Sunday, July 5, 2015

Student Feedback on 1 to 1

My previous post touched on some of my thoughts on going 1 to 1.  But far more useful is how my students felt about it. I included the following question on my end of the year survey:

How has having a computer available to you changed things in and outside of school?

The full responses were pretty telling but here's a snapshot of what they said.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

My Adventure in 1 to 1- lessons and obervations

Random picture of technology...nice huh?

Technology is certainly a force for change.  If you found your way to this post then you are also aware of the fact that technology has been much debated within education. There's plenty of voices in support of the continued rapid infusion of technology into learning.  It is game changer.  Students in my class are now accessing, cooperating and producing in ways I didn't anticipate 5 years ago.   After my classroom went 1 to 1 this past year I thought I'd share my ground level perspective on how such an approach changes things.    I'll start by sharing some articles we E-mailed back and forth at school awhile back that take the approach that technology is not all good.     As usual these folks say things much better than I ever could. 

Technology Won't Fix Americas Neediest Schools

While it may appear otherwise, this is not an anti-ed tech post.   Quite the contrary...it is a response and expression of some of the things occurring in my classroom over the past few years and in particular this year as we went 1 to 1.  I've got no real agenda with technology except use it to help me do a better job.   Well,  maybe I would add I want to ask that movers and shakers give a little more thought to some of what they say...or post about technology.  Instead maybe ask questions and post some nice things about teachers now and then...just for balance.. 

   I've turned my attention elsewhere over the past year and have spent far less time blogging.   That doesn't mean I had less to say.  I was just busy and had to prioritize.   I still do.  As a result, a draft of this post was sitting, unfinished, for just about the whole school year in part because trying to keep up/get ahead in my now 1 to 1 classroom was a constant challenge.  Even posted it feels poorly organized and random.  Something I strive to avoid in my classroom.  But I apologize if it falls short.  Honestly that was something I had to endure more than a few times this year in my use of technology.  Falling short.  I found cutting students loose and giving them more freedom has had some tremendous positives.  I'm now able to do a great deal more with my students.  No more hauling a bulky cart filled with laptops to my room.  Now each student has
This screen is huge...wait...these are MACs not Lenovos? 
their own Lenovo and comes ready to access a wealth of resources and collaborate in new ways(assuming it is charged).   But has also led me to rethink the way I do some things.  In some ways I found technology has not fulfilled my expectations.  Sometimes I had failed. Other times it was student use has fallen short. In both instances it was a chance to do better.

I could not teach without technology and as that shifts more to having my students direct and control the use themselves I am still adjusting.  I have considered my classroom somewhat "blended" for years but have now ventured neck deep into the pool of integration.  I realize I cannot swim in the world of the modern classroom pool unless I let go of the wall. In doing so I got in over my head  a couple of times.   As I take stock of how 1 to 1 has impacted my classroom and my approach to teaching, I see some successes and also my failures.  Sure, I still have a flip phone(a conscious choice mind you), a 1994 pickup and admit I can be a bit wary spending on the latest technology when what I use works just fine. But what I am really wary of is how things I am now doing this year have changed the dynamic of my classroom and what it might mean for my students.  Much of that has been positive but I've also observed some things that are worrisome.  

A little background
"OK...close your computers" ...  I wait patiently another 30 seconds for those words to sink in and then repeat it with far less patience as evidenced by my tone. Finally there is some compliance...a word I hate to use but that applies fully here.  An observer might fault the obvious flaws in my expectations but before you malign my antiquated and inflexible teaching methods, I'd point out I'm just trying to redirect my student since it is time to move on.  I'm intending to benefit everyone and force the dynamic of the class back to a place where it is functional again.  Where their thoughts are with each other in the here and now and the content collectively. Where they benefit from each others diverse range of insights.  Not isolated in the far reaches of all the 0s and 1s that control their minds as they stare at the screens.  I tried to make use of the computers often, maybe more than I should have.

