Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Teaching and Learning in an Idea Economy

Recently I attended a meeting for educators at our State Department of Education.  As we were discussing current concerns over standardized testing in our schools, the governor walked into the room.  You can imagine the surprise to see our governor, John Kasich, step into the room and take a seat in the discussion group.

As he talked he began to discuss the changes coming to our state, which he explained is no longer an agriculture economy or an industrial economy, but instead needs to move toward a "cloud" economy.  I can't speak for the governor, but in my mind he was talking about the way technology has shifted economies.  No longer are we limited to goods produced in our state and no longer are our companies limited to buyers in our area.  Money can be made not just through industry or service, but through ideas.  The internet has opened new possibilities for thinkers and entrepeneurs.

What does it mean to be teaching children in a time of ideas?  How do we prepare them for an idea economy?  It isn't easy to revision school as we know it.  What do we do that needs to stay and what needs to go?  Our classrooms and schools need to look and function differently.  I'm not sure what that means, but I do think some important thinking starts here:

How are students using time?  My new question has become, "Is what students are doing worth their time?"  I think we have to be willing to really think about this.  Students in an idea economy need to know how to ask big questions and seek answers.  These answers don't always solve problems, but instead lead to new questions.  Worksheets (paper or digital) and assigned tasks do not create thinkers and solvers.  Are students spending time in higher order thinking opportunities that move beyond remembering/understanding/applying and toward analyzing/evaluating/creating?  Are there opportunities to learn from peers and collaborate with others?

Who owns the learning?  I'm amazed at how much my role as a teacher has changed since I first started teaching.  It's sometimes uncomfortable, but always rewarding.  No longer do I plan every step, every minute.  Teaching requires more thinking on my feet, more following, more listening, more understanding.  Students are now the decision makers in their learning.  When students are not sitting beside us, what are they doing?  Are they doing something we told them to do or something they decided to do?  Is the work they are doing authentic?  Is it connected?  Is it taking them deeper in their understanding?

Do we have environments of trust?  When I went to school, we seemed to most often function on compliance.  To be good at school meant following rules and completing tasks assigned.  Today learning has evolved.  Ownership and choice are essential in personalized learning environments.  We have to trust that children can make decisions about their learning, set their own goals, and talk about their own progress.  We have to trust that schools can tell their own stories and that districts can make their own decisions.  We have to allow communities to determine what their children need.

Are students and learning communities connected?  In an idea environment, learners are connected.  They are connected to their learning, to their peers, to their community, to information, to resources and to learning communities beyond their classroom.  More and more I consider the way what we are doing connects to life beyond our day.  I want students to be able to take what we learn and make it a part of their everyday life.

Is learning personalized?  I love pondering this graphic of Personalization vs. Differentiation vs. Individualization.  One of my favorite statements in personalization is "Connects learning with interests, talents, passions and aspirations."  Are the structures we have set up flexible enough that students drive their own learning?

Are we resource rich?  When developing learners willing to problem solve, think deeply, ask tough questions, formulate ideas, collaborate with peers, and create new understandings resources are essential.  Are our classroom libraries able to support questioning, thinking, and learning more?  Are we connected to resources that will support student learning?  I often wonder what would happen if we took funds used for testing and moved them to resources.  Oh, to dream...

Are we moving beyond standardized measures?  We are often held back by standardized assessments.  Standardized tests seek right answers.  They work in linear formats.  They require students to work for longer periods of time than developmentally acceptable.  They take time away from real learning.  They assume that everyone learns at the same rate and thinks in the same way.  Our country has been successful because of innovators, risk-takers, creators, and communicators....not fill-in the bubble thinkers.  Are standardized tests measuring what we value?  Can they?  What measures can be used to know if schools are effectively supporting student progress?

How do you think teaching and learning are different in an "idea economy"?  What should we change?  What needs to stay the same?  

