Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Power of Whimsy in the Classroom

About 10 years ago, I was principal at a small rural school in Southwest Missouri, and somehow found myself as both principal and head girls basketball the same time. I would tell you I drove a bus route and mowed the grass, too. But that wouldn't be true. But I did coach girls basketball and was the principal for grades 7-12!

I had coached for several years prior to becoming a principal, so this whole coaching thing was not new to me. And we were pretty good, too. It didn't hurt that one of our players averaged about 40 points a game and would go on to be the all-time leading scorer in Missouri history.

We were in a very important tournament and facing one of the best teams in the state from a class larger than us. I knew they were going to be tough to beat. So for my pregame speech I decided to take a big risk. I was going to do something so crazy and unexpected that it would, hopefully, motivate the team and take away some of their nerves.

I went into my speech about our opponent and how they were pretty good, and we were going to have to play our best game to beat them. And that there would probably be times we would want to give up, but we had to be the ones who didn't flinch. We couldn't let them get the best of us.

I had brought along a large bucket that I prepared upon arrival at the gym by filling it with water. It was sitting on a small table in front of me as I delivered the opening to my speech. I'm sure the players wondered why it was there.

And then I explained, "I'm going to show you what it means to push through even when things get tough. I'm going to stick my head in this bucket of water and hold my breath for as long as I possibly can. And the whole time, I'm going to think about why I started. I'm going to focus on how bad I want to do my best, to stretch myself, to test my limits."

Now I realize there is a distinct difference between weird and whimsy. And right now, you may be thinking I'm weird. But that's okay. Stay with me.

The girls on the team stared in utter disbelief at what they were seeing. But they definitely weren't bored. Engagement was high at this point in the lesson!

And then my head went under. And I stayed under. And I stayed under some more. Until I couldn't take it any more. 

I came up gasping for air, paused to regain my senses, and then, with my arms flailing wildly, exclaimed, "Now go out there and play your best game yet." We all put our hands together in the huddle. You could see the electricity in their eyes. Some were grinning, maybe even giggling a little, but they were ready to play, and I knew it had worked.

We went on to win by the narrowest of margins. It was probably our best win of the entire season, and we won 25 games that year.

Too often in our classrooms we have lost a sense of whimsy about learning. It should be fun and exciting. It should challenge us to reach higher and do more. It helps our fears melt away. It helps us believe in our possibilities. It should never be mundane or boring or predictable.

Now you may be thinking that life doesn't always work that way. Sometimes we have to just do boring stuff, and kids need to learn to do stuff that isn't always exciting. You may be thinking that you're not an entertainer, you're a teacher, right? I've heard this before, "Kids nowadays want to be entertained all the time. They want instant gratification."

But I don't think life has to be mundane and boring. My wife and I are traveling and staying in a hotel as I write this. This morning at breakfast one of the guys working there was joking around with us and having a good time. You could tell he was really enjoying his job. He was making it fun. He could just as easily be putting in his time and hating life. But instead he was busy putting a smile on our faces. 

The people who really make life better for all of us know how to take even the mundane and boring parts of life and make them wonderful. It's not about being an entertainer. Some of us aren't entertainers. But we can all look for the whimsy in what we do. We can ask our students to partner with us in making learning fun. Ask them to help you.

We ultimately want exactly the same things our students want. It's two things. We want community (fun, whimsy) in the classroom. And, we want learning (curiosity, creativity) in the classroom. Yes, your students may not always act like they want either, but they do. You just have to help them get past all the defenses they've built to self-protect. School (and life) hasn't always felt safe to all of them.

Here are some questions to consider related to bringing whimsy to your classroom:

1. Would you want to be a student in your own classroom?
2. If your students didn't have to be there, would you be teaching to an empty room?
3. Do you ask your students about how things are going in your classroom, from their perspective? Not to find out if you're a good teacher or not. But out of curiosity of how they feel and how that information might help you make better decisions for them.
4. What are ways you can bring more whimsy into your classroom? In my example, I was doing something completely crazy that might be totally out of character for you. I would still challenge you to do it anyway. But there are also things related to how you design your lessons that can be whimsical and awe-inspiring. 

I challenge you to bring more whimsy to your classroom. If you are in your off-season (summer break) right now, what a great time to plan some new possibilities for this next school year. Set a tone from the start that your classroom is going to be filled with whimsy and excitement. 

