Researching Searching

Ran across this study about how undergraduate students use online resources. No surprise – they found that students “…shop around for digital texts and videos beyond the boundaries of what professors assign them in class.”

Students are heavily accessing additional content – beyond the assigned content, and usually from “approved” types of sites, such as other universities or Khan Academy. But they often find them through Google, and prefer to find things on their own rather than ask librarians or teachers.

I’ve been researching how teachers think K-12 students find information. I see some of what this study says: kids look for videos and additional information as well as students using Google.

I’d be very interested in a study such as this on middle and high school students!

Ask the Kids

Blog post by Heather Wolpert-Gawron about what her students find engaging. This would be a great step for any teacher to take.

Recently had an excellent conversation with the principal of a local high school that is just starting to look at technology integration. We discussed how it is really about teaching and learning differently, not about technology. We discussed doing a survey of students about the technology they have available.

This would another great step to take. What do the kids think would be engaging?

Current Events Reports: Updated!

How have I missed the Google Zeitgeists? These are powerful year-in-review videos from Google (I assume based on searches? Or not?)

Having posted in the past about a current events class at a local high school that is not using social media or many online tools, I had to post this. I can only imagine the creative assignments students could do based on this model. It wouldn’t have to be current events, obviously. This could be a powerful history project, a book review for an English class, a lab report for chemistry, etc.

Doesn’t look much like the current events projects I had to do, and that’s fabulous.

Closing the Door

This afternoon, I had the wonderful opportunity to talk to three middle school teachers who are finishing their first year in a 1:1 iPad program. 

I first met these teachers a year ago, the day they got their iPads. They knew they were going to a 1:1 starting in the fall. They were nervous. They weren’t sure what they were going to do. We had a great conversation that time about digital resources, about how they thought they might use the iPads. Their goal by the end of the first year to use the iPads maybe 50% of the school days.

I wasn’t sure what to expect today. Would they be excited and love the iPads? Would they have found they used them once in awhile, but not much? Would they find the kids too distracted? Would the technology have been too much of a hurdle for some?

I was amazed and impressed. The iPads are just another tool for learning. But this tool has proven to be a significant game changer for all of them – and these are seasoned, experienced teachers. They all feel that despite the learning curve, they are teaching better than ever. They find that their role has changed – no longer are they the “expert” but rather the guide. They feel the students are taking more responsibility for their learning. The students have been empowered by the iPads to learn on their own, and they are living up to the responsibility. I did not plant these ideas, really. It is exactly what I hear from teachers all over who move to a 1:1 program.

Were they using all the latest and greatest content apps? Nope. Their most used apps were all in the productivity area: Office, Keynote, Notarize. They are all content creation apps, apps for collecting and processing information. There were a few content related apps, but not many.

I reminded them that their goal had been to get to 50% of the days. They laughed. How often were they using the iPads, I asked? The reply was a unanimous and resounding “everyday.” They use it during lectures. They use them for teaching organizing. They use them to communicate. 

Are the iPads distracting for the kids?? Yes, it exists. Yes, they all have new classroom management techniques. Did distraction exist before? Yup. It’s not any different. 

Without my prompting, they said one of the biggest impacts they see is on kids who don’t have access to technology at home. It’s empowering them and it’s empowering the kids who struggle with learning. 

The conversation is best summed up by the exchange we had about what they’d do if the iPads were taken away — a fear they brought up.  What would they do? They’d survive, of course, but as one of them said, “I’d feel a door was closed to education.”


Testing: Opting Out

Today was the first day of the standardize testing season at our house. My daughter is a high school freshman. She had to take the GRAD test for writing this morning. Fortunately, she doesn’t get stressed about these tests. I hope she takes it seriously enough to pass, but that’s about it.

She said there were a number of kids in her group who didn’t speak much English. (The school has a large refuge population.) They were taken out of the room in order to have the directions explained, then came back in to complete the test. The test involved them writing an essay to incoming high school freshman about their high school experience.

I find this crazy. These poor kids, who don’t speak enough English to understand the directions, are expected to write an essay like this? What does that do to them? How do they feel getting that failing grade back? What a waste of their time. If someone can tell me a good reason to make these kids do this test, please let me know.

My daughter was actually pretty upset by this. Here’s her Facebook post:

What perversely minded educator though it would be a good idea to make kids who can’t speak English yet write an essay for the MCAs? This is the 21st century!

