Thursday, April 26, 2012

Calling for Examples of Best Teaching Practices

So the other day… I was trying to find video clips illustrating best teaching practices.  You know, examples of actual educators in front of actual students in an actual classroom modeling a best practice (in my case example of a math classroom in a 1:1 learning environment).  I assumed a quick Google search would give me pages of results ….  should be pretty easy in our media rich world where we as educators are ready and willing to work on our craft.  Apparently I was mistaken in this assumption. 

I did find page of videos with an adult talking through wordy PowerPoint slides to an audience of adults taking notes about best teaching practices.  I did find videos of newscasts with talking heads discussing the merits of one educational paradigm over another.  I did find vendor advertising explain why their product would make a practice feasible based on statistical data they collected at a school.  What I did not find was an actual classroom teacher, in a real learning environment modeling a teaching practice.  No wonder legislators under estimate the value of a professional educator in the classroom – we’re creating very little evidence of our work.

This sharing becomes more important with the burst of innovative practices - Flipped Teaching, Project Based Learning, Discovery/Inquiry, Paper-less Classrooms, BYOT/D.  We can talk about new paradigms but what do they look like?  What are the students doing in these classrooms?  How is the space arranged?  What resources are needed?  All excellent questions that someone out there can answer with a phone video camera and YouTube (Teacher Tube, Posterous, Google Video, Vimeo) account.

It’s time to start intentionally sharing and modeling best practices with one another.  Not behind a pay wall or vendor product, but really engage and share what works with fellow educators.  I know in our little world of Bring Your Own Technology/Device that @MyTakeOnIt (aka Jeremy Angoff) is creating a wiki of shared resources here.  This would be a great place to post pictures, videos, lesson plans of Bring Your Own Technology in the classroom.  Even feel free to use the comments section and post something on this blog!  I challenge us all to look at the context of our learning environment and pick one best practice to  document in some manner of media to share with other educators, parents, students and legislators.  I know I am challenging myself (and of course @jdferries) to do the same - thus the new pictures in this post of actual students in our actual school building going about their actual business as students.  

**** And if anyone has a good video of a high school or college math classroom in a 1:1 learning environment please send the link to @40ishoracle or post below :-)

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The BYOT Boot Camp

As Brebeuf Jesuit moves forward in 1:1 Bring Your Own Technology (see other posts from @jdferries  blog on topic too), I thought I’d share with you all our next level of Professional Development:  The Boot Camp.

Those of you who have followed us on the 1:1 BYOT journey know one of our most successful BYOT professional development activities has been the tech petting zoo.  This is a time for individuals to stop by and try out new devices and play for a bit.  But as we get closer to 1:1 BYOT, we needed to get our hands a little dirty and thus the Boot Camp was developed.  We are working with departments as discreet learners for Boot Camps (last night was our Religion Department’s turn).  

BYOT Boot Camp Agenda

Introductory Strategies: 
Context activity with Stages of Integration “Where Are You Now?”
What can you expect students to bring to class and other details

Practice Maneuvers: 
Tech Petting Zoo 
Department Specific Applications, Web 2.0 resource, electronic environments etc…  

Special Ops:
BYOT Reflection Graphic Organizer
Round Table Brainstorming

The Crucible:
Teamwork and Support
Exit Ticket

We begin with a Context setting activity.  The focus here being for the individual and department to reflect on “Where are you now?” with regard to technology use in the classroom.  Right now, I am using this integration rubric created by the Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory in 2004 as a jumping off place.   Campers are then asked to reflect on concerns and questions they may have regarding BYOT and jot them down on a piece of paper.  This context activity centers the group on the topic at hand… visualizing BYOT in their classroom learning environment.   We then move into logistics of what are the requirements of 1:1 BYOT that have been articulated to families.

Practical Maneuvers would be considered Experience in Jesuit terms.  Now we look at specific tools, resources, devices but frame them within current academic learning objectives.  This is when the conversation shifts.  I find the first 30-45 minutes of the Boot Camp is focused on the nouns of BYOT – expectations, devices, requirements, websites, supportive readings…. But when we turn the corner to the academic learning objective (I use a graph organizer like the one below) then the conversation shifts away from the nouns and on to the verbs.  