If you need some more inspiration, I would highly suggest you read, Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess. It's an outstanding book that will undoubtedly inspire you!

Question: How are you bringing whimsy and surprise to your classroom? Is that important to you? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Twitter or Facebook.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Seeing Tech Failure as an Opportunity to Learn

A few years ago our school went through a very difficult time with technology. Nothing worked. Nothing. At least that's how everyone felt. I knew it was bad when students were hammering on stone tablets in classrooms!?!

There were several factors that created the problems we experienced, and even though I'm sort of a techie principal, I felt helpless to address all of the issues we faced. Our network was a mess. Computer labs didn't work properly. It was impossible to print anything. Our limited tech support staff was overwhelmed.

Image retrieved:

Thankfully, we are far past those days now. Just this past school year, we made a significant digital conversion by placing Chromebooks in the hands of each of our 800+ students. Although there were a few issues, overall our network is strong and most of the time the Chromebooks worked great. Teachers were singing the Hallelujah Chorus.

And for good reason. 

Technology failure can be one of the most frustrating things a teacher can face in the classroom. It can leave you feeling helpless and embarrassed. In fact, the fear of a technology fail is one of the main reasons teachers are hesitant to try new things with technology. What if it doesn't work? What if something goes wrong? What then?

It doesn't help that in far too many schools, technology is not adequately supported. Computers are old. Networks are slow. Students don't have much access to a device except when a teacher schedules a trip to a computer lab. And just showing a video or having students comment on a blog post can be almost impossible as a result of the blocks and filters that are in place. It seems there can be so many barriers to using tech in the classroom. 

Another reason some teachers don't use technology is they are afraid they will do something wrong. Technology can seem impossible and scary. Some aren't sure if they have the skills to succeed. Or they believe they will mess it up. And when your confidence is wavering and you don't feel successful, it's really hard to take risks and learn more. By the way, educators should always remember some students probably feel this way about learning reading, math, or grammar. But that's a topic for a different blog post.

Instead of seeing technology failure as failing, what if we embraced technology failure as an opportunity to learn? It's great when students see teachers modeling perseverance, flexibility, and problem-solving. All of these qualities can be on full display when something goes wrong with technology in the classroom. It's a great opportunity for the teacher to take on the role of learner. I believe we need more examples of teachers learning right alongside their students.

I mentioned earlier that our Chromebook launch this year was successful. It was definitely not a tech fail. However, I promise you there were more technology failures than ever before in our building, because students and teachers were using technology more than ever before. But what a great opportunity to teach problem-solving and perseverance. I often write about how important it is to be adaptable as a future-ready skill. Being adaptable with technology is extremely valuable in a world where technology is changing so fast and is such an essential part of how things get done.

So how do we handle the inevitable technology failures we are bound to experience? Should we just play it safe and only use technology in ways we feel most confident? Or just copy another stack worksheets instead? Absolutely not. Embrace failure. Expect it. Nothing works right all the time. Don't let problems with tech keep you from using it in your classroom.

If you get frustrated every time you have a problem with technology, you're either going to be frustrated all the time, or you'll just give up. It would be a shame if you didn't use technology because of your personal fears or preferences. It's so important for our students to have experiences using technology as a learning tool. So make up your mind before you start that technology failure is possible and prepare for how you will respond when it doesn't work right. Even though technology itself won't make your class great, it can contribute to a more relevant and effective learning environment. Ultimately, technology is awesome in the classroom where there is also an awesome teacher, like you!

Using Tech Failure as an Opportunity to Learn
Here are 11 tips for dealing with tech failure in your classroom.

1. Plan for it. Don't be surprised when tech fails. Expect it.

2. Think in advance about what could go wrong. This can help prevent some problems in the first place. It's great to test the technology in advance if possible to make sure it works. 

3. Talk with your students up front about how technology sometimes fails. Explain what will happen in your class when something doesn't work. Teach students in advance the mindset you want them to have. Let them know we will find a workaround and press on. It doesn't mean the lesson is over or learning stops.

4. Enlist students to help solve the problem. The smartest person in the room is the room. Alone we may be smart, but together we are brilliant. Your students can be a great resource to help correct a tech fail.

5. Build your own technology skills so you have more knowledge to draw on. Try to overcome your fear of technology. No one really taught me how to use tech. I just click on stuff to figure out what happens. You can do this too.

6. Send for support. You may have a technology coach or technician in your building who can offer a helping hand.

7. Use Google, or YouTube, to search for answers. When I'm faced with a technology problem, I can almost always find a solution online. 

