Organized Tweeting? Is that a good thing?

Recently I attended Edustat, a national conference held in my school district put on by UVA, my school system and Schoolnet. It was a unique conference experience for me, partly because my Superintendent had invited several people I tweet with, Chad Ratliff (@csratliff) and Jon Becker (@jonbecker), and partly because I had spent the prior two weeks reading Jay McTighe‘s book, Schooling by Design and had previously read The Global Achievement Gap.  Both Jay McTighe and Tony Wagner were invited speakers. The goal of this conference for Albemarle teams was to basically learn, talk, and figure out how to take what we learned back to our schools and make a difference.

Chad’s attendance was a catalyst for me, because he is a questioner, a thinker, a listener and currently NOT a practicing teacher, but an entrepreneur. His constant questions had me thinking all week about our structure, our systems and the teaching and learning that happens in Albemarle. The fact that Jon Becker drove in daily from 70 miles away also had me thinking–what was it about this conference that interested a professor from a nearby college? He was obviously engaged, and he, too, asked questions and conversed about the topics being discussed. I’m looking forward to seeing his thoughts about it at some time in his blog, Educational Insanity.

The uniqueness for me was coming in with high levels of expectations for learning (I really liked both Schooling By Design and The Global Achievement Gap), high levels of expectations for engaging in great conversation with my colleagues (both local and my Twitter buddies) and an air of excitement because Becky Fisher (@beckyfisher73 on Twitter), with the blessing of our Superintendent, (@pammoran on Twitter) had organized people to tweet and blog throughout the conference, and I was one of those. I was looking forward to being a catalyst for conversations among my Twitter following as well as engaging new local folks in tweeting.

What happened I should have expected. Twitter is always viral, and I should have known it would take off. . .

Those of us initially tweeting (@pammoran, @beckyfisher73, @mtechman, @csratliff, @jacatlett, me) involved MANY folks from outside of our county on Twitter.  The Edustat hashtag was followed by folks from all over, and as we were streaming the sessions, people from three continents and all over the US were watching. Because of that interest from outside, many of our local shakers and doers became tweeters and they were voracious about tweeting out what the presenter was saying and asking quick questions–reflective questions we should-and will- return to later.

I simply couldn’t keep up with my usual twitterstream, the presentation, the #edustat hashtag tweets AND another stream (the TED conference) I had going at the same time.  Twittering wasn’t a conversation as much as it became a place to report what the presenter was saying in both the Edustat hashtag stream and the TED stream. The fast tweeting caused me, at least, to back off and try just to keep up with reading and listening and responding to questions outside folks were asking.

The Twitter use definitely evolved over the three days of the conference and some of our local folks became quite hooked on it. (I am going to school tomorrow to answer some of my principal’s questions, in fact!) As a county, we have begun to use another Twitter hashtag, AE, (for authentic engagement) to continue some of the face to face conversations begun at the conference. As a county, many of our teacher leaders now have a feel for the impact of a PLN that is not simply local.

As a county, we have been transformed by our Twitter experiences.

It certainly made a difference when the superintendent, Pam Moran, (@pammoran on Twitter) asked her folks to use and experience a tool that she believes is powerful for teaching and learning.  It certainly made a difference when attendees began to realize we had an international audience.  It certainly made a difference when some of our administrators and teachers got on Twitter and saw the vast amount of information being shared. It made an even bigger difference when they began to USE Twitter.

So, Organized Tweeting-is it a good thing?  I say yes. .  .

And, thank you, Pam and Becky, for designing the task so our folks sought out the tool, the instruction and the learning!!

Playing School. . .

I continue to struggle with meaningful learning in schools. I continue to think about what Ira Socol said–“Educators often think that school is the point, when it needs to be the path.” I continue to ponder his other statement, “So, it is not a question of whether these technologies add value somehow to education, but the reverse, can education add value to the communications and information technologies of our present day world, and its future?”

Then he states: “It is the job of education to alter itself to prove itself of value to the world which now exists.”

It is the job of education to alter itself. . . .Think about that. . . . Do we ever?

I have been teaching 35 years, and I still see classrooms that look very similar to those in which I student taught.  Teachers are still confusing the verbs of schooling and learning, as Eric T MacKnight responded to my last blog: “Schooling’s main purpose is to produce compliant, homogenous workers and citizens. Learning, on the other hand, has to do with our individual needs and desires for understanding, enlightenment, and personal growth.” (Thanks, Eric, for the contrast of schooling and learning.)