"I did comment before I started playing this game"
I did plenty of backchannel discussions and found them useful in many ways.  But I also found it changed the way many students engaged and left the depth of the dialogue shallower than I was used to.   It made me realize many of the meaningful here and now moments are organic and almost impossible to plan.  They are special.  But only about half of the kids are "with me" when their devices are open.  No matter how well virtual discussions went and how good the contributions, they lacked in many ways.  Likely due to the reality that computers are powerful devices...and teenagers, like adults,  find that power very distracting.  What's more is student feedback I collected at the end of the year reflected this.  They themselves commented in many cases that what we call "roundtable" discussions were something they wanted to see more of instead of spending time on the computer.

Back to my classroom...The room had been mostly quiet before as they read and pecked at heir own pace but now fills with talking as we negotiate this transition and they begin to close their screens.  That is exactly what I am about to offer them, a chance to talk, and my excitement over the upcoming discussion activity we were about to do slowly begins to fade.   The timeliness of this teachable moment is disrupted and their interest begins to fade as several students just can't bring themselves to shut the screen.  The feeling no one is listening to me grows.  This lesson usually goes well and students like it.  My enthusiasm for the small group work and the insightful responses this has brought out in past years is warranted. I know this is a cool activity.  Experience tells me so. I split them into small groups and prompt them with a series of open ended questions.  But the class goes quiet, unwilling to buy in, it feels forced. Instead of engaging each member of the group, the conversations are dominated by the usual vocal suspects.  I didn't expect this.   The small groups discussing the prompts seem merely an obstacle to getting back to looking at their computers.   It makes me want to sit down and leave the class alone.  I push through.  It wasn't always this way and while I feel there is always some disparity between what I plan and what actually happens in class, it seems that in going 1 to 1 I had achieved a tolerable level of failure that I could live with and build on for next year. 

Hey this is cool.
That snapshot isn't just a sign that using technology and having free and open access on hand at all times has created some challenges and  problems for me, but also a sign it is changing my students. They seem unable to engage as well with each other, face to face in the here and now.   One of the first signs I noticed was they don't talk when they come in the room early anymore...they open their computer."
"Are we using the computers today? instead of "good morning."

Each day as a few students share the room as an early morning workspace they now sit silently and tap away at the keys.  Rarely do they initiate conversation.   They're the same  type of kids as in previous years for the most part but something is a bit different. It is subtle and there is no data to show but I've been teaching high school age kids long enough to pick up on it.  This technology certainly provides for a different experience.  More chances and opportunities to potentially collaborate are great but as good as it sounds we can't just arrive at school and collaborate all day.  They still need to do their own work and turn work in by deadlines.  Two things that plagued me this year.

As we expect more from technology,  do we expect less from each other?
Sherry Turkle  seems to express some of those same concerns here.  Worth watching for sure.



Flash Forward-December: A snapshot in time
Here I am.  Past the half way point in my first year in the 1 to 1 education world.  I always counted myself among those out front when it came to using tech in working with my students.  I prided myself in the fact that the technology I was using passed muster with the 3 questions(see below) I ask as I take stock on what to do and and plan out what I am doing.  I consider if I can do it better and exactly how to make that happen.   I am spending more and more time on this nagging question: "How can I make better use of student laptops(and other technology)?"

I know I like having students that have access and can use computers but I am left feeling I had bought into the notion that things will automatically be better with computers around all the time.  But student motivation is pretty much the same. One thing I noticed is the excitement for their use has diminished greatly.  Last year, when we got the chance to use laptops, it was a novelty(which should never substitute for substance) and generated some degree of enthusiasm in the classroom.  That is long gone.   I have come to appreciate the little things I had always done that required them to get up and move.  As a result I am emphasizing this more to avoid the static nature of computer based work.  I even appreciate paper more.  While we are using it much less, at his point in the year many students have asked f they can have paper copies of materials we use in class or at home. 

My 3 Questions
How does this help me do my job?
Does this save me time?
How does this help my students learn?
I think I have arrived at some conclusions.