8. Don't allow the limitations of technology in your school keep you from doing what you can. I mentioned how bad technology was for a while in our school. Many of our teachers still found ways to use technology as best they could. We have to do our very best to create an up-to-date classroom even if our tech isn't up-to-date.

9. Model risk-taking and problem-solving for your students. "We're going to try this to see if it works. If that doesn't work, we'll try something else. We're going to figure this out!"

10. Always have a Plan B for your lesson. If the tech doesn't work and troubleshooting doesn't result in a quick fix, it may be time to move forward with the lesson in a different way. Be adaptable. Thank anyone who tried to help fix the problem and then give clear directions about what will happen next.

11. Don't apologize. Usually tech failures just happen and aren't anyone's fault. It's Murphy's Law, right? If it's not your fault, don't apologize to your students for the problem. If you feel you must apologize when you see those sad eyes staring at you, only do it once. And then move forward.

One thing we are doing in our school to help address tech failures is empowering students. We created a student tech team to support all things related to digital learning in our school. They call themselves the SWAT Team (Students Working to Advance Technology). The group was organized last school year, and they've already provided PD to teachers on Chrome apps/extensions, held a tech night for parents to showcase how digital tools are being used in the classroom, and visited our middle school to share about our high school 1:1 program. Our goal is for this group to take on a greater role in sharing Chromebook knowledge and responding to tech failures when they occur.  

Question: What's your worst technology fail? How do you respond when technology fails in your classroom or school? Are you open to taking risks and trying new technology? I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Twitter or Facebook

Thursday, June 23, 2016

7 Reasons To Use Social Media In Your School (INFOGRAPHIC)

One thing is for sure, social media is here to stay. Never before have people been able to connect, share, and learn from one another as we do now. I can only imagine what might be next! As a result, our students need skills to win at life in a digital world. The ability to use social media to support life goals and possibilities can be a game-changer. I know it has been very powerful for me in my professional life.

But one story is truly remarkable. I stumbled across Marc Guberti on Twitter and was immediately interested to learn more about this young man. His bio describes him as an 18-year-old entrepreneur and social media expert. He now has over 290,000 Twitter followers and over 250,000 annual visits to his blog. No doubt he has created a powerful presence online. But he also shared this part of his mission:
"This isn’t just about being successful and having financial flexibility. This is about creating a movement. I want to prove to other teens that it is possible to become successful at a young age. In a world where teens are increasingly going to drugs and drinking as a way to make themselves feel good and student debt keeps on rising, there are resources available that can allow any person of any age to become a leader and create a tribe of people that matter."
While every student may not want to build a social media empire like Marc, everyone wants to be part of a tribe of people that matter. And as educators, we want every student to have the opportunity to reach the maximum of their potential. In today's world, the ability to connect productively with others through social media can increase opportunities for college admissions, job opportunities, entrepreneurship ideas, and more. 

I believe helping students use social media effectively starts with educators and schools modeling the use of social media and inviting students to use social media as part of their education. When students see ways social media can be used for learning and professionally, that is a powerful message. We should also model and discuss the safe and appropriate use of social media to help our students avoid situations that could be damaging to themselves or others.

So here are 7 Reasons To Use Social Media In Your School. Feel free to download the infographic below to print or share as you wish. I hope this information helps your school or team.

1. Engage Parents and Community

Social media is a great way to connect with parents and community. Every classroom and school has a story to tell. Social media allows educators the opportunity to make visible the great things that are happening.

2. Share Student Work

Sharing student work on social media instantly creates an authentic audience. It's possible to share examples of digital products, projects, artwork, writing, and just about anything else.

3. Teach Digital Citizenship

There is so much to know to be a safe, responsible user of social media. We must teach digital citizenship. When we regularly use social media in the classroom, it provides more opportunities for learning about safe and responsible use.

4. Make Global Connections

Give students a sense of learning beyond classroom walls. Social media allows connections across the globe, perhaps with another classroom. These connections help students to see different perspectives and cultures.

5. Prepare Kids for the Future

Social media continues to grow and is now an excellent way to learn, build a professional network, and even get a job. Our students will be better prepared for future opportunities if they have experiences with social media that are for learning and professional reasons.

6. Promote Positive Messages

There are so many negatives on social media. That's one reason some educators have been reluctant to engage. However, schools have an opportunity to lead to create a positive presence and help students create a positive presence. Make the positives so loud it drowns out the negative aspects of social media.

