Thursday, March 26, 2015

Inspired Learning to Get Results Now at #ModelSchools

Rigorous and Relevant Adult Learning Fuels Rigorous and Relevant Schools

Solving ill-structured problems. Collaborating with peers. Integrating concepts across disciplines. Adapting to unpredictable scenarios. These experiences are hallmarks of what Willard R. Daggett calls “Quadrant D” learning – learning experiences that are both rigorous and relevant. Quadrant D tasks push students to their intellectual edges while engaging them in authentic and meaningful work.
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Most teachers and education leaders today agree that our schools need a nudge in the direction of rigor and relevance. However, even as they talk about the need for a shift in teaching and learning, educational conferences often model a very familiar learning experience—what Daggett refers to as “Quadrant A” (or what many teachers call less kindly: “sit n’ git”). It can be easy to leave a conference with a tote bag full of materials and new jargon, but very little else.

This year’s Model Schools Conference is going to be worlds apart from the traditional education conference. The organizers understand that in order to support students in engaging and challenging learning experiences, teachers and leaders need to be engaged and challenged. Rather than just listening to people talk about Quadrant D, participants will have the opportunity to engage in a range of Quadrant D learning experiences from the student perspective. Quadrant D opportunities at the Model Schools Conference include:

  • A focus on “makerspaces,” including a real makerspace provided as part of a conference partnership with Table Top Inventions. Makerspaces—collaborative, creative spaces chock full of tools and materials for informal creation, invention, and learning—are becoming increasingly popular at forward-thinking schools and libraries. Students are using the Model Schools Conference Makerspace as its venue to engage in a shared design challenge, working together to invent solutions to complex tasks. Participants will also have the opportunity to attend a variety of makerspace-focused sessions, and learn from colleagues at schools that have successfully implemented makerspaces on their campuses, including Clark Burnett, a 4th grade teacher from Lang Ranch Elementary School in Thousand Oaks, CA.
  • An opportunity for all participants to share, collaborate, teach, and learn in unpredictable ways through the DIY Design-Your-Own-Session strand of the program. Inspired by the popular EdCamp movement, and facilitated by Jimmy Casas, Principal of Bettendorf High School in Iowa and Jim Warford, of the International Center for Leadership in Education, this strand makes it possible for any participant to take the stage and present on an education-related passion.
  • Proven effective for the past three years, these sessions provide teachers and instructional leaders with two options for immersing themselves into practical strategies ready to be implemented including:
  • Engaging in simulated classrooms that allow conference participants to experience Quadrant D learning. Instead of just hearing about Quadrant D work, teachers and leaders will be able to see, hear, feel, and learn from real Quadrant D activities and lessons.
  • Realizing that decision-making goes way beyond just giving a “yes” or “no” answer; for each decision made, factors must be weighed and looked at from every angle and a game plan for dealing with pushback must be devised. Ideal for both current and aspiring leaders, this high-energy, interactive session will challenge and inspire you with thought-provoking, real-life leadership dilemmas and real-time feedback and discussion among peers.
This type of professional learning—immersive, creative, engaging, and challenging—is focused more on transformation than information. Providing teachers and leaders with Quadrant D experiences for their own learning is one of the most critical ways to shift the learning we ultimately provide to students. I’m excited to see the paradigm of professional conferences changing, and look forward to more rigorous and relevant learning for all members of our school communities. Register now to attend this years Model Schools Conference.

P.S. I will be there as well leading sessions on digital leadership and learning. Hope to see you there!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Remind Takes Student and Stakeholder Engagement to a New Level

We all know Remind as a safe way for teachers to send one-way messages to students and parents. It’s been great for sending assignment reminders, schedule changes, motivational messages, and more! However, what was missing was the ability to bridge the gap and bring conversation full circle to include students’ and parents’ voices. 

Introducing two-way messaging on mobile for can be tricky, because teachers need messaging to be safe when communicating with minors and parents, and many don’t want to have to manage incoming text messages from their entire class! A balance of professional and personal life is key, and keeping personal contact information private helps manage this. 

