Posted in 21st Century Skills, iPads, Shift, Technology

New Directions: 1st Steps in a 1:1 Program

I’ve taken a break for some time now, not writing in either of my blogs.  It’s time for that to change.

Things do not change; we change.

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), Walden (1970)

The school I am a part of is one of the SILT Strand schools, Schools of Innovative Learning Through Technology, in our District. Despite the unfortunate name, these schools have some great potential for 21st Century education, their goal most simple stated in the title: innovative learning, using technology. These school have finally taken a huge step forward – initiating a 1:1 program.

So, one might imagine that a strand of school charged with innovative learning through technology would have gone down this road earlier, but not necessarily. The more recent downturn in our national economy put us back a few steps. With things appearing to be improving, our District had many more urgencies to take care of first. Still, this direction was not lost and here we are!

Our journey is just beginning. First there needed to be the choice of platform. What kind of device will we use? Selfishly, I was thrilled not to have been in those discussions; they were difficult and fused with emotions. In the end, for many reasons, we went with iPads.  Being a member of the church of Apple, I was personally thrilled, though I saw many of the virtues of the other top choices. If you ever get the opportunity to go down this road, be prepared: this may be the most difficult part of your journey!

Today was the first of many trainings. So much material to cover! We went over everything from basic skills, to District devices vs. personal devices, to insurance, to parent and student responsibility agreements. There are so many factors to consider in this process! I’m just introducing the road this blog is now going down. I’m looking forward to sharing every bit of this one step at a time: the logistics, the apps, the device, the colleagues, the learning, the successes, the failures, and everything else.

I am thankful for all the others who have gone down this road before us and have been willing to share their own experiences. We have benefited from your efforts, I know. Hopefully, through what I share here, others may be gain from our experience as well. That’s one of the compliments a teacher can receive, right? Having others benefit and learn from your experience?

Posted in 21st Century Skills, Technology

The Blame Game

Where should the blame lay?

I walked into my pod office to quickly drop of my lunch dishes before my next group of students walked into the room. A colleague had walked into the office just before me.  He sat down and began to talk about what he just “stirred up.”  To be fair, I only had a moment and I didn’t stay for the entire conversation, but I heard enough to become concerned. Yes, it bothered me, and yes, I am concerned.

What my colleague was talking about was our building’s drop in standardized test scores – across the board. Yes, that’s concerning for a number of reasons: the drop itself, what this means for our school accountability-wise, statistics in general, the general discussion regarding standardized tests, and where he is placing the blame. My colleague is placing the blame for our drop in scores on what he calls “too much time spent programming” and not reading and writing.

What he is referring to is the use of tech tools in the building and more specifically wikis.

Wow. In my brief moments in the office, I was able to add that there has been discussion about this one particular class of students since before we ever received them as students. That is something within the scores that really needs to be looked at – not just one 10th grade class to another, but this 10th grade class longitudinally.  Blaming tech, and those teachers that i]employ tech tools, however, isn’t the answer and it was difficult to hear.

I’m hoping to use this as an aha moment in my own technology trainings: technology should be tools seamlessly integrated into the educational experience, they are not toys and not the product.

It does take some initial time to train students in how to use a tool, but that’s not programming. At one point it took time to teach students how to use a word processing program, but now it is second nature to most of them. Technology tools can be like that as well: give them the proper training, and students will be able to use those tools in ways that we may not be able to imagine.

Using technology tools is not a replacement for reading and writing. Using technology tools just brings students to the information faster and allows them to collaborate in ways that they weren’t able to at an earlier point.  Using technology tools in the classroom is teaching them how to approach the workforce that they will be walking into. They key is to be using them as tools, seamlessly integrated into the instructional environment, ones that foster skills development.

Standardized testing may or may not be catching up to 21st Century learning and workforce, but that’s a different discussion entirely.

Posted in 21st Century Skills

How “The Shining” opened My Eyes to Information Literacy

“Remember what Mr. Hallorann said: It’s just like pictures in a book, it isn’t real.”

Danny as Tony, The Shining, 1980

This week was my anniversary. As a gift, my in-laws sent us to The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park. My husband had wanted to stay there for some time and I must admit, I was curious as well.

The Stanley Hotel is an historic hotel located in Estes Park, Colorado, just outside of Rocky Mountain National Park.  Opening in 1909, the hotel has been refurbished and maintained to walk its guests back to that time.  Hardwood floors, original molding in some of the ballrooms, wrapping staircases, a Stanley Steamer car, old-fashioned Otis elevator, and even the original grand piano played by Joh Phillip Sousa at the grand opening.  Over time it has seen it’s share of famous visitors, but its reputation for being haunted and also being the home for 1980’s class horror film, The Shining makes it stand out.  I must admit, I was curious and that bit of information just wanted me to stay there even more.

The Hotel has seen to market that reputation. There are autographed photos on the walls from Jack Nicholson and Shelly DuVall amongst others. There are ghost tours available. The gift shop contains copies of the movie, the book and even coffee mugs with “Redrum” printed on them.  The Hotel even has a TV channel that plays The Shining 24/7 without commercials or interruptions. Well, you can’t stay at that kind of hotel without actually taking the ghost tour, can you? Of course, we did.