7. Connect with Experts

We don't have to be dependent on textbooks anymore for information. It's possible to connect with experts in every discipline. Classrooms are interacting with authors, scientists, astronauts, activists, and entrepreneurs. These connections are inspiring and authentic.


Monday, June 20, 2016

Making Technology Pay

"Is there really a difference in student performance with technology compared to without technology? My students seem to be doing just fine without it."

I guess that depends on how you define student performance and success. If success is measured only by a test score or by mastery of content, then perhaps students are successful without technology.

"My classes are always engaged and seem to do just fine without technology."

I guess that depends on how you define engaged. I think it's important for students to do things that reflect the world we live in, not the world we grew up in.

"I want to see the proof that technology improves learning before we purchase any new tech."

Whether technology improves learning or not isn't about the technology itself, but how teachers and students use the technology to improve learning. 

I hear many stories about failed technology initiatives in schools. The technology was not used to the fullest, or worse it was not used at all. The narrative is all too familiar. Little was done to gather input or get buy-in from stakeholders up front, and little was done to support the implementation after the fact. How many smartboards in this country are being used as glorified projector screens? Almost always, these types of failures are avoidable with proper planning and ongoing support. 

But is it really worth it to invest thousands for technology in schools. Is it reasonable to provide a connected device to every student? For years, I've asked my graduate students to think about technology purchases in their own schools. Did it really pay off to buy the technology? Did the technology allow something to be done that couldn't be done before? Was the total cost of ownership considered? 

After all, most studies I've encountered don't really support the idea that technology raises student achievement. Of course, student achievement in these studies is usually narrowly defined by test scores. One study I read concluded that technology even widens the achievement gap. It found that more privileged students tend to use the devices more often for learning, while less privileged students tend to use the devices for entertainment. 

In spite of these discouraging reports, I believe we need to look further before concluding that technology isn't worth it. As schools consider spending for new technology, there needs to be a clear vision of what success will look like. We need to really explore why we are doing what we're doing. In addition to the questions mentioned before, I would also suggest the following as food for thought.

1. Can we afford NOT to place up-to-date technology in the hands of our students?

Technology is how things get done in our modern world. We aren't preparing students for the world we grew up in. We aren't even preparing students to be successful in the world they grew up in. Our world is changing so fast, our students are going to have to be prepared for anything. That requires adaptability. And it will certainly also include adaptability with the use of technology. Those skills aren't measured on standardized tests. They are measured in authentic situations where real work is being done. 

2. Is technology being used in ways that give students greater ownership of learning? Does technology result in a shift in agency to the learner?

It's wise to think of technology in terms of value added. How does technology allow us to do something better than before? And, how is it allowing us to do something we couldn't do before? There are many ways tech improves things we do or allows for new things. But some uses of technology take learning to the next level. These uses are game-changers.

I would like to see technology being used to create big shifts in learning. One of the biggest shifts is to create more authentic, student-driven learning experiences. Technology is a game changer when it is used to shift agency to the learner. It's a game-changer when students take greater ownership of their learning.

So let's consider interactive white boards. They have some possibilities for student agency I guess, but they are probably used more often for direct instruction, led by the teacher. That doesn't mean we should stop using these tools altogether, but I do think we should strive for technology to be used in more authentic ways, where students are given voice and choice and are creating and solving problems.

The most powerful potential for a shift in agency is for students to have access to a connected device in a BYOD or 1:1 scenario. But access is not enough. Just like there are lots of interactive white boards being used as glorified projector screens, there are also lots of laptops being used as overpriced word processors.

To use technology to the fullest, we need leaders in our classrooms and schools who can facilitate a pedagogy that creates greater student ownership of learning. How we use the technology is the critical issue that determines whether the investment pays off or not. So whether you invest in iPads or Chromebooks or some other device, the key question to remember is how will this technology improve student learning?

Question: How do you know technology use is successful in your school? Is it worth the cost? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Twitter or Facebook.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Why High Schools Are Getting Rid of Valedictorians (Response)

A recent article came across my feed that caught my attention, Why High Schools Are Getting Rid of Valedictorians. It was especially timely since I'd just had a conversation about this topic with a principal from another school in our area. He was interested to know if we still recognized valedictorian or not. We do not. In fact, we haven't had a valedictorian since before I arrived on the scene 8 years ago. I'm not sure how long that decision had been in place before my arrival.