The announcement of Remind Chat addresses all of these concerns, while enabling powerful two-way conversation among teachers, students, and parents. Some of the highlights of Remind Chat include:
  • Office hours: Teachers can set Office Hours of when two-way conversations are available with students and parents.
  • Message transcript history: A complete message transcript history is recorded of all conversations. This can be helpful to present to administrators or parents for review.
  • Flagging features: Users can flag and report any inappropriate language. 

Building Community and Digital Citizenship

Using mobile communication to build school community and facilitate learning brings an opportunity to teach digital citizenship. Students use texting as a social activity, but it can also be practice to build a positive digital footprint. Try out some of these resources to use mobile devices to facilitate digital leadership:

Remind has partnered with Common Sense Media to create a Digital Citizenship Starter Kit for all schools to download and use with teachers, students, and parents. The kit contains one week’s worth of content, activities, and tips to help introduce all users to Remind’s two-way Chat while communicating the importance of safe digital communication.Take a look at these teachers’ perspectives and activities including:
Remind has also developed Community Guidelines to help schools use the service safely and effectively. Also, check out their blog post to find out more around their dedication to safety. 

Get on The Wait List

Remind Chat will be available soon, but they’re giving first access to accounts that are on the Wait List! It’s filling up fast, so be sure to sign up.

For more great resources and support from the Remind team, you can always get in touch with them on Twitter or Facebook.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Student Resume Re-imagined

Resumes land in piles. Digital profiles land internships.  The resume is an anachronistic method of branding that needs to be reinvented. In its current form, it doesn’t tell you anything about anyone.”  - Shara Senderoff via Dell Tech Page One

I started to think about the value of resumes for today’s high school students after a Twitter conversation I had with New Milford High School junior Sarah Almeda. Some of you might remember Sarah from a few blog posts I wrote in 2014 where she created an amazing project on creativity that has been viewed close to 10,000 times on YouTube. She also gave me quite the send off when I stepped down as NMHS principal with this video that still makes me cry every time I watch it.  As a guest blogger on a Principal’s Reflections, Sarah shared her perspective on the importance of blogging as a means to support and enhance her learning.

What does this really tell you about a student?
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I am always curious to see what Sarah has been up to in school as she is one of the most creative people I know.  So I reached out to her on Twitter to ask and below is a summary of our quick conversation:

  • Hey @tehshmarah have you created anything cool with digital tools lately in school?
  • Thanks for asking @E_Sheninger!  In school, well, we're all a little too busy figuring out PARCC testing to do much of anything else.
  • @E_Sheninger Outside of school I've been teaching myself Actionscript and I'm so excited to put it to use at @GamesPlusPlus this weekend!
  • @tehshmarah if you ever want to share how you have been teaching yourself Actionscript for my blog just let me know :)
  • @E_Sheninger Taking CompScience via VHS has opened so many doors for me; Can't wait to show you what I've started working on when it's done!
  • @tehshmarah I would really like that! Just let me know and we can schedule a video call.
  • @tehshmarah By the way, I am digging your website that functions as a digital portfolio. Wish more students took the time to do this.
  • @E_Sheninger omg! Thank you for taking the time to look at it!! It was so much fun to make.

As you can see our Twitter conversation led me to Sarah’s website, which is listed in her Twitter bio (very smart move by the way).  Out of curiosity I checked it out, as I either didn’t notice it when I was at NMHS or she hadn’t created it yet.  Her site is titled s[hm]arah almeda: I make things and stuff and was created using Wix.  Pure genius in my opinion!  In essence Sarah’s site is a digital portfolio that showcases her creative student work.  The home page identifies three main categories describing the type of work she is showcasing – Media Gallery, Graphic Design Portfolio, Art-Stagram.  The best part is that she developed the site on her own free will.  My feedback to her would be to include more examples of the amazing work she has created over the years, both in school and out, as well as to include a hyperlink to a copy of her traditional resume in the “Who I Am” section.

When reflecting back on the quote at the beginning of this post I can see quite clearly about the downsides of traditional resumes. If I were to look at a textual description of Sarah’s educational experiences at NMHS it really wouldn’t tell me much about her passions and interests.  I certainly would not be able to see her dynamic work firsthand. Sarah’s initiative to showcase creative work beyond just listing on a one-dimensional sheet of paper separates her from other students looking to get into the same programs as her in college.  