After dropping my daughter at school to take these ridiculous tests, I ran across an amazing blog post by Will Richardson about why he is opting his son out of their state standardized tests. His reasoning is sound, and I am happy to know that some of my thoughts about standardized tests are echoed in his letter. I wholeheartedly agree wtih his points like the fact that testing changes the whole focus of teaching and that rewarding teachers based on their students’ test scores harms both teachers and students. (More on my thoughts about standardized tests from an earlier post I wrote.)

The conversation on Twitter about this post drew in the big names in this field, and the conversation was lively. I am grateful to Mr. Richardson for taking the big step.

We seriously considered opting my daughter out of tests last year, but I didn’t have the guts to do it. (Then again, I’m not Will Richardson with a huge education reform audience!) But he has given me the courage to move forward. Unfortunately, my daughter is at the point where these tests are required for graduation, so I’m not sure we have the option to opt out at this point. I need to make some stand about this, I’m just not sure how.

Now I find out there are many people choosing to opt out. I wish I had known that last year! Here are a couple more blog posts about opting out. Go for it!

Questioning My Qualifications

Another post today has me questioning my qualifications to talk about the My Wired Life main topic: technology integration in education.

This post is from a tech director as a letter to Will Richardson. Read the full post for the whole story, but my main takeaway from the post is that anyone not currently in the classroom shouldn’t say anything about education and classrooms.

I gotta admit, this one punches me in the gut — HARD.

I am a former teacher, but it has been years. I’ve been out of formal education for a long time. How can I possibly even think about opening my mouth about what I think about the role of technology in the classroom?

I worry about this – a lot. It really bothers me, and I know I’m not taken seriously, being a parent, and not a current classroom teacher. I know it means I have little “cred” when I talk to teachers and administrators. I know that’s why I get the door politely shut in my face. Even in my work (where I have been studying educational technology fulltime for almost two years) I know I have little “cred” because I’m not teaching.

I often wonder I keep doing this. Something keeps propelling me to be so passionate about moving schools to teach 21st century skills, to integrate technology, to make changes. Why? Because I’ve been motivated by amazing teachers. I’ve seen their work, I’ve seen their success. They’ve motivated me to keep going.

I am convinced that my employer needs to keep moving in the direction to provide digital content. It’s where schools need to move. I am lucky – I have the time to do all this research. I have time to communicate with teachers all over the country through social media, blogs, conferences and more. My ideas come from integrating what all these amazing people talk about.

These amazing teachers that have convinced me to keep going on this have given me what I need to know I’m qualified — they made ME think outside the box. Everyone needs someone to push them a little to think differently. No matter what job we have, we need to keep learning, keep looking for new ideas and new answers. We need someone to keep pushing us to move outside our comfort zone. If I only listened to people who work in my specific field, or  in my department, I’d be stuck in a rut. It would be boring, I’d be bored and never learn new things.

While I’m not in the classroom, I can still respect the struggles and constraints placed on teachers. I think anyone who sticks with teaching is an amazing, dedicated person. The job is relentless and unforgiving. The demands are unrealistic. I see that – it’s obvious, even from a parent point of view.

While I know  that in the eyes of those who think only teachers can have any thoughts about teaching my qualifications are limited and my credibility is zilch, I will still keep talking. As a parent and an informal educator, I, too, have a stake in education. We all do.

Engaging Parents is a Good Idea

Interesting blog post from The Fischbowl about getting parents involved. He’s following up on a post he saw on Will Richardson’s blog where a superintendent talks about needing to engage parents in the conversations.

I have to say that that my experience at my kids’ schools has been the opposite: I’ve been kept at arms length. I’ve been trying hard to respectfully engage school leaders in conversation about 21st century skills, including integrating technology, allowing students more flexibility in assignments and learning opportunities, empowering students using the tools they use 18/7 (outside the school day),etc. I have never been rudely shut out, but I certainly haven’t been taken seriously or given more than cursory answers. Usually, I am treated as one more complaining parent with smiles, but that vacant look that tells me they are really thinking about something else while we’re talking. I’m not sure what I’m doing that is getting the door gently shut in my face.

It is a totally different story when I approach schools as a part of my work. I have talked to school superintendents, technology directors, teachers, curriculum directors. I have been welcomed into their schools, classrooms, conferences and conversations. We have engaged in serious, thoughtful conversation about the same topics: 21st century skills, technology integration, digital literacy and responsibility, flexibility, testing (amazing how they universally dislike testing!). The conversations have been energetic (watch for flying coffee!), passionate, and invigorating for all involved. We mutually bemoan the fact that there is little quantitative data about success, yet the observed and anecdotal data is overwhelming. Not that this is about me, but in those settings, I am treated professionally; my thoughts, opinions and work is treated professionally and taken seriously. We are partners.