Why High Schools Are Getting Rid of Valedictorians

According to a recent article in The Washington Post, American students today are unmotivated and apathetic about their schoolwork, and teachers actually care more about students' grades than the student. Teachers are expected to make lessons more engaging and fun, and to serve more like entertainers than old-fashioned teachers.

The author of the article contends that schools are ending the valedictorian award "because it might make others feel badly about their GPAs." According the article, this decision is just more evidence that schools are lowering expectations. The author seems to draw connections between elimination of valedictorian and student apathy, mediocrity, and even the performance of the United States education system in international rankings. Those are sweeping generalizations with very little evidence to support the claims.

In truth, the school leaders I've spoken with have very different reasons for dumping valedictorian than those presented in the article. Valedictorian recognizes the top student in the class based on GPA. However, GPAs are a terrible way to determine one student as being the best. Often, the difference between the top few students can be less than one-thousandth of a decimal point. And the factors that determine that difference usually have more to do with what classes the students did or did not take than actual academic performance. 

For example, we had a student a few years ago who was a National Merit Scholar finalist and had perfect grades in high school. That's right, straight A's. However, his class rank was not even in the top 3 or 4 of his graduating class. How can that be? Well, he was an all-state musician and took multiple music classes every semester. These classes are not weighted in the GPA. Fortunately, he didn't play the GPA game to be the "top of his class" or we would have missed his outstanding musical contributions in our school.

And it is a mathematical game. I could go on with more examples of how the system can be manipulated and often results in students taking classes strategically to have the highest GPA instead of taking classes because they are beneficial to their own future aspirations.

So the decision to get rid of valedictorian has nothing to do with lowering expectations or protecting other students' feelings. In place of valedictorian, our school honors the highest performing students with a cum laude system, so students who earn above a certain GPA are recognized for their academic achievements. Our students wear medallions at graduation to note this distinction.

Moreover, we no longer provide information to students on class rank. It's no longer on the grade card or the official transcript. We only provide the class rank information if it's needed specifically for scholarship purposes.

And that decision is based on a purpose larger than the fairness of the GPA system. We want to encourage students to learn from mistakes, explore a variety of interests, and become better people as a result of their schooling. The GPA system does not reward growth or risk-taking. It rewards perfection and right answers. Stanford Professor Carol Dweck's research on growth mindset is clear that labeling performance is not healthy for improving performance. Instead, the focus should remain on effort, improvement, and dealing with setbacks. 

Students cannot always control the results or outcomes in life, but they can always control their effort and their attitude. The loss of valedictorian isn't harmful for motivation or performance. However, labeling students can be harmful for motivation and hurtful to healthy attitudes about learning. One mom shared how the pursuit of valedictorian was not beneficial to her perfectionist daughter.

The trouble with high school valedictorian awards - The Boston Globe

When educators talk about why their high schools have given up the award, they note the negative message it sends to the kids who lose by a fraction of a point, or the kids who are never in the competition. I am here to argue that it's not even necessarily good for the valedictorian.

The pro-valedictorian author seems to imply that the valedictorian award is important as a celebration and reinforcement of achievement. But is a simple GPA formula appropriate to determine who is achieving the most?

Consider the student who is a victim of abuse, practically raises younger siblings, serves as designated driver for dad, and still manages to make B's and C's in school while holding down a part-time job. Anyone want to question this student's merits as "high-achieving?" Again, effort and attitude are hard to quantify, but there are lots of students overcoming incredible odds to succeed in school. These inspiring students deserve to be recognized too.

That's why schools should focus more on effort, enthusiasm, and attitudes. Rewarding only the highest achieving students won't improve apathy in schools.

Question: What are you thoughts on schools ending the valedictorian honor? How does your school handle recognizing student achievement? I would like your feedback. Leave a comment below or respond on Twitter or Facebook.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Leading From Where You Are

I was honored to recently be a guest on John Linney's outstanding podcast, Edspiration. John shares great ideas and does a fantastic job hosting. He has developed a really interesting format for his shows. I've really enjoyed listening to several of his previous podcasts. 

During my interview, we discussed adapting to change, possibility thinking, and leading from where you are, and a few other ideas. I would invite you to listen to the full episode if you get a chance. And be sure to subscribe to the Edspiration podcast in iTunes or through your favorite podcast app. I like to use Stitcher.

