Observations and Reflections from the New England 1:1 Summit

Andy Marcinek is a thoughtful educator who served
on the panel at the New England 1:1 conference,
April 10, 2015. He is currently the Director of
Technology at the Grafton Public Schools.
Previously he served as instructional
technology specialist in the Burlington
Public Schools where he played a major
role in launching a 1:1 environment.
Here's what becomes readily apparent when you visit a school that is 'high tech' (ie-1:1): It's NOT about the tech. It's about Learning. Schools are places of learning, first and foremost.  This too: The device doesn't matter.  Tablets and laptops and Chromebooks facilitate learning and access to the greater world. They are in service of existing learning objectives. 

Here's what I observed at Marshall Simonds Middle School in Burlington on Friday April 8 at the New England 1:1 Summit (in no particular order):
  • A high level of awareness and social responsibility
  • A high level of community engagement
  • Students as problem solvers
  • Students as leaders
  • Students as teachers
  • Students as fund raisers
  • Students as engineers
  • Students as innovators
  • Students 'tuned into' the Big Picture of responsibility to the local and global community
  • A respect and appreciation for the responsibility that comes with having tools to connect with the world at large.
  • Technology Directors and Integrators that put access and learning front and center.
  • An EdTech Team that solicits feedback from ALL stakeholders- students, teachers, parents, the community at large.
  • Integrated, professional development (student-led)
  • Teachers teaching subjects not 'technology'
  • A cheery, respectful, upbeat school culture
  • Password-free Guest WIFI with social media sites whitelisted
  • A learning environment connected to the REAL world 
Some of the above touches on intangibles- those difficult to quantify aspects that can only be felt and observed. Every student-every single one!- that I and our group came in contact with was respectful, helpful and generous in sharing information. They were also enthusiastic when explaining their involvement with various activities that were connected to the community and real world outside of school (ie: fundraising for mental health awareness or developing a prosthetic hand for the son of a teacher born without a hand).

Ever since researching and writing 'Schooling and Student Perceptions' I've been interested in the ways students experience school and where and how they find relevance to their real lives within school contexts.  In the last few years as technology has allowed for more and better access to resources, people and places, the lines are effectively blurring between the real world vs. school(ing). Tablets, laptops, chromebooks, apps and ubiquitous WIFI are game changers.  More than that, they are culture changers when thoughtful educators use them as utilities to connect students to the real world, to real problems, especially when they challenge and empower students to find solutions to those problems.

That's what I saw in Burlington.  It was powerful.  And it should happen everywhere. It's not a stretch to say that our future depends on this kind of cultural transformation in our schools.  Thank you Dennis Villano and the BPS EdTech Team, Patrick Larkin, Andy Marcinek, etc for bravely leading the way and being the change we need to see in our schools. You offer a solid and successful example of how to integrate technology to accelerate and enhance Learning.

Twitter Is For Real: The Learning Paradigm has Shifted

Source: http://bit.ly/1ylhCLa
Here's a question: Would you decline an opportunity to attend an all-expenses paid education conference that promised sessions and recourses related to your work as an educator? Furthermore, would you decline if the session leaders shared their presentations and resource material? 

If the answer to these questions is yes, then you have no need to use Twitter. Because Twitter for educators is exactly that- a FREE, global education conference you have the choice to drop in on 'sessions' and gather resources whenever you want.

Connecting and sharing resources with other educators and communicating/collaborating in real-time conversations (chats) throughout the globe is exactly how Twitter is used by educators.  Evident is a culture of sharing, generosity and gratitude. Whenever "tweet-savvy" educators attend conferences, they share information they are learning in real-time via the conference-issued hashtag. Which means: you can learn along with them from wherever you are (and whenever you want to "tune-in").

By following educators and education leaders, you have access to their blogs and resources that they have shared over time. Arguably one can 'curate' enough resources that, if read, synthesized and put into practice would equal a graduate degree's worth of learning in a relatively short time. Along these lines, it will be interesting to see if personalized learning routes will be accepted as a valid 'credential' by employers in the future if an individual can demonstrate a strong knowledge base on a topic/subject despite never having attended a traditional college or earned a degree in the area of expertise.  