Donna Bills also noted that “If you only learn “school” and learn it well, your expectation is to always be led by the hand “step by step” into all new knowledge and skills.” I believe that too many times we teach students how to “play school” (also known as the hidden curriculum of sit down, shut up and listen) at the expense of modeling learning, at the expense of setting up situations where kids can develop lifelong learning skills or habits of mind or the propensity to WANT to figure things out.

I have a friend who up to a couple of years ago when teachers began to retire in a certain school in our district swore she could have gone back to that school and had the exact same schedule in the same rooms withthe same teachers she had as a 9th grader (and she is over 40 now.)  She also said, that as a district administrator, she had been in some of those classrooms and it appeared they were using the same lessons she sat though in the 80s. So, if it’s the job of education to alter itself, why hasn’t it happened?

What if. . .

* we all decided to incite passion in our students. .  .  To find out what they care about and give them a chance to interact about it. (My fifth graders RAVED about using wikispaces, but it wasn’t wikispaces or our activities that they mentioned–the comments they made were all about connecting and interacting and wiki-mailing each other and sharing and learning from one another.)

What if. .  .

*we all decided to use pre-assessments and actually used that data to compact the factoids we have to teach and THEN used the time we save to set up connected learning situations for our students?

What if. .  .

* we all decided to give each other (as teachers) feedback on what we’re doing so that it becomes more meaningful and richer for the students. (I want to engage my students in some true collaborative projects this year, NOT just parallel play ones. I want my leadership, at all levels, to reduce the silos and the parallel play in which they engage, as well!)

What if. .  .

*we did as Chris O’Neal suggests and build in “some simple sit-down times with individual teachers where we ask some of those “tell me about the students in your room” and “what does the typical flow look like” or “who do you sense isn’t as engaged as you’d like.” Then, as a team, what can we do about it…?” I’m working with my 3rd grade team tomorrow on their math curriculum maps, as simply yet another member of the team.  Will what I say and do make a difference in how we all look at teaching math this year, and more importantly will it make a difference in how our students LEARN math??

Will we think twice now about putting such an emphasis on teaching, or such an emphasis on schooling?

Will we look more to learning, both our own and that of our students?

Will we pull those backchannels out of silently happening in their brains and make them open?

Passionate educators are everywhere.  Will we pour that passion into helping our students show their passion to us, so we can support their learning better and help them connect to others who will help them think deeply about those passions?

Can we

Will we

live up to the job of education to alter itself to prove itself of value to the world which now exists?

If we can, we’ll engage those kids who have checked out, who have disengaged, who have no use for the stupid game of “playing school.”

Parallel Play or Collaboration?

I am struggling with something I think many of my PLN folks are thinking about. . .and that’s HOW to improve our work, HOW to change what happens in our schools, and HOW to meet the needs of contemporary learners. Ben Grey introduces himself on his blog this way: My name is Ben Grey, and I am but one of the many. The many who are looking for change. The many who are engaging in dynamic discussions. The many who think there could be more to the way we engage education. I am also on that quest.

Dean Shareski wrote a post “My Big Fat Brain Dump” and he talked about how education conferences need to change to meet the needs of those of us struggling with these kinds of thoughts. Ira Socol Jen Wagner, Scott McLeod, Will Richardson, Becky Fisher, David Truss, Liz B. Davis, Michael Wacker, Miguel Guhlin, Paul R Wood, Scott Merrick, Jon Becker, Mike Fisher, Michele Bourgeois, Tom Woodward, John Mikulski and a multitude of others have written or talked about this topic of change in many ways.

Today , I received a tweet with a link to a YOUTUBE video by a 17 year old about  The iSchool Initiative. Kids can paint these pictures. Why aren’t we educators better at doing so for each other?

Here’s MY backstory: I have been using wikis with kids for two years now–really bright kids, really motivated kids, really thoughtful kids who WANT to learn and do well.They love having the opportunity to work on wikis and clearly “get” the potential! (See wikiworld.)

But my wikis–THEIR wikis– are pockets and pools and islands of isolation. . . They’re examples of parallel play at best, NOT collaboration. As the teacher, I own that outcome. I didn’t do enough ahead of time, I didn’t set up the structures, I didn’t paint the pictures for kids so that the work NEEDED collaborative efforts and so I didn’t get it.

I participated in several online, “collaborative” wikis this year as well. One was where we shared our writing based around a common text. Another I created, (And To Think) where kids also shared products around a common text/author, Dr. Seuss. Again, these I see as parallel play.