Alternatively, you can visit the web home of Edspiration at Below is a rundown of a few of the key ideas we discussed, and an embedded audio player for your listening convenience.

"The secret to success is leadership, and leadership is about making the lives of your team members better." -Tony Dungy

1. Education has been trying to improve on a system that has been fundamentally the same for 50+ years. How can we think about completely new ways to think about education?

2. Everyone can lead. We need leaders from every corner of the school. A title doesn't make you a leader. A willingness to serve others and to take risks are excellent leadership qualities.

3. If the rate of change in school lags too far behind how things are changing in the world, schooling will become increasingly irrelevant.

4. Possibility thinking goes beyond implementing what we already know. We need to dream big and believe there is probably a better way to do most everything.

5. Innovation starts with better thinking. Innovation is spread through leadership.

6. Risk taking is dependent on the level of trust and safety in the school culture.

7. Make learning personal for teachers. How does our professional learning have potential to improve student learning?

8. How are you connecting with other educators? Build your PLN.

9. If your school is going to be successful, it's because of strong teacher leadership.

Question: How do you lead from where you are? How do you exercise your innovation muscles? Leave a comment below or share on Facebook or Twitter. I want to hear from you!

Sunday, June 12, 2016

7 Ways Technology Can Transform Learning (INFOGRAPHIC)

In a previous post, I shared some thoughts on technology integration and how tech in the classroom is too often an add-on or extra and not part of an authentic learning experience. In fact, technology is so vital in today's world that it's on par with the school library. It's that important. Your community would never support getting rid of your library. Yet, some schools still don't fully accept technology for learning. Some even ban it from the classroom.

But having technology is not enough. There are millions wasted every year on technology that goes largely unused or is implemented in ways that don't really transform anything. 

Like the teacher I spoke with who had iPads available in her classroom, but hadn't even turned them on. She didn't know what to do with them. It would be easy to criticize her for allowing this to happen. But where was the support to help her know what to do with them? Who was there to work with her to learn about using them?

In most classrooms, the available technology is actually used, but not in ways to really transform learning. At best, it's used as a hook to achieve greater engagement. At worst, it's a canned program that simply delivers content. Neither of these scenarios results in a shift in agency to the learner. It doesn't transform learning. If we want adaptable, self-directed learners, students need opportunities to use technology in authentic, transformational ways.

7 Ways Technology Can Transform Learning

1. Authentic Audience

It's really sad that most work students do in school ultimately ends up in a trash can. The audience for their efforts is usually the teacher and maybe their classmates, but rarely is work shared beyond the school walls. By using digital tools it is possible to share work to a potentially unlimited audience, and it's possible to curate the work so it's available forever. Say goodbye to the trash can finish.

When students work for an authentic audience, it is potentially a game changer. Instead of just completing assignments in a manner that is "good enough" they now want the work to be just plain "good." And how the work is received can provide excellent feedback. An authentic audience multiplies the possibilities for feedback. As any blogger can attest, having an audience changes everything, and really makes you think about your ideas.

2. Creativity

While technology is not necessary to be creative, access can facilitate many new ways to express ideas in original ways. Digital content is easily captured, shared, and combined as an outlet to creative thought. In short, digital tools give rise to more possibilities for creation and innovation.

3. 24/7 Learning

Access to a connected device makes it possible for learning to continue beyond the classroom. Sure I guess that sort of happened before. You took your textbook home to study, right? Well, some people did. But now learners have the sum of human knowledge available on their smartphone, anytime, anywhere. When I need to learn just about anything, one of my top sources is YouTube. It's helped me repair our vacuum and help the kids with algebra homework. It's a shame it's blocked in so many schools. 

4. Global Connections

We learn so much more when we connect and share with others. Now we can connect with anyone in the world with minimal effort. It's possible to learn directly from experts in the field. Classrooms can connect across oceans. Global connections allow us to see diverse perspectives and understand problems with implications beyond the local community.

5. Learner Agency

Technology provides opportunities for individual learning paths. Not everyone has to learn everything in the same time, in the same space, with the same lessons. Students can learn about things that are important to them, in ways that they choose. Technology allows for students to take greater ownership and be more self-directed. Learning is more meaningful when it is personal.

6. Collaboration and Communication

Technology is tranformational when it allows learners to work in teams, share ideas, and collaborate on new projects. Learner can work together and share ideas even when they are apart. Digital tools allow for amazing new ways to connect around sharing ideas and tasks.