This is for real. The learning paradigm has shifted and, leaders in education have pointed out: It is now a choice for an educator to remain in isolation and ignore the opportunity to connect, learn and become better teachers for their students. Tens of Thousands of educators across the globe are personalizing their education and professional development because they recognize that they are the lead learners in their schools and classrooms. Twitter and other online networks (ie, Google+) are accelerators of this process

Join the Learning Revolution. It's time.

10 Google Things to Try for Digital Learning Day

Digital Learning Day is March 13th. Here are ten things to try. All compliments of Google.

1-Use Google Timer to time activities in the classroom
2-Unsend an email
3-Create and Use the built in Task Feature (Google’s To-Do List)
4-Add new fonts to Google Docs.
5-Do Smarter Google Searches Tailored to your exact needs.
6-Find Lesson Plans  sorted by App, Subject and Grade Level.
7-Explore Museums  and curate your own gallery with the Google Art Project or explore the Google Cultural Institute
With Google Cultural Institute you can find landmarks and world heritage sites, as well as digital exhibitions that tell stories behind the archives of cultural institutions across the globe.
8-Create playlists in You Tube for use in class.
You Tube is owned by Google and you already have You Tube account.  If you regularly use You Tube videos in class, you may want to create a playlist with different topics to help organize them.
9-Manage your classes with Google Classroom
Google Classroom helps teachers create, assign, and collect student classwork and homework paperlessly. More Google Classroom resources here
10-Finally understand what Google+ is. Join/follow communities related to your interests and/or communicate with fellow colleagues.

Get better and learn more about any Google App using the Apps Learning Center

Creativity in Progress

Creator amidst his Creative "Mess"

The drive to create is natural. Creating things can get messy.

At last count there were over 45 instances of original creations in this scattering of legos in the picture to the left. To many, this room is "a mess".

Creativity isn't interested in neat. Creativity isn't interested in being organized. It is focused on bringing into existence something new.  Something original. It is novel.

Being creative and creating things is empowering. Cleaning up is not. Cleaning up a creative "mess" requires a different part of the brain and is the opposite process (but it can bring a certain sense of satisfaction.) Of course, cleaning up is necessary. However,  it can wait.  I'd rather encourage creativity in the moment than limit it by insisting on neat and tidy (and quiet) right now.

What a magical time to be alive- with so many apps and tools at our disposal to Create and Learn. For Kids and Adults . And, of course, there's This.

Admittedly, the number of tools and apps to engage creativity, assist and empower students to learn better has become overwhelming.  How to encourage and implement creativity and scale technology integration for learning in classrooms, consistently, remains a challenge. The current climate in Education doesn't make it easy but it is high time for all schools and districts to identify and promote their technology 'pioneers' to help sort through the 'mess' of options and assist new, willing technology integrators one classroom at a time so that students can begin to enjoy school as a place where they can follow their interests, engage in what matters and make sense of the world by creating their own artifacts of learning.  Our young creators are depending on it.

What If Classes were Structured like TED Talks?

Ready? Set?

TED Talks are popular.  Part of the reason is that they are short which causes the presenter to construct a talk that gets to the point immediately and stays with it. The best TED Talks contain abundant potent, quotable/memorable moments even though most last only 18 minutes or so (many excellent talks are even shorter).  When one decides to watch a TED Talk a decision has been made that the topic is worthy and the second consideration is that there is enough time to view the talk-that watching the talk will have some redeeming value to the watcher.

Contrary to the notion in education circles that more time needs to be added to schools/classes, I'm not convinced.  I wonder if class time was actually shortened, if there would be a rise in engagement and productive, in-the-moment learning. And less clock watching. Imagine this: What if classes were structured like TED Talks? What if Teacher's taught TED-Talk -style.  Imagine, too, if students, to demonstrate learning of topics also would be expected to deliver Talks. Educational Research has found a correlation between student engagement/success and teacher intensity. Also largely accepted as integral to student learning is a sense of student accountability.