It was on the tour that I learned the history of the Stanley family, the Stanley Steamer, the Hotel, and the link to Stephen King’s, The Shining. Here’s where the importance of information literacy in the everyday world became important. After sifting through the storytelling embellishments, I found the information on the Stanley family was really fascinating. If you don’t know about that family and their contributions to America during their time, look them up! I was really impressed. What I learned about the movie, however, was a bit disappointing.

Had we been staying at the hotel strictly for the movie reference, we would have felt robbed (thank goodness the Hotel has a good deal more to offer). As it turns out, The Shining was NOT filmed at The Stanley Hotel at all! Despite all marketing and visual references throughout the hotel, this was not the location of any part of the filming of the movie.  The outdoor scenes were filmed outside a hotel in Oregon and the inside scenes were filmed on a set in London.  So where, actually, is the connection? It turns out that Stephen King, on a weekend trip stayed at the hotel. He was teaching creative writing in Colorado and needed to get away for the weekend. He and his wife had planned on staying on the other side of the mountain, but the road was closed due to weather. They ended up at The Stanley. The hotel was supposed to have just closed for the winter season (it wasn’t open year-round then). Mr. King explained who he was, and the clerk let him stay that night. He and his wife were the only ones in the hotel. Remember, the hotel DOES have a history of hauntings.  The night wasn’t a smooth one for Mr. King.  Whatever he experienced, led him to start and finish the initial copy of The Shining within the 7 days following this stay. There’s the link, but it doesn’t end there.  It is said that Mr. King didn’t like the choice of main character or what Stanley Kubrick (director) did with the film. Stephen King late bought back the rights to the movie and helped produce a mini-series that actually was filmed at The Stanley Hotel. The DVD for this can also be purchased in the hotel gift shop, but it is not the one played 24/7 for the hotel guests.

Did you pick up the information literacy connection? I was not alone in believing the marketing. The marketing, however, wasn’t true. Had the cult horror 1980s classic film version been the foundation for our stay, we would have been disappointed.  There are many people and sources that promote this piece of information, but it is incorrect. If you look at pictures of the hotel itself and those of the one in the film, there is a stark difference and it makes you wonder. It made me wonder, so I started looking into it.  Many sources didn’t make the distinction clear, but they did provide me with questions for the tour guide.

Information Literacy is thought mostly to regard students using information in classroom projects correctly, appropriately. It’s about finding reliable sources, not just the ones with the most “hits.”  It also has everyday applications that may vary in levels of importance, but are nonetheless valuable. The history behind a famous hotel and a famous movie is just one everyday example.

Posted in 21st Century Skills, Technology

What’s this all about?

21st Century Learning is quite the catch-phrase these days.  We see it in mission statements, we read it in articles, we hear it around the water cooler.  When we have it thrust into our faces, it is usually accompanied by some form of technology that we “need” to learn which our students probably mastered last year. Don’t get me wrong, I love techie toys and tools. (My husband calls me an iNerd, lovingly.) But it doesn’t help us professionally to throw some “new” pieces of technology at us, make us learn them, and expect us to use them when they are really just expensive toys.  That’s assuming that our District can even afford gadget-styled toys for the classroom!

What we need today are tools to help us bring our students through this century and into the next.  The gadgets we have today will be obsolete soon enough, but learning won’t. Gadget can certainly be terrific tools in the classroom – as long as they are tools to further the learning experience and not the point in themselves of it.

This blog is here to share, learn, collaborate, and reflect on just that:  what does the 21st century learning experience look like and where do I fit in with it.  Let’s get sharing!

Posted in 21st Century Skills, Technology

There is Power in the Human Element

I spent the afternoon staring at a computer screen wondering about the motivation behind my decision to join a cadre of 21st Century Skill enthusiasts.  My eyes are tired.  My neck is feeling stiff. I wonder about the group of students I left with a guest teacher. Website after website, log in after log in. What was I doing here?

There was a moment, however, when I took a step back to evaluate what was going on in the room.  This wasn’t just a meeting. This wasn’t just a time to explore various sites.  This was a beginning.

For the next year this group of teachers will explore 21st Century Learning and what that means for our classroom culture and practice. We were spending our time today building a foundation of vocabulary, practice, and collaboration. We were merging the tools available on to a platform from which we can grow, learn, and share.  What started as a tiring experience for the eyes developed into one of the most meaningful collaborative beginnings.

While the technological benefit from being a part of this particular learning cadre is a given, I must say that the human collaborative part of the experience is what really brings everything together. All that we explored today was nothing without that human, collaborative element. It was when we brought ourselves together that the potential of our work started to take form.  Our journey has just begun. I look forward to seeing where it takes us from here.

Posted in 21st Century Skills, Shift

Teaching to the 20th Century

Yes, you read that correctly. Teaching to the 20th Century is the intended title. It refers to the fear that some educators have of teaching towards what is to come. Our students have to live in a world that has yet to be defined or really formed: the world is changing and developing so rapidly that we don’t know what they will need to be able to do and how they will be accomplishing these unknown tasks. We are so accustomed to directly teaching what is already known at them. The idea that we need to guide them into a yet undefined world is frightening. It’s a step away from what is known and secure into a place where outcomes may not be predictable.

This video, Shift Happens, on Karl Fisch’s blog illustrates this changing world in a simple and to-the-point manner. If you haven’t seen it, watch it. If you have, watch it again and examine what you are doing in your classroom.