, and assessment are strengths of the Future Ready Librarian for students and their teachers, and not just at the local school. Most librarians are part of district, state, and national organizations so can help build different partnerships to meet different needs and interests.

So what's next?
It depends where you are in the process. Do you have a plan? If not, you might start with the framework dashboard tool that helps you assess your district and being to plan ( You'll need to create a free account. If you don't want to go that route, form your own team at your school or district level. Make sure your team includes a technology coordinator or coach, at least one librarian, and representative teachers. I'd include one tech-savvy teacher who is already doing some project-based learning and/or elements of personalized learning as well as at least one of the teachers who is reluctant to try to incorporate technology.

Keep in mind that to be future ready you do not have to be 1:1. You do have to have a plan for integrating technology and you do have to have a plan for supporting your teachers, parents, and students in the use of technology. And you need to have a plan for encouraging digital citizenship--for parents and students.

As part of your work, think about the way your school and/or your district goes about education. I'm serious even though this seems self-evident. What are your practices and policies around testing? What are practices and policies around learning? To what extent do administrators have autonomy to make decisions about what happens in their buildings for their students? To what extent do teachers have autonomy to make decisions about what happens in their classrooms?

When was the last time you did a technology audit? Do you know what technology resources your teachers are using? Not just tablets or laptops, but what digital resources are they using--apps or web-based? What is the process for teachers getting access to grade-level and/or learner-appropriate resources? How complex/frustrating is that process? What are the safeguards to make sure students don't download or access their own random stuff but also don't limit teachers from getting to things they have reviewed or that have been recommended by trusted professionals? To what technology resources do your students have access? How many students have access to technology at home? If not, is it because they don't have access to a computer of some sort or because they don't have access to the internet or both?

When was the last time you did a curriculum and resource audit? In other words, what resources are teachers being asked or required to use? Are they timely? relevant? Are they learner-appropriate? Do they provide opportunity for students to learn at their levels?

When was the last time you did an initiative audit? This is one of the reasons some teachers don't do or use some resources or programs. Districts too often toss something over the fence without rationale or training or access to support/help. Some of the initiatives are contradictory. Some of the initiatives are not useful. And sometimes there are just too many and teachers have no time or support to figure out how to use what and when, so they do what they know and what has been successful in the past.

It is imperative you figure out where you are as a district or a school and be very, very clear about where you want to go and why. It's probably a good time to mention Knoster's Change Model. Without each of these components, including a plan, productive change will be nigh on impossible. It will be hard to build a plan that will lead to productive change without having a vision, without considering the skills and resources your team has and needs, and without considering the kinds of incentives--intrinsic and extrinsic--that will enable your team to move forward in ways that make sense to them because they have participated in developing the vision that they now support.

Just as any strategic plan has a shelf life, so does the action plan for being and becoming future ready. Don't plan for five years. You have no idea what's going to change and to what extent in the coming year never mind five years from now. Plan for this year and outline what you hope will be able to happen in the next two or three years.

Make sure someone on your team can help you track the trends, not only in K-12 education, but in higher education and in the work place. There is a distinctive trickle-down effect from the work place, but think about the work places most likely to impact your students. You don't want to limit their opportunities and options, but you need to be realistic about what you can manage.

However, and this is the beauty of technology and digital learning, just as you need to be realistic about what you can do in your school and your district, you don't have to settle. There are educators and professionals out in the big wide cyber world ready and very willing to support your teachers and your students in ways--trust me on this--you cannot now image. Not just Skype in the Classroom, though that is one resource. Discovery Education, like many others, offers a wealth of digital resources (Disclosure: I am an independent consultant doing work with Discovery Education. Because my colleagues and I are digital geeks, we bring a lot of digital know-how and passion to our work!).

So as you look ahead beyond 2017-2018, think about competency-based education and what it means to make learning appropriately personal for students who are ready and interested.

Follow people like Vicki Davis, Eric Sheninger, Matt Miller, George Couros, Shannon McClintock Miller, and Angela Maiers. Learn more about Mark Moran and SweetSearch. And sure, follow me on Twitter (@elainej) or LinkedIn or check out my web site.

Take some time to figure out what makes the most sense for where you and your team are right now. Think about how far you and they can take each other this next school year.

Plan realistically and provide for incredible possibilities because once you get started, well, as Dr. Seuss taught us, "Oh! The Places You'll Go!".

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Two4Thursday Tech: Padlet and Screencastify

This Thursday we're looking at Padlet and Screencastify.


I'm always pleasantly surprised when teachers I work with have already discovered Padlet. It is a nifty tool for collaboration as well as creation if you're looking for ways for your students to curate their learning.

My recommendation is that you create a free account. It's free. One of the major advantages of having an account is being able to name your padlet rather than attempt to share what I call the incomprehensible combination of letters and numbers.

Once you get to the site and login with your free account, you click on one of the two indicated buttons to create a padlet. Okay, I could explain this to you but it's just easier to show you.


Pros: Easy to use; free
Cons: Video limitations

Screencastify is a really easy-to-use Chrome extension but it's important to note it is a Chrome extension.
What I like about Screencastify is how easy it to use. The lite version gives you access to the fundamental features. You set up the microphone, let the extension know you want to record your screen, and click the record button. You'll get a countdown and be good to go.

You'll have the option of storing your video on your Google Drive or a YouTube channel, or both. You'll be able to download your video, etc. In other words, there's a marvelous opportunity for students to create videos of their learning and save those to Google Drive with the option to share it to a Google Classroom, should you be using Google Classroom.

There are some additional features if you're willing to pay the $24/year for the subscription. Is it worth it? Maybe. I suppose it depends on how many videos you plan to make and how you plan to use them. If you want to create videos to share with colleagues and others in the profession, you might want to pay the $24 to upload to a YouTube channel but also to convert it to a downloadable .mp4 file. But, before you pay the money (even though $24 isn't a lot compared to how much money you're already spending for your students), play with the tool to make sure there is real value for you.

If you're using Screencastify only with your students, don't bother. When you've finished recording your video, you can copy the link saved to your Google Drive so you can post those links to your Google Classroom (or elsewhere). You'll want to test this to ensure you know how these features work with your school/district network.

Pros: Free, easy-to-use
Cons: Not sure yet