Friday, September 23, 2016

You're Going to #GoOpen. What's Next?

The U.S. Department of Education's Open Education initiative, also know as #GoOpen, came to New England for a summit hosted by Dr. Daniel Downs from North Reading Public Schools at the Amazon offices in Cambridge, Massachusetts today. Leaders like Kristina Peters, Andrew Marcinek, and Grace Magley spoke, and I was honored to be asked to speak about how openly licensed resources and tools can be used to help create high quality learning experiences for our students.

All students deserve great teachers, and great teachers deserve access to the resources they need to customize learning experiences for their students. But once they have access, what's next?

How can we motivate students to want to read and learn deeper with these resources?

We have to start by inspiring them with great questions. These questions shouldn't be based on standards, rather they should inspire our students to want to master the content and skills in the standards. There are examples of inspiring questions in the lessons highlighted in the slide deck below. If teachers are looking for help crafting these inspiring questions, ASCD's resource on essential questions is a great place to start.

What do classrooms look like when these tools and resources are being used well?

Learners need spaces that allow them to share, move, be quiet or loud, and create. Traditional classrooms encourage obedience, but obedient students are not necessarily learning. Included in the slide deck below are photos of creative uses of spaces in schools I've worked in for the past few years. Check out this brief interview where I talk about how to redesign your classroom, even if you have no budget, by involving your students.

There is a lot out there! What is the best OER to help teachers get started?

There are search tools, like OER Commons, Edmodo, and Follett Destiny. But what if you are just starting to look into OER and wading through the search results feels a bit overwhelming? I've put together a list of my top 4-5 OER sources in four content areas. The names are hyperlinked in the 3rd to last slide on the deck embedded below. Or just Google the names of the sites listed on the graphic.

What tools should teachers use to gather OER and then distribute them to their students?

First an foremost, if your school has an learning management system (LMS) take advantage of that powerful platform to curate resources, distribute them to students, and to give and receive feedback from students as they are learning. If your school doesn't have an LMS, create a class website or blog that can be a central place students and parents know to find everything they need for your class. Post links to the OER you plan to use there. If you aren't ready to create a class website, one platform that is cleanly designed and works well on a browser or as an app is TES Teach. It is an easy free tool. There is even an example of a middle school math teacher who uses it well in the slide deck. Here is his lesson

How can we protect our students' data privacy when using so many digital tools and resources?

Classroom educators as a group are not receiving enough information or training about how work they do with digital tools every day in their classrooms can effect their students' data privacy. The Educators Guide to Student Data Privacy was created with that audience in mind. It is a great resource for school or district leadership looking for ways to talk to teachers about this important topic. When it comes to evaluating tools, if the company who created the tool or resource you're thinking of using has signed the Student Data Privacy Pledge you are probably in good shape. Simply communicate your concerns and goals with the company and you will likely be ready to go. 

For more detail on each of the answers, please do check out the slide deck. There are lots of photos, lesson examples, and links to resources to help any school or teacher who is thinking of making the move to OER.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Make #EdTech Work for YOU, Not the Other Way Around


Some criticize technology use in the classroom as a way to draw kids in with flashy colors, sounds, and games that don't promote hard work and deep learning. I see technology use in education as a way to inspire our learners to want to dig deeper into everything they learn. It can also help our students access resources and experts from the world beyond their school.

So how can we make sure the EdTech is working for you and your students, and that it is not just another thing to add to the list of "things to do" in your classroom?

1. Better Professional Learning

If school and instructional leaders want teachers to take risks with new teaching strategies and technology in their classrooms, they have to model that risk-taking when we design their professional learning experiences. Instead of having "technology trainings" we should embed technology into all professional learning. After all, we want teachers to embed technology only where it fits well into their students' learning experiences. It makes sense for teachers to experience learning in the same way first.

Not all teachers see the influx of technology into schools as a positive. Traditional teacher-centered education models that seemed tried-and-true are being questioned. Help open up traditional mindsets by sharing encouraging stories, giving teachers time to tinker with new tech, and modeling the risk-taking you want from your teachers. Kyle Pace and I shared our experiences and ideas for how to make this happen. The ideas are realistic and really work.

Now, if the teachers and students in your school are going to start using devices, apps, and programs more, they need to be prepared to be positive and responsible users. Technology can be empowering and can unleash creative genius, but it can also be distracting and even addicting. My colleague, Julie Cremin, and I developed a professional learning model that empowers teacher to integrate digital citizenship vocabulary and themes in every content area. It also means teachers empower their students to use, discover, and create with technology while staying safe and secure.

2. Inspire Students to Take Action

While professional learning can inspire teachers, it is the teachers that can inspire students. Push yourself, and encourage your fellow teachers, to give students access to high-quality interactive online resources, give them choice about how they show their learning, give them feedback as they struggle through the learning process, and then celebrate and reflect on what they create. It may sounds like a tall order, but it can be done in a 4 step process.

Want to see some examples of how students can benefit from this process? Check out my TEDx Talk. It isn't just their final products that will amaze you, they will also find a way to build a classroom community because they grow accustomed to struggling, learning, and celebrating together.

3. Choose the Right Tools to Meet Your Needs

As schools start thinking about putting devices in student hands, they need to consider which device is the right choice for each age group, the resources they must access, and the tools they should be using to refine their skills. Even if you cannot purchase any more devices for this school year because of budget deadlines, this article from ConnectSafely can help you determine how to best budget for next year.

Once the device is purchased, there are thousands of apps for technology directors and teachers to comb through. How can we decide which will both promote student learning and keep our students safe? When it comes to pedagogy and district goals, this 10 question checklist – created by Ross Cooper and I – can help guide the way. When it comes to data privacy, classroom teachers don't have to leave it to administrators and tech directors alone. Every educator should play a role. ConnectSafely and Future of Privacy Forum worked together to publish this guide for educators that can help.

4. Dream Big When It Comes to Student-Centered Uses of #EdTech

Entrepreneurs and innovative classroom teachers are always dreaming up the next exciting trend in EdTech. But if that trend has the potential to truly improve student learning, we should speak up about it. Today's trends include augmented reality and virtual reality. Are these really just games, or are they powerful learning tools? Try them with your students and ask them with they think. This EdSurge article has a few ideas to get you started. You and your students should decide if they're worth the hype. Then share your findings.

Looking to inject more student voice into how technology is used school-wide? A student-driven help desk might be the answer. Some school call them innovation labs while others refer to them as technology teams. The exact name doesn't matter much. What does matter is that a group of committed students get to consistently tinker, create, and share their ideas with their teachers. Check out this EdSurge article to hear directly from students who have been part of pa program like this. If they value the opportunity, would your students value it too?

5. Tell the Story of Your School with Social Media

Once you and your fellow educators and students have found success with EdTech this year, share it! Parents and other community stakeholders will feed off the energy your school is building. Educators far and near will learn from you and their students will benefit as well. School leaders like principals, department chairs, and curriculum supervisors can get the movement started with the ideas in this post from Corwin-Connect.

If you or others in your school community are nervous about sharing publicly on social media, ConnectSafely has a guide written especially for educators. It provides a realistic perspective on the benefits and risks of using social media to share student work and school happenings. Just remember that if the educators working in the school with the students don't tell their stories, either no one will know the great things students are doing or someone else will tell their own version of those stories. Educators are a hopelessly optimistic bunch. Let's spread that optimism.

Make sure EdTech is working for you, not the other way around.