IDE Corp
Professional Development for Innovative Schools

Posts tagged school

Technology Mindset Shift: From Means to End

If you’ve read my book, It’s Not What You Teach But How, you’ll know I promote focusing on the ends over the means of standards. It’s easy to focus on the means, or the effort, without focusing on the end, or the results. Let’s not make this mistake with educational technology.

My systems analyst days

People in the business world use technology to accomplish their goals. Few, if any, tout how many computers they have; rather, they use them seamlessly and purposefully toward a greater goal. In 1981, I made a side-trip from teaching to work as a systems analyst. Day one I was handed my terminal (precursor to today’s Chromebook; a gateway to a bigger computer.) I don’t think any of us bragged over our 1:1 environment; we didn’t focus on it at all. Instead, we focused on the software we were designing with it; the interoffice communication it allowed, and analyzing data.

Yet in the educational world, we tend to lead with “we’re 1:1,”  “we’re BYOD,” “we’re a GAFE district,” “we have a Mac graphic design lab,” and so forth. In reality, all of this means little unless you’re using it to develop students who can think at high levels, communicate well, collaborate, problem solve, and exhibit the skills and attitudes needed for their future. Don’t get me wrong, schools should have a lot of technology available for students and educators — a lot! The possibilities for the advancement of achievement are unparalleled. Just don’t stop at the inventory.

The greatest gift given to me by my stint in the design and coding world was that I returned to teaching with a mindset of ends-based computing: what are we doing with it? Over the years, I’ve categorized computer use in a variety of ways, including my Tech Hierarchy and Ten Characteristics of a ‘NetCentric Society. One, the Categories of Tech Infusion, offers seven ways in which students interact with computer technology in the learning process. (Note: this is not about the creation and design process; that’s another topic!) Let’s look at these categories through the lens of results.

As schools work to build skills in executive function, the information management aspect of technology can be extremely powerful. Teach students naming conventions for files so they can easily find them later, how to manage their documents, how to bookmark web pages, how to use an online calendar, and more. … What? You struggle with these skills too? See how important they are?

If you want students to master the ELA skills of the standards, they need to be immersed in an environment of reading, writing, listening, and speaking. A silent blog (students all discuss an issue at the same time, online, in silence) allows everyone to engage in the conversation (as opposed to just those whose hands are up.) Students need to read and respond to others: it’s real time, it’s engaging, it builds communication skills, and it gets them ready for Twitter chats! 😉

Sometimes, two heads are better than one, but only when they truly collaborate rather than trying to convince one another to switch sides. Collaboration skills are complex but so worthy of being taught. Cloud-based Apps that allow students and teachers to offers suggestions and comments, and to co-create, build a “felt need” for collaborative skills. With technology, students can not only collaborate with students in the classroom, but with those in other classrooms, schools, cities, countries, solar systems. . . (Ok, maybe not solar systems … yet!)

There are many experiences that are not available to students in schools, such as traveling in space or to the bottom of the ocean, engaging in a revolution, managing a city, building an amusement park, blood typing on a crime scene, and more. But these are all available through simulations. Simulations are powerful for building understanding of content, cause-and-effect relationships, and unintended consequences. I’m thinking many of us should use auto simulators before heading out on the road!

Students spend a lot of time thinking about what they want to wear, what backpack they want to carry, what language they want to use, and more. Why? Because they are appealing to an audience: in these cases, an audience of their peers. Nothing says “pay attention to detail” better than an audience. When students produce for an audience beyond the teacher, they tend to focus more on the quality of their work; and, they experience the power of one’s voice being heard. There are many websites where students can publish their writing and ideas anonymously (anonymity is a must!)

