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

Harvard Reflections: Arts, Education and Learning

This summer I was fortunate enough to have been selected to participate in the first ever Institute on the Arts and Passion-Driven Learning held at Harvard's Graduate School of Education in collaboration with Yo-Yo Ma and members of the Silk Road Ensemble.
photo Andrew T. Garcia

My situation was unique.  I was camping in the Adirondacks for 5 days and planned to continue the same for another 5 days after the Institute.  I emerged from the woods, attended the 2 1/2 day Institute and traveled straight back to the Adirondacks.  While in a hammock at the edge of Rollins Pond, I reflected on the experience.  The result is below. This list is in no particular order and may not even make sense to those outside the context of the experience.  However, I have attempted to expound on the list.  Feel free to contact me for any clarifications or just to connect.

This is a quote by Loris Malaguzzi that host and Harvard Graduate School of Education Lecturer Steve Seidel shared at the opening plenary session.  He also concluded the Institute with the quote.  Mr. Seidel was the best of hosts (Yo-Yo Ma referred to him as "Mr Rogers for adults"). He used humor when appropriate but also posed excellent questions to frame the Institute.  Some examples: What is the role of passion in learning? What are the possible roles for the arts? How can the arts deepen learning in other subject areas? How do the arts support students in becoming more engaged, empathetic and responsible participants in their learning?

This question was also raised by Steve Seidel.  It seems like a simple question but it is so important for all educators to spend some time thinking about it.  Given precious little time in the school day/year, what is worth knowing? And why?  Answers to those questions drive the curriculum and what gets 'learned' in schools.  If you teach something, why did you decide it was worth knowing?

As an example of what is worth knowing, the video Snakes Are Born This Way was shown. The 2nd grade class at Conservatory Lab Charter School wrote and performed this parody to share what they had learned about snakes through their learning expedition. The Conservatory Lab Charter School is unique as it "empowers a diverse range of children as scholars, artists and leaders through and El-Sistema-based orchestral education and rigorous Expeditionary Learning curriculum."  As the students tell us: "In 2nd Grade our teachers told us that we would be herpetologists".  And that began the exploration. Worth knowing?

More than once Cristina Pato (Gaita player) said this.  The important takeaway is to be genuine in teaching, performing and learning situations.  The more one is open and transparent, the better the learning for everyone involved.  

Butterfly by Aidan William Garcia, age 6
Making learning visible was a theme of one of the workshops I attended.  There are many ways to do this but so much of the time we feel (as teachers) that we lack the time to follow through on this. However, it is probably the most important part of learning in schools. It reminds me of the quote from Stephen Sondheim's Sunday in the Park With George. The character (and once real life artist) George Seurat sings: "A vision's just a vision if it's only in your head.  If no one gets to see it, it's as good as dead".  Likewise, it easy and tempting to keep learning in the classroom only. But it should be shared.  Starting now.  

Collaboration was a big theme of the Institute since the role of the Silk Road Ensemble involves collaboration 100% of the time.  In their own performances, the musicians are always working together, sharing, experimenting and pushing themselves into new territory. When the Ensemble visits schools (as with the Silk Road Connect venture), collaboration is the name of the game.  There exists the school culture and the Ensemble (made up of members from many different cultures).  In these environments, open mindedness,  negotiation and flexibility lead to trust and true collaboration which leads to a feeling of safety and comfort for all participants.  Once this level is reached the collaborative 'dance' can yield new, spontaneous creations.  Powerful stuff.  How can we create these conditions in our classrooms and schools?

Yo-Yo Ma described an exercise he uses to spark creativity and new thinking. In a conversation with Steve Seidel, he said he uses something he has dubbed "Disciplined Imagination", the crux of which is to take something known and transpose this to a new setting in your mind.  He used the example of knowing Steve and his thoughts, mannerisms, interests, passions in the context of Harvard and then imagining Steve in other settings and how he might engage, communicate and participate in those other settings.

Small and large group conversations in several workshops led to the understanding that, as arts educators and educators in general we are really involved with 'culture building'.  Culture building is laying the foundation of how individuals would act, speak, respond and participate in the classrooms/school setting where collaborative (trust-based) learning would take place.  We spoke of the difficulty of some students bringing jaded and negative attitudes into the classroom impeding trust and true expression, sharing and learning.

photo Andrew T. Garcia
Related to Culture Building is building a 'Culture of Listening' in our learning spaces. Since listening and considering the thoughts, ideas, music, etc.. of others leads to true growth and learning and opens the mind.  A powerful definition for teachers in this context would be "The most experienced learner in the room."

In a conversation on the final day of the Institute, Mike Block of the Silk Road Ensemble said learning happens and transcends the local environment when one knows deeply and shares generously. Amen.

And there you have it.  Some nuggets I took away from the 1st Harvard Institute on the Arts and Passion Driven Learning.  I have shared generously and hope that these personal recollections are of some use to others.  I will forever be working on the 'knowing deeply' part.

Be Not Afraid of the Hyperlink

(original photo by Michael Nagle, Getty Images) 
We can't and shouldn't expect all educators to spontaneously understand emerging technologies, social networking and the rich proliferation of tools and apps available for learning these days.

One thing stands out right away, however, as I lead workshops on the read/write web and social networking for educators: teachers who have the most immediate success adopting and applying web-based technology to their situation are those that are not afraid to click hyerlinks.

As a member of my school district's technology committee, I am in the process of identifying what teacher's technology proficiencies should be. Questions being considered are: What tech skills are indispensible going forward? Is it OK that teachers are at varying levels with regard to technology use? What do we do about this fact? What separates those that 'know and can do' and those that do not (or won't)?

With regard to the last question, I think it really comes down to basic curiosity which is the precursor to learning anything. Curiosity + critical thinking (knowing what resources have value) + risk taking= learning and transformation. The risk taking in question with regard to web-based technology use is the aforementioned click factor. Either one clicks a link (and risks) finding a shoddy site or a gold mine of information and/or connections to others that can feed an entire teaching unit or full curriculum, or one sits and stares at one site (and gains and learns very little).

Based on these observations, I believe what we really need to be building into professional development these days is the 'capacity to click' in our teachers. Clearly, it is necessary to teach specific tech-based skill sets (uploading, downloading, sharing, bookmarking, subscribing, etc...) but if teachers would use crictical thinking to do targeted searches and then not be afraid to click with abandon, they will be able to learn much on their own.

It is how I learned. But I was unafraid to click (to find out). I was interested to 'know' about things. This drive to learn is alive in me every day. I know I am not alone. Every single person I am connected to in my personal learning networks shares this trait with me. Why are we like this? Was it learned? What life experiences differentiate clickers from non-clickers? And how do we build that capacity (curiosity) in others?

Be not afraid of the hyperlink.  You just might learn something.