Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Takeaways From ACTEM, Part 3

Every year, the Association for Computer Technology Educators of Maine (ACTEM) puts on a conference where teachers, integrators, IT directors, administrators, students and more gather to discuss and learn about how better to use technology in education.  I attended the two-day conference at the Augusta Civic Center, and wanted to share some of the takeaways that I got from the event.  Here is part 3.

Here are links for part 1 and part 2.

I've been wanting to learn about Design Thinking for a long time.  I had heard about it as being similar to many engineering process models, including the Engineering is Elementary model that I have been using with my robotics clubs.  There was always one place that I felt these models fell short, though, and that was a lack of recognizing the end user of the solutions to the problems that students solved in the engineering process.

After attending a half day session by Jeff Bailey and Dan Ryder, the duo better known as Wicked Decent Learning, I was convinced that the Design Thinking process helped to fill some of the gaps I needed to be filled.  They describe Design Thinking as a "student-centered, empathy-fueled, creativity-driven, authenticity-oriented" approach to problem solving that often begins by asking, "How might we..."?  Just like with engineering models, there are a number of Design Thinking models to choose from, but Dan discussed in particular his use of the DeepDT process, which is put out by the Mt. Vernon Institute for Innovation.  The DeepDT process has four primary steps:  Discovering the problem, Empathizing with potential users of your potential solution, Experimenting with ideas, and Producing the solution.  I was especially encouraged with how multi-faceted the empathizing process is.  It requires students to get to know and understand the members of their own team, going out and asking questions and listening to the target audience of potential users, and be able to think about how their users might interact with and use their solution, and how to taylor the solution to individual needs.

I still have lots to learn about the DeepDT process, but I'm very encouraged and excited by what I see.  There is also an important role for technology to play in this process, especially when it comes to tools like Google Apps that allow for group collaboration and communication with people who might be potential advisors and users of the solutions to problems students are working on solving.  Most importantly, Design Thinking ties in well with Project-Based Learning, and specializes in students working on solutions to real problems that matter to them.  As I learn more, I am hoping to integrate Design Thinking for an upcoming challenge that I will have students work on in my technology club.  If you would like to learn more about Design Thinking, check out the links that I've provided above, and also check out the #dtk12chat Wednesday nights on Twitter.  Stay tuned!

Takeaways from ACTEM, Part 2

Every year, the Association for Computer Technology Educators of Maine (ACTEM) puts on a conference where teachers, integrators, IT directors, administrators, students and more gather to discuss and learn about how better to use technology in education.  I attended the two-day conference at the Augusta Civic Center, and wanted to share some of the takeaways that I got from the event.  Here is part 2.

Here are links for part 1 and part 3

Let's face it:  there are never enough tech people to go around!  Working in four schools, I am constantly on the go.  My mornings and afternoons fill up quickly with meetings with teachers to plan projects and help answer tech questions.  I hate having to tell teachers that I can't meet with them until next week or sometimes even the week after, but it does happen from time to time.  But what if there were a better way?  What if there were a way to better meet the needs of individual teachers, to differentiate my work with them much like they do with their students?  And what if there were a way to flip the traditional model of "sit and get" professional development that causes teachers to shudder at the very mention of "PD"?

Potential answers to those questions were at the heart of two afternoon sessions that I attended at ACTEM on Thursday.  The first was led by Mike Muir from the Auburn School Department on a project he is a part of called "Distributed PD."  The purpose of this project is to better facilitate district professional development through a combination of face-to-face trainings and online learning modules, as well as a system of keeping track of what staff are working on, a system to collect information on the needs of teachers, and a system of recognizing them for the work they have done.

There are oodles of resources about the Distributed PD Project, still ongoing, on their website.  There are a couple of things that I found interesting and very pertinent to my own evolving thinking about how to better support teachers using technology.  First, I like the fact that they have classified tech-related professional development into a series of curriculum "buckets," ranging from personal use and classroom and tech management on one end to supporting personalized and independent learning and forging greater school/home/community connections on the other.  I especially like that this continuum hits on a point that I make often, which is that our focus on progressing with the use of technology should be on the pedagogy and learning goals the technology will support, not so much on the technology itself.  This continuum also stresses that the professional development that goes into learning the tech tools should not happen independently of the time spent looking at the greater goal the technology tool is going to be used to meet.