Now it gets fun!  The conversation last night shifted to the importance of factual memorization and timelines versus analysis of concepts.  We discussed question writing to promote critical thinking.  We discussed what would happen if we really reflected on the learning objective of the lesson rather than just assign some reading and hope it flushes out in the assessment.  We discussed essential concepts in light of curricular learning outcomes.  Most importantly, we discussed good teaching in a collaborative, supportive environment (that's the Teacher Resource Center below...teacher included).

I haven’t had to resort to an Exit Ticket yet … people do engage and pay attention.  As one of the teachers reflected yesterday (he was much more poetic than my woeful recreation here… but the sentiment is the same) – BYOT may push us beyond our comfort range but it’s in the best interest of the students to create learning experiences in the context of their time, skills and technologies. 

We call that point the way and get out of the way …

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Payoffs and Pitfalls

I am taking advantage of the generosity of Stanford University and professors Matthew Jackson and Yoav Shoham by participating in the free Game Theory course currently being offered.  While the course is well outside my comfort zone and admittedly passing it may be a challenge – I am enjoying the mental stretch.  At its most basic level, game theory looks at payoffs of action.  The action a player takes will result in positive or negative payoffs making the likelihood of the action predicable via some math that I have a very tenuous grasp of… but I digress.

While the Prisoner’s Dilemma and Predator/Prey games are interesting, I find myself applying the idea of payoff versus pitfall to my world of educational technology - particularly the recurrent discussion that students will use technology to cheat.  The previous post on Block Down focused on blocking due to uncertainly of change in a new educational landscape.  But what about those who block for the seemingly nurturing reason of providing honest education?  Venturing into the waters of assessment here…

Let’s think of it in terms of game theory.  Student A is assigned to write a paper on the thematic elements of Moby Dick.  Student A has choices of the actions she might take: she can read the novel or read the summaries found online; she can annotate the novel indicating thematic elements or Google “thematic elements of Moby Dick” and pick three of the 496,000 entries that come up; she can write the paper or she can copy/paste information found in those 496,000 entries…

The perceived payoffs are what will determine the ultimate action.  The basic way payoff is often looked at is getting caught or not getting caught.  Educators love to focus on the crime and punishment element of cheating, but that’s only part of the issue.  I would argue criminal intent is not the immediate consideration of Student A.  What is - is the payoff of better use of time.  If the assessment is perceived as a waste of time, inconsequential to personal context, then why put any time or energy into the product?  Assessments which ask for responses easily Googled are just as easily brushed aside as a waste of time.  The payoff of taking the shortcut is suddenly shifted in the favor of cheating.  Softball practice, friends, heck – even science homework on frog dissection is a better use of time!

What can educators do? 
·         First, take a look at the questions we ask
True synthesis occurs when Student A is asked to take a concept (say the thematic elements of water in Moby Dick) and propose new 21st century concepts that could replace or replicate the theme (create a new thematic element of human helplessness in a 21st century landscape).  Listing thematic elements, even if one is asked to briefly describe, are low Comprehension Bloom’s and it’s time to move on.
·         Second, take a look at our crime and punishment model.
Take a deep breath and really reflect on the crime of cheating.  The harm done is personal to the student.  They have missed an opportunity to learn and explore their world.  That is sad, unfortunate… insert descriptive noun here.  It’s not a personal affront to you the educator.    
·         Third, it’s not about the technology used.
We never banned an encyclopedia volume when Student B copied the entire “Volcano” entry in 1976.  The encyclopedia was not to blame and neither is Google. Blocking sites in the name of cheating prevention helps no one and limits valuable educational experiences (collaborative Google Doc anyone?).

Rather than blame technology, engaged educators need to look at our assessments.  Are we asking questions that can easily be answered in a Google search?  Are we assessing skill and drill content knowledge or challenging our students with synthesis and evaluation level work?  Reflect on the payoff to the student for really engaging the assessment material… and share that payoff with the students. The payoff for time, effort and care should not be a secret.  When we stop blaming technology for cheating… and look at payoffs and pitfalls of action – I truly believe our assessments will improve and student learning will improve along with it. 

Now I need to go an finish my Game Theory quiz….