Monday, November 26, 2012

eLearning2...The Shift

The following article was recently sent out to parents to share some of the ways teaching in Edina has "shifted" as a way to introduce our eLearning2 Initiative.


The Shift

A recent post on the educational blog Mind/Shift captures a discussion educators around the world are having today. In the article, How Should Teaching Change In the Age of Siri?, the author points out that students can ask Siri (the iPhone/iPad voice recognition system) almost any “knowledge based question” and instantly get an answer. In order to stay relevant and provide students with the real world skills they need, teachers shift their instruction from asking students questions for the purposes of getting answers, to asking students to analyze, synthesize and create new meaning based on the answers they find.
Fortunately, many Edina Public Schools educators are already making that shift in their instructional practice, modeling innovative and creative teaching that is not only fulfilling our 2015 Technology Plan, but is also engaging all of our students in ways that empower them to take ownership of their own learning.  
An Economic Upturn
Last year, Edina High School teacher Jason Szporn developed a “blended learning” course (i.e. combining face-to-face classroom experiences with online learning) for his Advanced Placement Economics students. By incorporating best practices of economics instruction into a blended learning model, Szporn developed a rigorous course that included video lessons, of which he produced, numerous online resources, and a variety of assessments to help monitor understanding and mastery of the content. Students worked at their own pace, receiving feedback in face-to-face discussions as well as online from Szporn and fellow classmates. The online course tools allowed Szporn more time to work individually with students who needed extra help, while also motivating students who caught on more quickly the opportunity to explore topics in more detail.

The results of this instructional approach were astounding. Of Szporn’s AP Economics students, 71% them achieved a score of four or higher on the AP Macroeconomics exam (on a five point scale, generally a score of three is equivalent to college level mastery). This is compared to only 37% of students worldwide who scored at the same level; and the score of the 2012 students was 28% higher than Szporn’s students from the previous year. Szporn attributes much of the increase to the blended learning model of his course, allowing his students to move at their own pace, and giving him the ability to provide more targeted instruction to his students.
Election Night in Edina
On Election Night (Nov. 6), South View Middle School government teacher, Claude Sigmund, hosted a “backchannel” chat for his students. Using a website called Chatzy, students were able to log in to a private chat room to discuss the election and share insights with each other as they watched the election returns come in throughout the evening. It was quite a lively discussion, with Sigmund noting that at 11 p.m. he had to tell the ten remaining students that they really needed to “go to bed.”
The next day, a mother of one of the students who participated in the online discussion noted how engaged her son was with the entire election process and how eager he was to share with his classmates about the results.
“I wish I had a picture of last night during the elections,” she said. “[My son] was sitting on our bed with two laptop computers going and watching the election on TV.  His brothers were in the room watching and I was sitting next to him, thoroughly enjoying the class conversation from your Chatzy page.  As the night went on, he was telling us things he had been learning in class. His passion for the election was contagious. Thank you for your excellent job in teaching him.  I can tell he really enjoys your class.”

Thanks to the creativity of teachers such as Szporn, Sigmund and others in Edina Public Schools, coupled with the integration of mobile technology, we are able to engage students in their learning in new ways. With the District’s new eLearning2 initiative, the notion of Bring Your Own Device is expanded beyond the device to a recognition that it is the combination of great teachers and personal technology that will really take learning to the next level … the individual student level … to learning2.  

Already, eLearning2 is helping staff to learn how to use make these pedagogical shifts and use mobile technologies to help all of our student’s expand their abilities to communicate, collaborate, problem solve, think critically, and create. In so doing, Edina Public Schools realizes its mission of ensuring that all students have theskills, knowledge, creativity, self-worth and ethical values to thrive in a rapidly changing, culturally diverse, global society.”  

Friday, November 2, 2012

The Pedagogical Shift in a BYOD Classroom

Recently, I was sharing an opportunity for professional development that staff at our secondary schools will be able to participate in for teaching in a "Bring Your Own Device Classroom."
One of the teachers asked a common question that I hear from colleagues, 
"So you are telling me that now I will need to know how to use all of these devices, not just the ones that the district provides?"

My initial response was, "No, it's the student's device, and they are the ones responsible for knowing how to use it." Part of our training is helping to identify the "Device Agnostic" tools that will work on virtually any device. Later that day, while looking through a great slide deck talking about Using Technology to Support Higher Order Skills created and shared with me by Ollie Bray, an educator from Scotland, I ran across this slide:


I think it speaks to a growing understanding that in today's world of Web 2.0 and beyond, that it is impossible for teachers to know how to use EVERY tool available to students. However, as Ollie points out, it IS important that teachers know what digital tools can DO
It reminds me of the time I was helping our 7th grade science teachers introduce students to Prezi. I helped students login and create accounts, then moved over to the other lab to do the same. I came back 10 minutes later and saw things on the screen I didn't think were possible! I said to the student, "How did you do that!?" I knew how to use the program, but the student took it to another level, and taught me in the process!

Later that night, I saw this post from Ben Grey. It is his response to a story about the One Laptop Per Child program, and an experiment they facilitated in Ethiopia. The researchers had the following goal:
to see if illiterate kids with no previous exposure to written words can learn how to read all by themselves, by experimenting with the tablet and its pre-loaded alphabet-training games, e-books, movies, cartoons, paintings, and other programs.
Within 4 minutes some of the children had un-boxed the device and turned it on. In less than a week, children were using on average "47 apps per child per day." A few days later, the children were singing the "Alphabet Song," and within 5 months, someone had hacked Android to get the built in camera to work. On their own, with no adult intervention. 

Grey noted that this story, and the work of Sugata Mitra in India shows that we have much to learn about learning, and that it raises many questions:


  1. Why don’t we give kids more credit for their natural capacity to learn?
  2. What if we’re the ones getting in the way?
  3. Can we finally put to rest the silly digital immigrant/digital native nonsense?
  4. Why does there remain such a fascination with teaching kids very specific technology skills in our schools today?
I know that I am guilty of creating "step-by-step" tutorials on every aspect of a tool for my students or colleagues. I rationalized that it was to expedite the process and allow the person to focus not on the tool, but the content. Unfortunately, rather than being a help, I have come to realize that it enables the learner to wait for the hand to be held, or move on to the next step, instead of transfer skills learned in other programs and explore on their own. As Dan Meyer says, I need to "Be Less Helpful!

If our end goal is to create self directed, collaborative learners who think critically and problem solve, it is critical that we design learning experiences and assessments that allow them to do so. Providing options for the tools our students use in a BYOD environment, within the parameters of our learning goals is a shift in that direction. 

The professional development we are developing for staff surrounding BYOD incorporates this shift, focusing on helping staff curate resources, identify "device agnostic" tools, develop project based activities , hone management strategies, and integrate digital literacy into their curriculum. 

As always, I welcome your thoughts.