Other posts about rethinking education are here:

Follow Cathy's board Rethinking Education on Pinterest.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

DigLit Sunday: Infographics #playtolearn

I've been a bit fascinated by infographics lately.  When they pop into my feed, I can't help but take a look at them.  They're an interesting form of digital media.  They look official, but often lack any kind of reference to sources.  For this reason, we have to read them carefully and consider them with a critical eye.

Infographics are not only full of interesting thinking, but they are pleasing to the eye.  There's something about being able to think through a topic graphically.  Looking at an infographic I've always thought they must be easy to make, but I have found considering your content and message for an infographic to me more challenging than I had anticipated.

Yesterday, I decided to give creating an infographic a try for my post, Teacher as Personal Trainer.  I used Piktochart for yesterday's infographic.  Templates were limited unless you are willing to pay $29 per month which I consider to be far out of my price range.  I found creating on the site to be a bit time consuming, but manageable.  There were many options for sharing the final product.

Today I thought I would try Venngage.  While this site was much easier to use, I found embedding the final infographic to be more of a challenge.  In Piktochart the embed code could be adjusted before copying it.  Piktochart automatically adjusted ratios for effective presentation.  Today's infographic about DigiLitSunday wasn't as easy to adjust to embed into my blog.  You cannot see the entire infographic here, but instead will have to click this link.

I'm thinking infographics could be useful as an option for sharing thinking digitally.  Though infographics aren't new, I'm in the beginning stages of exploring their possibilities for students.  I'm wondering what you have tried.  Favorite creation apps for infographics?  Infographics you like to use as mentor texts?  How have they worked in your classroom?

Infographic Resources 
Cool Infographics (mentor text)
Daily Infographic (mentor text)
Kids Discover:  Infographics (mentor text)
Now I See:  Collection of Infographic Resources (information)
Cybraryman:  Infographics (information)
The Guardian: Infographics What Children Can Learn from Data (information and mentor text)

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Teacher as Personal Trainer

Sometimes I get on a kick where I vow I am going to get physically fit.  I'm going to exercise more I tell myself and off to the gym I go.  Every time I go, I use the same three machines.  I start on the elliptical, move to the tread mill and then finish on the bicycle.  The bicycle is boring for me.  I don't like it a bit, but I do it so I can get the final "calories burned" number I want.

My intentions to exercise are always good, but it isn't long before my interest fades.  Doing the same thing every day gets old.  I don't know how to use the other machines and honestly don't know which ones I should use for the results I want.  I'm all about that "calories burned" number anyway, but many fitness friends say that isn't enough.

I can't help but wonder if my workouts would be better if I had a personal trainer.  If I had someone to get me started, develop a plan, and help me when things get hard.  If I had someone who loved and believed in physical fitness enough for both of us.  If I had someone who could fix the little things I wasn't doing quite right or make changes as I needed them.

Teacher as Personal Trainer
Carolyn Carr talks with readers
during Reader's Workshop.
Today as I moved from room to room to support readers I couldn't help but think about how much a teacher is like a personal trainer.  As I watch students during independent times in their learning, I realize how important the teacher is in helping students to make choices that keep them learning.

Often we set up elaborate plans so we can work with small groups and provide individualized instruction, but these plans can take away from the time students need to read, write, and create.  If we believe students only learn when they are beside us, we are underestimating the power students have in their own learning.  What are students doing when they are not beside us?  Students spend a lot of time working independently, and the teacher as a personal trainer makes sure this time is valuable for students.

The teacher as a personal trainer (I'm new to creating an infographic and wanted to play with Piktochart.  #playtolearn):

Maybe teachers are more like personal trainers as they help learners find places to begin, develop a plan, set appropriate goals and help when things get hard.  Students feel our love for the books, writing, and thinking we share with them.  We sometimes have to believe enough for both of us.  We fix things when they are not quite right, and make changes for our learners.  We're in and out --- just enough.  Most of all, we believe...and our students amaze us every day.