To work, classrooms, would literally need to be transformed to 'feel' like TED Talk stages.  The feeling of real-life, immediacy would need to be constructed making use of the appropriate props. All classes should/would be recorded and uploaded to the class blog/website for (re)viewing.

  • What if a syllabus was handed out on day one and students were given the task of choosing a topic from it to present about? 
  • What if students could request (from the syllabus) what a teacher /student would talk about each week...(given the obvious limitations of scope and sequence/content standards). 
  • What if students engaged in projects that led to products that demonstrated learning/mastery of material and then their Talk was about the process of learning/creating?
  • What if students became producers of the Classroom Talks and learned about audio/video production in the process?

If not every class, perhaps a few? One per week?

What if....? Ideas? Comments?

Technology In Education: Software is the New Hardware

The paradigm in education has shifted.  Web-based technology, apps and the devices that run them are the driving force behind the shift. Early adopters recognized this shift and "got on board" in spirit and then, in fact, more than 6 years ago when 'Web 2.0' became a reality. Many educators have embraced learning networks, blogging, wikis, i-Pads and have used these to learn, create, collaborate and teach.  And yet, so many more educators have not taken steps to embrace the new realities and opportunities that emerging technologies represent.

Administrators and teachers who have a fixed definition of technology have also been slow to adopt anything new and may even be skeptical of all of the tablets, iPads, cloud-based apps and their potential drain on school bandwidth.  Those in this camp have 'seen it all before'.  Technology to them is stuff.  Technology to them is the Device-the tablet, the computer, the iPad, the Smart Board, the smartphone, etc.. And, to them, the devices will all go the way of dinosaurs soon enough.  Fair enough.   However!  Current technology that is useful in education-for learning and for teaching- is not about the device.  Technology that is useful in education is about the applications that assist teachers in discovering, collating or curating resources. Technology that is useful in education is about the applications that assist students in learning material in multi-dimensional, differentiated and media-rich ways.  Technology that is useful in education is about the networks that allow administrators, teachers and students to learn from and in collaboration with each other.  Technology that is useful in education is cloud-based allowing data and information to be accessed from anywhere, anytime, regardless of what device is used to access that data/information.

Current technologies change how things have always been done in education.  True differentiation is now possible using learning applications that have programmed in multiple levels of concept mastery. Current technologies by their nature allow for student-centered approaches in the classroom. Global collaboration is a possibility cheaply. Relevant Professional Development for Educators is a click away. And the ability to create and publish projects and products that demonstrate learning are exploding.

Some leaders of schools/districts have recognized that the paradigm has shifted permanently in favor of learning/education as other leaders lag behind thinking technology is about stuff that will become obsolete soon enough.  I am willing to bet that those that have embraced this new app-driven, networked learning paradigm have more engaged students.  I am certain that students in those schools/districts are being better prepared for an even more app-driven, cloud-based, networked future regardless of the devices that may be invented to connect to them in the future.

Connecting With Students

Students, especially our youngest ones, enter the domain of school with open hearts (and imaginations). Too often, we meet them with fixed minds and ignore the gift of these open hearts and minds that they bring into school and into our classrooms. Ultimately, they learn that occupying the mind with things to remember is more important than either of these. Eventually they lose touch with their true nature, disconnect and fall into the 'game' of 'learning'.

If there is to be true Educational 'Reform' at all, it must begin with a paradigm shift of seismic proportions: one that reorients our compass from student's minds to their hearts-to WHO they are not what they THINK. This necessitates an internal shift within us as well. We need to open ourselves up  as well so we meet our students halfway.  Students will always remember how we made them feel, not necessarily what we made them think.

When students trust a teacher they are more apt to listen and learn from them.  Trust is not built by teaching facts.

“Relational trust is built on movements of the human heart such as empathy, commitment, compassion, patience, and the capacity to forgive.” ― Parker J. PalmerThe Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher's Life