Posted in 21st Century Skills, iPads, Shift

Hindering Collaboration

“We cannot waste another quarter century inviting or encouraging others to collaborate.” – DuFour

I love this quotation. I mean this in a positive way, but I really do love this. We’ve spent so much time speaking to the idea of collaboration, but have we really taken the dive into what this means and what can really be accomplished if we work together towards our goals?  There are, of course, arguable obstacles that we’ve often heard: scheduling, student contact hours, personality conflicts, etc. But what if we really put our goals first? What if we had administrative support, encouragement, and perhaps even directives behind those goals?

As the summer progresses I’m drawn closer into the launch of our District’s 1:1 iPad Pilot Program. My building has an enthusiastic group of teachers participating in the pilot, each with varying degrees of iPad experience. Additionally, we have an administrative representative who is deeply invested in the program; we have a 1:1 coordinator; we have our library specialist involved in the planning; and, we have our building tech coordinator to manage the apps and the equipment. The equipment will be arriving soon, but not delivered into the classroom until the 2nd quarter.  The structure is there. I’m thrilled to be part of this opportunity. Thrilled, but apprehensive at the same time.

I could say that I’m apprehensive because of the expected accountability.  That may come in time, but not now. I’m apprehensive because of the collaborative element.

I love collaborating with other teachers. While not the most active twitter collaborator, I’ve learned so much from my tweeps and am so thankful for these online resources. I love attending professional conferences. I nerd out at the thought of these. It stands to reason that I would be excited about collaborating on this project, but not necessarily so. I am one of a group of teachers who will need help and direction regarding this launch. The fear comes in because I’m aware that not everyone in this group “plays nicely” with everyone else.

The human factor. One of the largest barriers to collaboration.

We have people in our groups, people at various levels, that don’t get along. They don’t agree. They don’t work well together and don’t want to work with each other. Not only is that a problem in itself, it’s a problem for the rest of the group and the program in general. There are gaps and inconsistencies in the chain of communication and the flow of information. We are the pilot group. What happens with us sets the stage for the rollout over the years to come. If we can’t get it together, work together, problem-solve together, then what will happen to those that follow?

There are goals with this program. There is a group of people that need to meet these goals. We need to work through the successes and failures with congratulations and comfort. We need to be free of judgment within our group so that we can share, learn, and grow together. We are the example. We need to collaborate.

While I may have come close, hopefully I’m not crossing any lines in sharing this. My comments here are meant to encourage collaboration, to encourage going on even when others aren’t yet as willing. There are needs here, ones that have to be met if we are to succeed. Collaboration is requisite. Let’s not waste any more time.

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 Technology, World Languages

Back to School = Back to Tech

The next school year is about to begin. While sad to say good-bye to the summer vacation, it’s still exciting to see what the new year will bring.  Before our students walk through our classroom doors, there’s a good deal of front-end preparation and planning that we all do. Struggling with technology is not something that anyone looks forward to at this time.  Here are some tips to avoid some of those struggles and help us along the way:

  1. At the beginning of the year don’t try every tech tool that you might have read about or someone told you about. Pick something you feel confident that you’ll use. When you and your students are comfortable using that tool, then try adding something else.
  2. Practice using any tech tool before you plan on using it in the classroom. You never know what problems you might encounter: blocked sites, incompatible software, login issues, tool too complicated for age-level of the user.
  3. Remember that not only are you teaching your respective target language, but you need to teach your students how to use the tool as well.
    1. When working with a new tool that you plan on using for performance assessments, introduce that tool in a smaller assignment to give them experience.
    2. We want the language to be the product, not the technology. We don’t want them to fail because of complications with that technology.
  4. Integrate technology in your lesson planning process, not as an occasional activity.
  5. Some students don’t have the same access to the internet and other tech tools at home. Make sure that there is enough class time available to get these types of assignments done at school.
  6. Technology should always remain a tool and support instruction, not a toy and not the focus of instruction itself. Before using one, ask yourself how this helps your students meet your learning targets.
  7. Always have a backup plan. Technology can sometimes fail. Having a backup plan can save the day and prevent loss of instructional time.
  8. Have a web site. Use what your school provides or try out Google (free). Use this as a place to keep parents informed: Standards, learning targets, unit overviews, important dates, your schedule, links to other sites, policies, class newsletter, etc.
  9. Develop a personal learning network (PLN). Use twitter! There are so many teachers using twitter as professional development and collaboration tool. You’ll be able to learn, ask questions, and share with fellow educators all over the world! Search for the following world language related hashtags: #flteach, #langchat. There are more, but these can get you started. Visit https://twitter.com.
  10. Find educational blogs to follow. These can provide ideas and inspiration. Here are some ideas:
    1. http://mmeduckworth.blogspot.com
    2. http://langwitches.org/blog/
    3. http://zachary-jones.com/zambombazo/
    4. http://community.actfl.org/ACTFL/Blogs/ViewBlogs/
    5. http://teacherbootcamp.edublogs.org/
    6. http://marisaconstantinides.edublogs.org/
    7. http://languagesresources.wordpress.com/
    8. http://deutschlich.wordpress.com/

Why might you put this time and effort into something that’s not the target language or culture itself? Because this is where our students are today. This is the culture in which they are growing up. This is their language and we need to speak it as well. Not only will we identify more with our students, but we can benefit from the world of technology. World language teachers are often isolated (singletons) in their respective buildings. Technology can bring us connections like never before. Through these connections we can become stronger, better informed, and never really alone.

 

 

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.