Building an understanding of concepts and skills requires grappling: struggling and wrestling with content. Teachers’ wonderful explanations just don’t do it. If you’re going to learn to swim, you have to get in the water! Provide students with ample time to explore content, solutions, and ideas. I recently saw a fifth grade teacher trigger students’ awareness by asking how the students’ plants (science experiment) were going to survive over winter break without anyone to water them. I asked a student if he ever heard of the term aqua globe? He immediately looked it up on computer and was excited to find the term, which led him to read more about the concept. He returned from lunch with a plastic soda bottle, armed with the grit to make one himself. He watched YouTube videos; he thought through different ideas, researching more and more. He presented his teacher and classmates with his idea for feedback. This powerful learning experience was made possible by the availability of technology to explore concepts and skills.

Gaining popularity are 3-D Virtual Environments, which are related to simulations. The two differences are that they are three-dimensional, in that you feel like you are actually in the environment, walking around, driving, etc.; and that you often interact with other live human beings as opposed to just a computer. There are virtual environments that are just simulations with better graphics; but there are also those through which you engage with others who are online at the same time as avatars, for maximum engagement! It’s not mainstream in schools yet, but just wait!

I hope these categories will help you to think through the opportunities you offer students to build higher levels of content understanding and application. You can access a blank grid for brainstorming on the IDEportal — our online instructional resource for student-driven learning.

If you’re headed to FETC 2017 in Orlando, find us at booth 2440. If you’re headed to Techspo 2017 in Atlantic City, find us at booth 104. For a look at our presentations at both, visit the news section of our website.

#LATICinsights: The Sounds of Engagement

What does engagement sound like? Allowing students to have a say in their work is not enough to build engagement. Adam FleSVnotSEtcher writes a great blog on engagement, including this entry:  voice and engagement are not the same.

In the Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom (#LATIC), engagement refers to the state in which students are thoroughly engrossed in their work, intrinsically motivated, with a purposeful destiny and path. Here’s one way to assess engagement.

What do you hear in the classroom? As students are working, walk around for about five minutes and jot down what you hear them saying to one another. Then categorize those as:

  • Clarification (asking for or giving)
  • Help (asking for or giving)
  • Organizing
  • Analyzing
  • Brainstorming
  • What-If?
  • Aha Moment
  • Grit
  • Facing Failure

You should hear them all! These are the sounds of engagement. While theScreen Shot 2016-10-11 at 1.23.40 PM first few might indicate mere compliance, as you move down the list and as you hear them all, you’ll know you’re observing higher levels of engagement. (Use this tool to make your assessment easier.) 

When students are asked to solve authentic, open-ended problems; self-assess; collaborate with others; manage their time; manage learning resources; and advocate for their own learning, these are the sounds of success: the sounds of engagement.

You can increase engagement by ensuring that:

  • Your problem-based task is driving instruction; that it hooks and motivates students to want to solve the problem
  • Students use the rubric first to determine their learning goals and then look to the activity list for opportunities to learn
  • Your activity list has learning activities that promote engagement over compliance; that is, that they connect closely with the task and rubric: no worksheets without a task-related purpose!
  • You’ve read Students Taking Charge: Inside the Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom. 😉

Engaging students is an important step in positioning them for higher achievement and a rewarding life. Go change the world!

Triggering Awareness: A Path to Learning

Imagine teaching a short lesson to introduce students to the concept of a preposition:

Prior to the lesson, on the whiteboard, write the same sentence four times:  The book is _____ the desk. Stand by a desk and hold up a book, asking students to identify the desk and the book. “These are two things, or as we have learned, nouns. Nouns are persons, places, and things. “Now watch me.” Place the book on the desk. “Where is the book?” When the students say on the desk, fill in the first blank with the word on. “How about now?” Place the book on the floor under the desk. When the students say under, fill in the second blank with the word under. “And now?” Place the book in the desk. As students respond, fill in the second blank with the word in. “This one is a little trickier. What do you think? Where is the book now?” And hold the book above the desk. Students may say over or above. Some may say floating, but press them to identify where. Fill in the remaining blank. “I have the same two nouns written four times, but that one word makes all the difference in your understanding where the book is in relation to the desk. That word describes the relationship between the book and the desk. This part of speech is called a preposition, and it helps describe a relationship.” 

