Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Four Elements of Paperless Learning



My journey to the paperless classroom started years ago. Even then there was both excitement and criticism around the concept of eliminating paper from our learners' academic experiences. Now that we are in an era where technology is a given, and no longer something special, is "going paperless" still worth discussing? What does "going paperless" really mean, anyway?

Here's my definition:
Paperless Classroom: Students and teachers use all available tools to access resources, record and organize information, communicate among themselves and with the outside world, and create original products as evidence of learning. As with all other resources and materials, paper is only used when the learning process or final product requires paper as a necessary element. Paper does not drive the process.

There are obvious economic reasons for going paperless:

  • Economy of costs: Paper is a significant percentage of every school's budget each year. If teachers and students use less of it, then schools save money.
  • Economy of time: Teachers use big chunks of their prep time standing at copy machines waiting for packets to assemble and appear in the output tray. Distributing and collecting paper worksheets also takes time away from learning during class time. Instant digital distribution and collection eliminates these time sucks.
  • Economy of convenience: It is quicker and easier to find, curate, and send resources to students, parents, and colleagues using paperless means. For instance, it is quicker and easier to send an email home with links to missed readings, videos, and activity instructions than it is to pull together a folder of class work and deliver it to a family.
While these are the reasons some educators have started on the path to going paperless, the truth is that a paperless learning environment can be truly transformational. Even if some teachers make the leap for the three reasons above, they should be moving toward these four game-changing elements of the paperless learning environment:

1. Open Doors to Open Education Resources

About a year ago I wrote an piece for EdSurge and said that Open Education Resources (OER) were one of 4 top trends for the coming school year. OERs are more than a trend. OERs can fundamentally change they way teachers design their students' learning experiences. What's more, they help students understand that they, like their teachers, can feel empowered to find their own high-quality sources of information. OERs include primary sources, documentary videos, audio podcasts, lesson and project plans, hands-on activities, infographics, artwork, and a whole lot more. Why not unlock all of the potential that OERs make possible for your students? Committing to a paperless method can help lead your teachers and learners away from prepackaged curricula and texts. Encourage them toward the instructional design and powerful potential that OERs make possible.

2. Smoother Collaboration

There is more to collaboration than co-writing a Google Doc. So much more.

Ask yourself and your students, "How can technology bring us together and help us connect with the people we want to learn from?"

3. Create More and Varied Final Products

The funny thing about all the tests we take in school, both in K-12 and higher ed, is that they are the only tests we take in our lives. Once gaining my licenses and certifications at the end of my schooling, I have never taken a test since. Instead of measuring learning with a test, why not invite students to create like they will as professionals? Here are a few ideas:


If my students and I can dream up those projects, imagine what your students will do when you give them permission to be creative.

4. Practice and Refine Real World Skills

As you might be thinking already, students are using many real-world skills to create the products listed above. They have to clearly define their questions and goals, research pertinent high-quality information, organize the data, make a plan, problem-solve when things don't go as planned, give and take constructive feedback from their teacher and peers, and then figure out how to best share their final work.

These are skills professionals in all industries at all levels utilize daily. When we give students experiences like these, we are preparing them more thoroughly than any test could.

_________________

A digital worksheet is still a worksheet and going paperless should not happen for economic reasons alone. These four elements can be a guide to help shape your conversations with students and teachers about why paperless should still be top of mind. If your school or classroom is going to go paperless, why not leverage the opportunity and transform the way learning happens?

Friday, July 15, 2016

The Good, Better, Best of School Culture

It seems the universe wants me to think more deeply about school culture this week. So, I'm asking myself:


How can we achieve the best school culture?

I attended Edcamp Leadership Massachusetts on Monday (see #edcampldrma for the live tweets from the day) and the dominating theme was school culture to promote positive change and to address the current climate of unrest and inequity nationally and globally. The participants there asked themselves and one another what responsibilities schools have to intentionally shape their culture so that our students have a healthy environment to ask tough questions.

Then, of course, I read a few chapters in Revisiting Professional Learning Communities at Work as part of my summer learning with a few colleagues at school and the focus was on school culture. As I read, I found myself returning to the Cultural Shifts table in Chapter 3.

This and other reproducibles from PLC books can be found here.
Overall, the trend I noticed throughout the table is the quest to give all stakeholders a seat at the table. This means that administrators are working closely with faculty; teachers are constantly sharing, celebrating, and critiquing their work together; and students receive and are able to respond to formative feedback frequently. A school culture that promotes this kind of transparency will always be improving because every student, teacher, and leader has plenty of colleagues who willingly share their work for the betterment of the community.

It got me thinking about what this looks like at the classroom level and as part of that relationship between students and teacher. The work of Barbara Bray and Kathleen McClaskey on personalized learning immediately came to mind. They also provide a chart, updated in their recent book Making Learning Personal, to help educators understand how to make the shift to a classroom culture that respects the personal learning needs of their students and promotes a healthier classroom community.