Schools need to stop shortchanging students by having them conform to outdated practices such as the traditional resume. Sure, this still has value, but it is limited in breadth, reach, context, and detail as to what students really know and can do. Students today should not only be encouraged, but also taught how to curate and then showcase their work aligned to specific career interests in order to strengthen their ability to get into the top college programs. The traditional resume should be only a hyperlink, in my opinion, as part of a dynamic student portfolio. In addition to Wix here are some other resources that students can use to create digital resumes and portfolios.

So where do you stand on the usefulness of a traditional resume for a student in 2015 and beyond?

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Engagement Does Not Always Equate to Learning

No matter where I am, whether it is a physical location or virtual, I am always hearing conversations about how technology can be used to effectively engage students.  This is extremely important as the majority of students spend six to eight hours a day in schools where they are completely disengaged. I for one can’t blame today’s learner for being bored in school when I all have to do is observe my own son at home playing Minecraft to see firsthand his high level of engagement.  His Minecraft experiences provide meaning and relevance in an environment that is intellectually stimulating but more importantly fun. Schools and educators would be wise to take cues from the real world and make concerted efforts to integrate technology with the purpose to increase student engagement. Engagement, after all, is the impetus for learning in my opinion.

Let’s take a closer look at defining what engagement really means from the Glossary of Education Reform:
"In education, student engagement refers to the degree of attention, curiosity, interest, optimism, and passion that students show when they are learning or being taught, which extends to the level of motivation they have to learn and progress in their education. Generally speaking, the concept of “student engagement” is predicated on the belief that learning improves when students are inquisitive, interested, or inspired, and that learning tends to suffer when students are bored, dispassionate, disaffected, or otherwise “disengaged.” Stronger student engagement or improved student engagement are common instructional objectives expressed by educators." 
The last line in the description above elicits a great deal of concern for me.  With or without technology, there always seems to be a great deal of emphasis on student engagement, but the fact of the matter is that engagement does not necessarily equate to learning.  I have observed numerous lessons where students were obviously engaged through the integration of technology, but there was no clear indication that students were learning.  Having fun, collaborating, communicating, and being creative are all very important elements that should be embedded elements of pedagogically-sound lessons, but we must not lose sight of the importance of the connection to, and evidence of, learning. Thus, students can walk away from a lesson or activity having been very engaged, but still walk away with very little in the form of new knowledge construction, conceptual mastery, or evidence of applied skills. When speaking at events I often ask leaders and teachers how they measure the impact of technology on learning. More often than not I receive blank stares or an open admission that they have no idea. The allure of engagement can be blinding as well as misleading.

It is so important to look beyond just student engagement when it comes to technology. If the emphasis is on digital learning we must not get caught up in the bells and whistles or smoke and mirrors that are commonly associated with the digital aspect alone. Engagement should always translate into deeper learning opportunities where technology provides students the means to think critically and solve problems while demonstrating what they know and can do in a variety of ways. Technology should be implemented to increase engagement, but that engagement must lead to support, enhancement, or an increase in student learning. It should not be used as a digital pacifier or gimmick to get students to be active participants in class. With technology there should be a focus on active learning where students are doing.

Here are some questions that will assist in determining if engagement is leading to actual learning:
  • Is the technology being integrated in a purposeful way grounded in sound pedagogy?
  • What are the learning objectives/outcomes?
  • Are students demonstrating the construction of new knowledge? Are they creating a learning product/artifact?
  • How are students applying essential skills they have acquired to demonstrate conceptual mastery? 
  • What assessments (formative, summative) are being used to determine standard attainment?
  • How are students being provided feedback as to their progress towards the specific learning objectives/outcomes?
  • Is there alignment to current observation/evaluation tools?
Engagement, relevance, and fun are great, but make sure there is observable evidence that students are learning when integrating technology. N

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Digital Learning Prospers With the Right Culture

As of late, I have been doing a great deal of work with schools and districts on how to effectively implement digital learning across the curriculum. When it comes to technology in general, the overall goal is to support learning, not drive instruction. Where digital learning initiatives miss the point is a focus on how technology actually accomplishes this.  Schools invest billions of dollars to purchase technology with no real thought as to how it is actually impacting learning.  When I routinely ask school leaders how they determine or measure the impact of their technology on student learning, I get blank stares or open declarations that they have no idea. This is a problem. 