Why aren’t I taken seriously when I approach the schools as a parent? Am I a threat? Am I complaining? I admit I am complaining when my daughter can’t use her iPhone graphing calculator. I only want what’s best for the kids — and not just my kids. I see such overwhelming success in the schools I visit that are ahead of the curve: those that incorporate 21st century skills, those that have thoughtfully integrated technology into all classes. I started out just asking what the schools are doing about these topics. It is no secret I think they need to do more, but I have tried to offer support for whatever steps they are taking. My offers to help have for the most part (with a few notable exceptions) been ignored.

To get back to my main point: I’d like to be engaged by my child’s schools. I will be your strongest advocate and supporter. I know this is a big step, and I applaud and support all the steps you’re taking. I’ve got your back. I’ll do whatever I can to help, and I do know what I’m doing — even if I’m not currently teaching in a classroom. Please don’t shut me out.

Teaching Parents about 21st Century Learning

How do schools help parents understand 21st century skills? There are definitely parents who don’t agree and don’t understand why a school would be actively using social media to foster global communication, encouraging collaboration over memorization, and assigning creative projects instead of long tests.

I ran across two great examples yesterday.

First,  Eric Sheninger has a blog post, How can schools engage parents in 21st Century Skills.”  His points are simple: the school administration needs to be a role model for using the tools, and invite parents in. Be transparent. Use the tools. Demonstrate why schools need to do this. His school regularly uses open houses and conferences to demonstrate areas of learning that are incorporating these skills. If you follow Sheninger at all, you know he is a champion of 21st century learning.

Second, A little closer to home, I see that the Edina Public Schools are taking a similar approach. They have a morning workshop devoted to showing parents “…how technology unleashes students’ passion for learning….” Knowing a bit about their district, I’m sure there will be many kids there demonstrating how they learn 21st century skills in schools.

Edina is also doing something I’ve strongly encouraged my kids’ schools to do. They are doing a survey of families to learn about the technology at home. This is an essential step schools need to take in order to go to the next level, and also to start getting parents on board understanding 21st century learning.  I often hear that the district can’t do tech in schools because kids don’t have tech at home. I think they’d be surprised…. and if kids don’t, what better reason to have schools using 21st century skills at school and support it however they can.

I’m so impressed by these approaches to teach parents and include parents as part of their childrens’ education. There are definitely schools and districts that aren’t at this place yet — in that case, I’d love to see those teachers and administrators attending these sessions.

Maybe Google is ok?

I have posted about the fact that my daughter, a freshman in high school, isn’t allowed to use the graphing calculator on her iPhone. We paid $1.99 for this app, and as you would imagine, she has it with her all the time.

Instead, she has to tote around a second $100 device. I had to buy this device last year. If I had had to buy it this year, when she had an iPhone, I would have refused. This is crazy.

Just saw an article about Google working as a graphing calculator. I wonder what the math teachers would say about using Google!!!  HAHA!  I can only imagine!

Seriously, though, should kids pay for and carry around a device that has one function: a graphing calculator. (OK, I realize that has many functions!!) Or, would it be better to teach kids to use the tools they already know and have? Teach them how to use Google to their advantage.

However, this won’t happen. I just found out that they reuse the tests. My daughter didn’t do very well on a quiz, so she had the chance to fix her mistakes (this is something I do like.) She couldn’t take the test out of the classroom  — because they use these same tests in all the geometry classes every year!! So, what did she do? She took a picture of a problem so she could work on it at home. While I commend her for her resourcefulness, this is NOT a good idea in the current culture. (Picture was deleted.)

While I understand that this provides consistency because all kids are tested on the same material and it saves the teacher time, is it really the best option? Does it teach the kids how to solve problems using the tools at hand? Does it teach thinking and problem solving? Are the problems related to the real world, or do they come straight from the textbook??

No wonder she struggles with geometry homework. It has absolutely no relation to her day-to-day life. I know many kids do find motivation in the academic exercise (I did, but only to keep my straight-A average), I doubt most kids do. Go check out Dan Meyer’s blog and TED talk. Then tell me if it’s a good thing that the tests are repeated every year and she’s can’t use her iPhone app.