You might then offer an exploration of a preposition that explains a time relationship, such as, “I like to read _____ lunch.” You could fill in before, during, or after. You might discuss how such words help an author convey meaning and describe situations, and how they help the reader have a better understanding of the meaning of text.

Over a period of ten minutes, you might explore several of these with your students. In the end, students will become aware of the set of words that describe relationships between other words in a sentence. Note that you did not introduce the list of the twenty or so most common prepositions; you didn’t explain how to find the preposition in a sentence; and you didn’t show students how to identify prepositional phrases, nor that a preposition is followed by a noun. What you did was “trigger awareness” that such a category of words exist, that they help a writer more clearly describe a situation, and that they help a reader better understand the meaning of a passage of text. You introduced the power of prepositions to convey meaning, which will be important to students as they read and write. Students will then engage in a variety of instructional activities, targeted to their readiness level and learning styles, to tackle the skill of working with prepositions.

In the Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom (Students Taking Charge, 2011), this short, whole-group lesson to “trigger awareness” in students of skills, concepts, and content is called the Benchmark Lesson. It is a powerful strategy to motivate and prepare learners to dig more deeply into concepts, skills, and content.

While the efficiency-driven, factory model of education propelled the practice of teaching skills from the front of the room to a large group of students, the reality of the learning process points to how ineffective this practice is.

  1. Lev Vygotsky introduced the idea of the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD): We all have a current body of knowledge, knowledge that we are ready to learn (ZPD), and that which we are cognitively not ready to learn (the Distal Zone.) Effective instruction would target a students’ Proximal Zone, which would be impossible when teaching to a large group of students.
  2. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi wrote a book, Flow, explaining that we are most engaged in learning when the activity offered is just above our ability level. Again, this is not possible when teaching to a large group of students.
  3. Caleb Gattegno sums up the connection between teaching and learning in his famous phrase, “only awareness is educable.” He purported that a teacher cannot teach a student anything; the teacher triggers awareness; the student is then driven to learn and must personally construct meaning.
  4. Albert Einstein said ,”I never teach my pupils; I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they learn.”

In the Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom, teachers do not attempt to teach skills from the front of the room, even for short periods of time, as this will frustrate some and bore others. They use short, whole-group sessions to trigger awareness of concepts related to learning. Even if a student already knows the concept, the lesson challenges them to draw on what they know and expand their ideas moreso than when teaching skills; and fewer students become frustrated with a well-crafted Benchmark Lesson.

Transformational vs. Transactional Learning

Whether in the classroom or teachers’ professional development, the instructional goal should be transformational learning rather than transactional learning.

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary:

  • Transaction: “an occurrence in which [something] is passed from one person … to another”
  • Transformation: “a complete or major change in someone’s … appearance, form, etc.”

Much of today’s instruction, whether for students or teachers, involves someone having information and passing it on to another. The time and method are usually controlled by the instructor, and the instructor usually engages in some form of direct instruction with the hopes that the learner will now possess the information as well. However, I don’t believe that learning should be a matter of filling up a brain, particularly in today’s world when the Internet acts as your external brain.

blog quoteI believe learning should be life-changing. Each learning experience should spark in learners that “aha” moment where they begin making connections, asking “what if?” questions that spur further learning, driven by their own “felt need” to master the content. As they learn, they should feel accomplished, capable, and intrigued to learn more.

As we shift teachers’ mindsets about the role of teacher, thus creating a transformation in them, school learning environments become more transformational. In the Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom, learning begins with an overarching authentic, problem-based task that drives a “felt need” for learning. Teachers crea
te, as Einstein onBlog quote 1ce said, the conditions under which students learn. They design learning activities that are not necessarily assigned, but rather are available. They don’t dictate student action, they guide students in self-assessing and making effective decisions as to how they will learn. Teachers transform students from receivers of information to designers of their own learning paths.