The right culture focuses on technology as a tool to enhance learning in a variety of ways.  When technology is integrated with purpose, students can create artifacts to demonstrate conceptual mastery, apply an array of acquired skills, illustrate the construction of new knowledge, and be empowered to take ownership of their learning.  It can also increase relevance and make the curriculum more contextual.  This is just a sample of how digital learning can complement the work that is already taking place in schools while allowing students to clearly see the value in their learning.   As with any holistic initiative, the key is sustainability and a resulting change that sees all aspects of digital learning become an embedded component of school culture.  Without the right culture in place for digital learning to be embraced and thrive, there will only be isolated pockets of excellence.  

The following are some suggestions on how to ensure digital learning initiatives in your district or school don’t fall flat:
  • Build a shared vision – This important aspect is notably absent in many digital learning initiatives.  Efforts must be made to developing a shared vision with a variety of stakeholder input, including students.  This is vital if the goal is sustained, cross-curricular application on a routine basis.  The vision should be established in a way that clearly articulates how technology will be used to support/enhance student learning.
  • Develop a strategic plan backed by action – Begin to form a plan for digital learning using some essential questions that add perspective for the change: Why is this change needed? How will it be implemented? What resources are needed? How will we monitor progress and evaluate it on a consistent basis? What other challenges have to be overcome? By focusing on these questions and others that you develop, a concrete plan for action can be created.
  • Access matters – During the planning process, it is imperative that there is a critical analysis of existing infrastructure.  There is nothing more frustrating to teachers and students when an activity incorporating technology fails because of poor WiFi connectivity.  In addition to WiFi, it is important to ensure there are enough devices and associated software if the goal is integration across the curriculum.  To increase access give some thought to a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) initiative if there is not enough funding to go 1:1.  An audit of available resources during the planning process would be a wise idea.
  • Ensure ongoing professional development – I cannot overstate the importance of this suggestion enough.  Teachers need training on how to develop pedagogically sound lessons and quality assessments aligned to higher standards.  They also need to be exposed to a variety of tools and ways that they can be seamlessly integrated to support specified learning outcomes. School leaders need professional learning opportunities that assist them to effectively observe and evaluate digital learning in classrooms.   Professional development should be ongoing and embedded throughout the school year.
  • Monitor with intent – The vision and planning process provides the focus, but consistent monitoring helps to ensure sustainable change leading to transformation.  School leaders need to consistently monitor and provide feedback on digital learning activities through observations, evaluations, walkthroughs, and collecting artifacts.  
  • Provide support – Throughout the initial implementation stages, and well after the initiative gains steam, ongoing support needs to be provided. Support comes in many ways such as empowering teachers to be innovative through autonomy, giving up control, being flexible, and encouraging risk-taking. Budget allocations will also have to be made each year to not only sustain current digital learning initiatives but to also move forward. 
  • Model the way – To put it simply, don’t expect others to do what you will not. Attempt to model at a basic level the expectations that you have when it comes to digital learning. Don’t be afraid to roll up your sleeves and work alongside your colleagues. 
  • Honor student voice and choice – Digital learning initiatives are all about creating schools that work for students.  When developing lessons allow students to decide which digital tools they want to use to show you what they have learned.  The key is being able to assess learning, not knowing how to use thousands of tools.  Put students in the driver’s seat when it comes to allowing them to determine the right tool for the right task.  Also, encourage them to consistently provide input to improve digital learning initiatives.
The whole premise of digital learning is to increase relevance, add context, acquire then apply essential skills, construct new knowledge, and enhance critical literacies. Regardless of what standards you are accountable for digital learning can be integrated seamlessly to foster deeper learning. Education today should not prepare students for a world that no longer exists.  It is time to not just prepare students for college and careers, but also life in an ever-increasing digital world.