The Obvious Lessons
  • Only do one thing at a time- asynchronous learning opens many doors but laying out too many steps will ensure you will lose some kids. 
  • Routine is your friend. Where to turn in, how and in what format work needs to be clear...overly so. 
  • Time with the tools- there's no way to get that except using it in class.  Which is unsettling cause it doesn't always work. I hate wasting time but it is OK to experiment
  • Identifying how kids prefer to access your information- seek their feedback and provide options
  • Seek student input-technology allows them to have input in a easy and meaningful manner
  • Novelty of technology wears off-that means it can bore them just like everything else
  • It isn't about the device or time on it, its about the class-any teacher worth their salt already knows this
  • Know your outcomes- why are you using it
  • Sometime we get so busy using technology, we do  not have time to think.
  • Have a plan.  Carefully consider how you will organize and share things digitally  Then be prepared to throw that plan away and start again.
  • Technology make some things easier but other as can also make other important things harder.
  • It is a literal truth to the fact that students are dumber when staring at a screen. The comments "My computer's almost dead, what should I do?" and "My computer froze, what should I do?" reflect that.  
  • Anyone who doesn't spend a few hours in a room with students each day cannot comprehend how little students understand about what is OK to do on a computer! More on this later.
  • Technology won't change the fact we are humans.  We still learn best from working with and interacting with other people.  This can be done virtually, but why not use real people...?
  • Digital Resources are the entry point.  Integration requires time, thought and reflection on how best practices look.
  • There is a painfully irony in seeing students disconnected while online
  • Screen Time. If students are looking at 8 inch screens in every class quite a bit then staring a 3 inch ones as they walk the halls...that adds up. 
  • The simplicity of good learning never really changes.  
The Less Obvious

Blended Learning
My learning was blended before. Blended is defined as- mix (a substance) with another substance so that they combine together as a mass.  One mistake I made was to use devices and technology because it was there and available without really thinking enough about the substance.  Realizing  now I feel compelled to use more and more technology but I try to ask is the use making things better?  Often yes, sometimes no.  Variety helps.  Combine the use and other things into a mass. 

The reality of computer use means students stray farther from desired outcomes.  But we can never escape the reality that we live in a world with certain desired outcomes for  public education.  For those that would respond  "who are you to direct what students learn."  My response..."I'm a teacher."

Powerful World of Distractions- a few other points
Kids are not simply younger versions of adults.  Trust is one thing, cutting them loose without supervision another.  There is this thing called the frontal lobe and unless you are around kids...a lot...you tend to forget how theirs doesn't seem to do much yet.  Giving kids unlimited freedom is not only foolish, its just idiotic.  Especially if you concentrate two thousand of them or so together in one place.  Preparing for the lowest common behavioral denominator is a good thing.The fact I am no longer shocked by what kids do with computers and phones..is frankly, shocking. 

If you make a living talking about how technology should be used in schools but don't teach. Teachers shouldn't trust or listen to you.

Paperless is stupid.  Paperlight is a buzzword.  I have found it hard to substitute the tactile and easily adapted technology of paper.  My kids have expressed as much.  But the ease of access to documents and information is one of the best and most powerful things about technology.  We are saving literally tons of paper.  But as what cost?  Electricity doesn't get piled up at the end of a day of school but no many people consider how many devices are now plugged in while at school.  There is an impact when you  are talking about investment consumption oriented nature of technology. I can keep a reading for years.  How long can we expect a return on investment when it comes to the use of a device?
 
We need to prepare our kids for a digital world but this must be tempered with an awareness that technology, like all things, can have negative aspects associated with it.  As schools we are placed on the front lines of this integration.  That is a scary place to be at times.

I just like things that work.  My division has done a great job with this and I know I am lucky.

We live in a Tinder world.  How can we embrace technological innovation without giving some thought to the consequences?