When a classroom community strives for personalization, the each learner is a stakeholder who has a clear voice in his/her own learning. While the table in the first book emphasizes the formation of a culture among the adults in the school, the table in the second book emphasizes the formation of a culture in the classroom. Why not tell our students we are working on building this kind of community and include them in it using the personalized learning table? Any time we can be transparent with both our colleagues and our students we are strengthening our school as a whole.

School culture is good when school leaders keep talking about it. School culture is better when school leaders and faculty come together. In the end, we will achieve the best of school culture when we involve our students in building that culture.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The Best Personalized PD I've Ever Experienced



Over the past 4 months I've had two incredible opportunities and each of them could easily qualify as the best personalized professional learning I've ever experienced. In fact, they were so powerful that I am planning to propose that a similar experience and format become a part of the professional learning we offer at my school. Here is my proposal:

Open or close faculty meetings, PD days, PTO gatherings, and even student class meetings with a TEDx-style or Ignite-style talk from a member of your community.
Why was it powerful? Well, there are a few reasons:

From the Speaker's Perspective

On April 30 I had the opportunity to give a TEDx Talk as part of TEDxYouth@BHS in Burlington, Massachusetts and on June 26 I was able to give an Ignite Talk (twice!) at ISTE's 2016 national conference in Denver, Colorado. The format and preparation requirements for each event forced me to examine my pedagogy, classroom activities, students' projects, and many pictures of my classroom and students in action. Throughout this process, I developed a clear understanding of who I am as an educator and what I believe an educational experience should look and feel like for my students. Now that I'm on the other side of these events, I feel like a more confident and sure-footed teacher who knows my strengths and is eager to learn more on the topics where I need to grow.

From the Audience Perspective

Lucky for me, I was able to sit in the audience and watch my fellow speakers do their thing. Every talk I heard got me thinking in a different way about what my students could do and how they could be learning. Even though every member of that audience heard the same talks, they touched each of us differently. I've started to consider in detail how I can teach my colleagues and students to tell the story of our school through just about any social media platform, and Bill Selak's Ignite Talk about Snapchat is helping me bring another tool into the fold. My husband, who is not an educator, took Eric Johnson's TEDx Talk to heart, has mentioned his Erase Meanness ideas to others since, and still wears the green bracelet often. The colleagues from my school who witnessed Starr Sackstein's TEDx Talk about grades and grading in education have started to rethink the way they design projects and rubrics for their students. Adding these short but inspiring talks to the typical gatherings in any school community can bring people together and get them thinking and talking differently about what they do.

My Ignite talk about how I got rid of some parts
of my students' typical classroom experience and
helped them feel more empowered and engaged.

Get to Know the TEDx and Ignite Formats

Both TEDx and Ignite have strict formats. For instance, a TEDx talk cannot be longer than 18 minutes and is based on an idea that is new, is surprising, or challenges commonly held beliefs. An Ignite talk is propelled forward by 20 slides that auto-advance every 15 seconds. The speaker has 5 minutes to communicate their message in a fast but entertaining way that ends with a call to action.

How to Get Started

If you are thinking of trying out talks, it will take a little planning. Identify people in your school community who are taking risks and have something to share that everyone else can learn from. The speakers will need a couple of weeks to prepare. Here is the process I went through to prepare for both events:

1. Find your purpose. Examine your own creations (in the form of lessons, offerings for your teachers, or anything else), students' products, and photos from your school or classrooms. What is a common thread or big idea that you can share when you look at all of it as a body of work? What is the message or meaning you want to share about that work? How can your work inspire the people in your community to think differently about their work?

2. Write the transcript and create slides. I suppose this one step could be divided into two, but I did both simultaneously. I intended for the slides to emphasize the points I was making in the transcript through photos of my students and their work and VERY brief questions/quotes. When it comes to the words in your transcript and on your slides, less is more. Use simple clear language.

3. Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. Whether you are planning to do your talk from memory or with the help of some notes rehearsal is important for emphasis, timing, and clarity. I rehearsed in front of a mirror, my husband, and even my 7 year old daughter. I recommend rehearsing 2-3 times a day for the 4-5 days before the actual event. By the time your talk date arrives, you'll be confident and perform it well.

Organizers and colleagues can support speakers by reading transcripts and looking through slides (like Jenn Scheffer for my TEDx and Ross Cooper for my Ignite). Offering classroom space for rehearsals is helpful too.

It might make sense to start by modeling as a speaker yourself. Then go with speakers who are teachers, but don't limit yourself. If it goes well, invite parents to do talks for teacher groups or invite students to do talks for administrator groups. Anyone who has something to share should be teaching everyone who has something to learn.

Adding talks to regularly scheduled monthly meetings and gatherings can serve as a way to honor people who are taking risks, inspire others, and share the good that is happening in your school community. It can also be the best personalized PD every speaker and audience member has ever experienced.