7. Curiosity and Inquiry

Technology allows students to pursue answers to their own questions. True understanding doesn't happen by memorizing facts or seeking right answers. Understanding is developed by developing questions, interpreting information, and drawing conclusions. Curiosity taps into a sense of wonder and makes learning come alive. Technology provides access to information and inspiration to magnify curiosity and inquiry.

Question: How will you use technology to transform learning in your classroom or school? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Twitter or Facebook.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Is It Time To Move Past Tech Integration?

What is your school's mindset surrounding technology use in the classroom? If you're like a lot of educators, you are probably working to integrate technology into instruction. You might even be discussing the merits of blended learning. But what does it mean to integrate technology? And what is blended learning?

I think those terms are used similarly and seem to indicate a desire for technology to be used more effectively in schools. A fairly common definition of blended learning is an education method in which a student learns at least in part through delivery of content and instruction via digital and online media with some element of student control over time, place path, or pace. The increased student agency is the most important part of the entire definition to me. 

And yet, I think many schools claim to have blended learning while maintaining a teacher-directed approach. The part about giving some element of student control gets lost in the shuffle as teachers use a variety of 'cool' tools in an effort to add pizzazz to the same old lessons they taught before.

Most teachers feel like they need to use technology in their classroom. They are aware of the "technology push" in schools. Everyone seems to be calling for more technology in schools. In fact, spending on K-12 education technology is nearly $10 billion a year. That's a significant push! But to what aim?

Most teachers (but not all) have come around to the idea that it's important to use technology in the classroom. However, far too many think using a PowerPoint and a projector equates to being a forward thinking teacher. If you ask teachers why technology is important, you will hear a variety of responses. But one common response I hear is that kids are interested in technology, so using technology will help make kids more interested in learning.

There is an element of truth to this. Some kids do seem to prefer learning that involves digital opportunities. Technology can support student engagement. But it can also support student empowerment. And there's a distinct different. A student who is engaged wants to learn something because it's exciting or interesting to them. But a student who is empowered wants to learn something because they find inherent value in the learning for themselves and others. They are choosing to learn because they find meaning in what they are doing. It is more than a fun activity, it's an important pursuit.

If we are using technology to shift agency to the learner it can truly be transformation. By the year 2020 there will be nearly 6 billion smartphones in the world. We all know smartphones continue to get more powerful each year. A connected device gives its owner access to the sum of human knowledge at his or her fingertips. If your students aren't empowered learners, how will they use this access to reach higher in a world that is rapidly changing?

Technology should not be an add-on to learning in the classroom. It shouldn't even be an extension of learning. It's just how we learn in a modern world. One way. Not the only way. But one very important way. I recently heard George Couros speak and he remarked that "if I told you the library in your school is just an extra, and I am going to remove it from your school, you would be outraged. Your community would be outraged. You would never allow that. Technology is just as essential to learning as your school library."

I enjoy gardening. This year I'm trying to raise my game and make my garden the best its ever been. So I worked extra hard to prepare my soil, select my plants, and find out what great gardeners do differently. I think that might be a great title for Todd Whitaker's next book! I talked to friends who are good gardeners, and I regularly conducted research online to answer questions that arose. 

And check this out, I am cutting-edge here...I am integrating a shovel, a hoe, and a water hose into my gardening. I went to a garden conference, learned about some cool tools, and have now decided to integrate these tools into my garden plans. What the heck, you say?!? You would never say that you're going to integrate essential tools like a shovel, a hoe, or a water hose into gardening. They're essential. You just use them.

As I used technology to research my garden, I watched YouTube videos and read various blogs and articles to learn more. And it's funny, never once did I think "I'm now going to integrate some technology into my garden project." I viewed the technology as a helpful tool, a very powerful tool, a potentially transformational tool, to help me be a better gardener. In the same way that my shovel, hoe, and water hose are essential tools to gardening, technology is an essential tool to almost every kind of learning.

At the typical edtech conference, there seem to be a lot of sessions on the what and how of using tech tools in the classroom. Someone will also be sharing the latest version of a cool app, game, or platform. But I contend that we must always start with why. I learned that from Simon Sinek. We must understand why we are using technology in the class and have a clear vision of empowering students as as adaptable learners. They will need these skills in a world where there will soon be 6 billion smartphone users.

Question: Are you integrating technology as an add-on, or is it just an essential part of learning in your school? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or share on Twitter or Facebook.

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