Distance learning, Whether or not that is a great thing in the lives of all students is subjective. Cheaper doesn't mean the quality is better and to do so means things will get worse in many ways.As states race to offer virtual courses, consider who might be driving that rain.  If a student benefits from being able to take a course they might not have otherwise, that's a good thing. Humans have interacted with machines for a long time.  In ways like healthcare, technology, Telemedicine and new tools are making things better.  Here's a great example.  It captivated my children for about an hour one day.   Such uses in medicine meets a need that exists.  That's good.  I just worry that in education we are often creating he need for more technology.  That's not as good.   

There is no perfect practice.
I have less time, more students and try desperately to grasp the best ways to teach and have my kids learn. Proper integration takes time. Things like freedom and individual choice are great.  But in life before you chase your dreams you often have some responsibilities to fulfill.  Students need to learn that they can't always choose what they want in the real world.  They have to do some things they might no choose first.    That lesson is an important one.

Tec-Tac Disjoint
At various points in the history of warfare, leaders and armies were not prepared for new technology and struggled to shift away from past strategies when faced with new military technology.  An example being the outdated Napoleonic maneuvers employed against the far more accurate rifled barrel just as they did against the smooth bore.  Perhaps today it is a tac-tech disjoint in education where reformers have been too quick to suggest and steer towards new approaches without fully acknowledging how the human mind really hasn't changed.  We need to adapt and change but I tire of being told how things are now different.  Students are still students and they still need to learn. 1 to 1 or 1 to 1000. 

Maybe this clip sums up where I am at at the conclusion of my adventure with 1 to1.    But I like adventures.  And I like the challenge of being a guide on those adventures. 



Monday, June 15, 2015

The End of the End of School

School's Out!  Wait... it's still May?
Nope.  That's not a typo.  Instead its a reference to the slow and chronic undoing of the meaningful and culminating end of the school.  Students in our building and I suspect in many places elsewhere around the nation finish school for the year at different times.  This begins about the 5th of May, the beginning of AP tests and continues for about another month in a  window of time I recently described in an E-mail to parents not as an end, but instead as "the great fizzle."  As soon as they finish their tests kids mentally check out.  Gone is the concept of the last day of class and with it much of the opportunity to offer a finite conclusion to a course,   I am unapologetic in my assertion that this is a step backwards.  Once testing season begins schools become dysfunctional.  The end of school, a time of many of us remember fondly, appears at least for now, to be at and end.

Its not true everywhere.  No doubt many places still blend the euphoric arrival of summer and the sadness of the end of the year very well.  I was speaking with some Underground colleagues this morning and one said "what we need is to either change our expectations about the end of school, or, accept the change in culture and mindset about what the end of school has become".  That might indeed be a fact but I will admit that his statement drew an immediate rebuke from me.  My response mainly caused by the belief that this shift is a direct byproduct of the test driven culture to which we all belong.  Like most byproducts, it is an unwanted one.  Students still must attend for 180 days.  So why not try and use the tail end of the days for something meaningful?

The current trend is to develop a variety of culminating assessments in lieu of exams. Going that route after AP and SOL exams is swimming against the current when it comes to student  engagement.  While I neither want nor think it is a great idea to have a whole bunch more testing in the form of a final exam, I also do not warm to the alternative of no final.  Should I just abandon the model of the past?  Hard to say.  But I did like my final.  Something I felt reflected what we did in the class more than a measure coming from the state or national level.  I always thought my end of the year testing is something entirely different from the aforementioned varieties.  It doesn't really matter much now as the vast majority of students in our building wind up earning an exemption from final exams.  The only ones left are those who for one reason or another aren't performing well.   So instinct says we should "end" sooner, then bring the combined energies and focus of our entire staff on our students who aren't where they need to be.  Now that doesn't take into account that it is REALLY hard to overcome the lack of student motivation once tests wrap up.  (sigh)

The progress through the school year isn't simply a product of seat time and advancement through a curriculum.  The social, cognitive, developmental and other imperceptible changes that take place during that window of time are not insignificant.  I know they'll forget more than half of the content I teach them, maybe even by the start of next school year.  I'm OK with that.  But they won't as soon forget the people and things that happened.  Those bonds and deeper lessons tend to stick far better than facts.    I guess what I really miss about the way the school year used to end is that it was a meaningful part of of my teaching and their learning.  It was a chance to acknowledge their growth and tie everything together.  The last few days marked a transition.  It was a cultural event signaling the last time these people will ever be together as a group.  That is a significant event and should be recognized in some manner.  You'd recount some of what took place, exchange some meaningful words and gestures and send them on their way.