I also found it interesting that they were looking at the use of badging as a means of recognizing staff for the professional learning they were engaging in.  We all know about how badging works; we need look no further than the Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts for examples of badges that recognize what the scouts have learned or are able to do.  In the case of professional development, badges would be awarded to teachers that completed certain modules or trainings offered by the district, either in person or online, and demonstrated what they learned or how they put what they learned into practice.  In turn, teachers would have a badge that they could insert and display on their class webpage or elsewhere, and be recognized by administrators and other teachers for their expertise in certain areas.

Meanwhile, Jonathan Werner, the Library and Instructional Technology Specialist at Cape Elizabeth High School (and Twitter superstar), presented a session on alternatives to the college lecture-style nature of many of the PD sessions that we attend.  Jonathan suggests a model of teachers teaching teachers tech, and believes that professional development should resemble more of a support group, where teachers have the opportunities to work as the professionals that they are with each other and to teach and learn from each other.  There are tons of other great suggestions that he offers, and I realize that my post is getting quite long-winded, so please check out the link I provided to his presentation and check those out.

To conclude, my one sentence summary of the afternoon in professional development-based professional development is this:

A more comprehensive, diverse, individualized, and supportive system of district-wide professional development, can help replace a shutter-worthy system of obligation and compliance with a more meaningful system for teachers that meets them where their needs and dreams are, much like we try to do with our students every day.

Takeaways from ACTEM, Part 1

Every year, the Association for Computer Technology Educators of Maine (ACTEM) puts on a conference where teachers, integrators, IT directors, administrators, students and more gather to discuss and learn about how better to use technology in education.  I attended the two-day conference at the Augusta Civic Center, and wanted to share some of the takeaways that I got from the event.  Here is part 1.

Here are links for part 2 and part 3.

The opening half-day session that I attended was about the use of iPads at the elementary level.  The workshop was led by Mauri Dufour, who teaches kindergarten in the Auburn School Department.  As you may remember, Auburn is the district that rolled out a 1:1 iPad initiative for all of its kindergarteners, and received a large amount of attention (and plenty of derision, too) from state media sources and even outlets like Fox News and the Christian Science Monitor, in the process.  And not without good reason; when people think of the iPad, they often think of games and flashy things, not of serious learning.  Mauri, however, showed us that the iPad, along with other Apple hardware and software, have the potential to seriously transform education and increase the amount of individualization and sharing going on in the classroom.  One of the tools that comes in handy is the Apple TV, which we have rolled out at Searsport Elementary, the Weymouth School (which has iPads), and at the two middle schools as part of MLTI.  The Apple TV allows just about any Apple device to connect to a television set or LCD projector wirelessly.  Mauri talked about the potential of the Apple TV to "untether" the teacher, meaning that they can move freely around the classroom without losing their connection to the projector.  And, because the ability to connect to the projector is not dependent on being in one specific location, an Apple TV facilitates sharing by students on their own iPads.

Mauri also uses the front and rear-facing cameras on the iPads frequently, and so do her students!  Her students know how to take video on the iPads, and she shares their learning with parents and guardians through private YouTube videos.  With a special app, the cameras can also read QR codes that Mauri creates for each student, and each QR code takes her students to different activities or videos, allowing her to differentiate and focus on what each student needs to work on when it is time for students to work in stations.  In short, the iPad is a tool (one of many) that allows you to create more "you's" in the classroom.  Technology should not replace you as a teacher, but allow you to extend your reach and target and work with those students who need your support the most.

The problem that often accommodates iPad rollouts in schools is that teachers and students are often unprepared to use these devices in a way that promotes learning.  My first takeaway from ACTEM 14 is that, FROM DAY 1, the expectation has to be set with technology is that it is a learning tool.  This is not always an easy sell with students, mind you.  When I was bringing the iPads we got at Weymouth last year into the classrooms for the first time, the first question I got in every classroom (no joke!) was, "Do the iPads have Angry Birds on them?"  iPads and other devices are getting into the hands of children at younger and younger ages, and their history with technology is increasingly that of gaming and occupying and keeping them quiet in public, and less and less about learning.  If we give in to that impulse early, it is very difficult to get students to see those devices any differently down the road.  Which foot we get started on makes a huge difference, and I know it is a major area of improvement that I need to work on.

I know that I have a lot to learn about effectively integrating iPads into the classroom.  iPads are NOT laptops, and we will not be successful with using iPads if we try to use them that way.  I will be attending Auburn's Leveraging Learning Institute in a couple of weeks, which focuses on iPad use at the elementary grades.  I'm looking forward to expanding my learning around tablet use in the classroom and hope to come back with new ideas for my schools.