The road to transformational learning begins with transformational professional development. All educators hold mindsets (paradigms, mental models, etc.) about teaching. Your mindsets are formed from your past experiences; they reflect your beliefs and guide your actions. They drive your cause-and-effect thinking. No one can “tell” you to take on a new mindset; you have to engage in experiences that cause you to challenge your own mindset and form new beliefs, thus shifting your mindset.

Powerful mindsets include:

Transformational PD shapes teachers’ mindsets. It engages them in personal experiences that cause them to rethink their belief systems.

If you are planning PD for others, think about how you can move away from transactional activities to transformational activities. Decide what mindset you want to create and model it throughout your workshop.

Pursue that which is transformational!

Executive Function May Be The Missing Link

For too long, executive function has been a term used primarily among special education professionals to discuss deficits, ignored by mainstream educators as the path to achievement for all.

Screen Shot 2016-02-21 at 10.14.57 PMSimply put, academic rigor refers to academic engagement that focuses on higher-order thinking and application. It is a door-opener for students!

If students can thrive in academic rigor, they can nail those standardized tests, tackle most problems and challenges that come their way, and follow any of a vast number of career paths. Building academic rigor should be the goal of every school, every teacher. Executive function may be the missing link to increased student achievement.

How many of the following skills would you say are required for students to perform at rigorous levels?

  • Focusing
  • Concentrating
  • Shifting focus from one event to another
  • Changing perspective
  • Seeing multiple sides of a situation
  • Being open to other people’s points of view
  • Being creative
  • Catching and correcting errors
  • Thinking about multiple concepts simultaneously
  • Storing and manipulating visual and verbal information
  • Identifying same and different
  • Remembering details
  • Following multiple steps
  • Anticipating
  • Persisting in a task
  • Organizing actions and thoughts
  • Considering future consequences in light of current action

These are the skills of executive function, controlled by the brain’s prefrontal cortex.

The good news is, the more you use these skills, the stronger they become. You can build executive function in students by engaging them in these skills.

If you are running a Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom, you can explore ways to build executive function through the various structures inherent in the model. If not, you can still use this list to brainstorm how you can engage students in using the skills listed in the third column. This assessment sheet can be used by teachers to assess students or by students to self assess.

For more information, read chapter 6 of It’s Not What You Teach But How: 7 Insights For Making the CCSS Work for You, published by Routledge.


1:1 Classrooms: The Case for Rethinking “School”

Change is hard! It requires some paradigm shifting; that is, a rethinking of the “why” in order to decide on the best “how.” A new technology, such as the ability to put a computing device into the hands of every student, offers tremendous possibilities. However, unless it’s coupled with new thinking, it could just produce a fancier version of the same old approach. This dilemma is not unique to schools, however. Here’s a fun look back in time . . .

With the invention of the gasoline-powered engine came the “horseless carriage,” better known as the automobile. Prior to this, people used horse drawn carriages to travel. The picture below is of a 1902 Lambert, among the first automobiles to be manufactured.

1902Lambert Note that this automobile was steered by a tiller, fastened at the front center of the passenger compartment. Prior to the development of the gasoline powered engine, the driver held the reins of the horse and moved them from side to side; so now the driver had a metal bar to simulate that movement. Of course, without the horses, there was no need for this sweeping left-right motion, but it felt comfortable and perhaps it was hard to see another way. Within a few years, steering wheels replaced tillers. Note the headlamps. Rather than hanging lanterns on the front of the carriage, the new automobile sported headlamps that looked just like those lanterns. Again, they were soon replaced by larger, round lights.

This picture is a fun look at how, as humans, we tend to fit new technologies into our current way of thinking. If you’re involved in a 1:1 technology initiative, be careful to avoid fitting those computing devices into your current “how” of learning. They’re not pencils, books, notebooks, or teachers. They have the power to allow us to rethink classroom processes to meet the needs of all learners.

See our view of technology infusion and our technology hierarchy.