It is not that hard to find isolated examples of classrooms that manage to find something beneficial but those are likely exception. On the whole, that is not what is taking place. We are just marking time.   It seemed a bigger deal to me than my colleague but that is likely the result of him teaching primarily 12th graders and me teaching mostly 9th graders.  His students were actually "done" where mine won;t be for three more years.

Few would argue that the school year does not have a definitive beginning and it is an important time.  Most know the familiar grind that constitutes the middle of the year when a lot of the real work happens.  So we should all be able say it has a definite and meaningful end as well.  Just a thought.

Looking for a fitting way to end this post.  I stumbled upon this classic Alice Cooper video.  Just when you thought things couldn't get better...(with the end of the school year I mean)...you find the perfect blend of good music and the Muppetts.  The internet is a good thing.



As if that wasn't good enough you could always turn to the Holderness Family.

The cartoon below captures the evolution of student attitudes over the past week perfectly.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

To The Class of 2015

For the last five years, I've written a "graduation speech that wasn't" on the blog. We don't even really have a speech at our high school's graduation anymore, but if I had a chance, here's what I'd say to the class of 2015:

I’m struggling to keep up with you. This is the first year I’ve noticed. Once during my first year of teaching, one student asked a classmate listening to a “walkman”—“What are you listening to?”  The student replied, “nothing anybody in here would recognize except Mr. Turner.” Not any more. I still think of Pearl Jam as new music.

I’ve finally reached the age of jumping the chasm across the generation gap, and when I look back to the other side it often leaves me confused. Here’s what I see that is different—not worse, just different.

You expect things to start faster. I used to wait for my favorite show every week, sit through a 1-3 minute elaborate theme song, tolerate a short commercial break, and then enjoy the slow build up to the main plot of the show. Today we binge watch shows online, that mostly start with a cold open, right in the middle of the action.

You don’t have to plan ahead.. When I was a teenager, if you showed up late, or even worse, if someone else was on the phone, our plan for the weekend could end before it even started. Today, we just send a text when we’re ready to meet.

You can legitimately outsource some responsibility. As a teenager and young adult, I had to keep up with class handouts, and later on, my bills. Today, we don’t need to remember as much because it is accessible on demand. I’ll admit, I even get a weekly text reminder from my google calendar to take out the trash.

Notice I didn’t make a stark contrast with me and you. I binge watch, text when I’m ready, and remember only what I deem necessary. We live in the same world, but the world that made me is different than the world that has made you.

What can we learn from this different world?

Early in your life, you experienced September 11,  Hurricane’s Katrina and Sandy, numerous shootings and civil unrest, even an earthquake in Central Virginia. We learned that safety, security, and stability shouldn’t be taken for granted. Policies and plans are necessary, but human wisdom, flexibility, and cooperation get us through the chaos.

Throughout your life, access to nearly everything has expanded. You can find out the GDP of New Zealand, learn about the origins of Punk Rock, or watch a monkey drink it’s own urine, with a click of your mouse. You learn from an early age that some things seen can’t be unseen. As you grow older, you will learn that just because something is available doesn’t mean it’s ok to consume.

Today, you live in a world with unprecedented recording. Whether in written word, images, or moving pictures, much of our life is documented. You’ve grown up learning how to manage a profile. But integrity is still vital for your mental health. It’s hard to manage our image, so the quicker you learn to be who you are, the better off you will be.


My hope for you as my future is this: May you enter a new world of technology and innovation with a strong sense of yourself, your world, and your part in it. May you continue to recognize the importance of civic responsibility and your greater connection to humanity. May you continue to seek out wisdom, and struggle to find a strong moral code. This will prepare you to wield the power that our world is about to place in your hands.