I skyped with several classes this year–about the Dr. Seuss wiki, about our state of VA– and found it fascinating to watch kids’ reactions to talking to other kids from “far” away. However, the interaction was bizarre. . very traditional, in that kids raised their hands to talk or ask questions, teachers (on both sides, including me) were CLEARLY in charge, and most interactions/questions were designed ahead of time. Again, parallel play in my mind, NOT collaborative.  I OWN these behaviors and outcomes, as, again, I didn’t do enough ahead of time, I didn’t set up the structures, I didn’t ask enough questions of my skyping teacher friends to make these experiences more than that.

So, I’d like to see models-and asked last night on Twitter “I’m wondering what is the most interactive /interdependent KID authored/written/produced wiki you know? Examples?”

I got no responses.

NOT ONE!

I got several DMs or replies from folks asking me to share the results of my request, so here it is.

NO one named a truly collaborative kid wiki.

So where are they?

Update:

@ellsbeth sent a couple of links this AM: “look up gaming wikis like http://bit.ly/lnavg & http://bit.ly/3s8QW Kids contribute.”

What do you think?

backchannels–silently in their heads

I have a colleague, Nancy, who is part of the county team going to BLC09.  I think she’s a personality type called an owl–she listens carefully in group conversations, speaks rarely, but when she does, what she says is incredibly insightful, thought-provoking and often downright brilliant.

At our recent team conversation (see previous post) we were talking about the conference themes and which ones we’d like to center on, how to go about it, and looking at a few logistics.  Some of us in the group are avid tweeters, others have joined but not gotten into it, and others don’t even know it. Some of us have experienced conferences with backchannels going, some of us haven’t.  I spoke to the power of backchannels (even had to define and describe what a back channel was) and was raving about how cool it was going to be to experience the backchannels at this particular conference.  I talked a bit about how some of my twitterverse has shared about using backchannels in the classroom, and people were asking great questions and thinking about it. We talked about how this is a contemporary skill/practice and how we need to think through how this can be done in the classroom.  As almost always happens when a group of innovators are thinking about how to move others along the continuum of technology use, someone said something about how teachers would say, “We don’t want them having backchannels in the classrooms.”

Then Nancy zinged: Instead, we want to them to have it silently happening in their brain.

SILENTLY HAPPENING IN THEIR BRAIN.

Does that not run counter to anything we know about learning?  Does it not run counter to Vygotsky, to Bloom, to any name you can name in education writing? Does that not take the social out of learning? I don’t know about you, but when I can talk about something I am learning, it makes more sense to me.  I make meaning out of it more quickly and more deeply. Shouldn’t we be providing our students that opportunity as well?

No wonder our kids are bored stiff and give schooling no quality points in their world. What gets the points?  The social parts of school. . ..LUNCH. . RECESS. . .IN BETWEEN CLASSES. . .the classes where teachers set up collaborative projects, conversations, activities. . .

Maybe if we made school more social and made it NOT about “happening silently  in their brains” we would get more buy in.  Maybe if we listened more and talked less. . .maybe if we gave them the tools and supported what THEY want to do with it, then maybe, just maybe the majority of our kids would say they loved learning, rather than they hate school.

What about those backchannels?

We need them to keep it from

HAPPENING SILENTLY IN THEIR BRAIN.

What about the “backchannels”?

Recently I was one of a group of people in our system invited by our Superintendent to go to Alan November’s BLC 09 conference as a team to bring what we can back. I was honored and thrilled–and even more so a few days later when I was also invited to be part of the practitioner’s strand and present at the Building Learning Communities conference. So I am going–as part of an austere group of educators from our county–and I am presenting!

Last week, the group going was called together to begin to pre-plan and strengthen our own community of learners who will converse, listen, think and learn together before we go, while we are there, and after we return. Our team consists of some amazing educators, many of whom are on Twitter–@BeckyFisher73, @jacatlett, (Janelle)  @dld1, (Donna DeGroat) @dharding3, (Diane Harding) and Beth Costa, Kristen Williams, Nancy McCullen, Christa Livermon and John Hunter. Many of these folks are our new instructional coaches (Christa and Janelle will be in my region) and I am looking forward to going with this group.

Last week, we talked about our goals in going:

Where do we, as a school system, go next?  As we incorporate more 21st century tools, what do we want to accomplish? What can we bring back?

When many of us saw Alan November at VASCD, we heard him talk about new literacies and redefining or recognizing new literacies–just what IS 21st century learning? How do we ensure that students do new things? We wonder about student involvement in creating the questions. . do they get to? Students need choices  that are open-ended and creative; we recognize it’s not just about the technology, but what the technology is forcing us to see and understand about our world. That’s a foundational understanding many teachers don’t have.  What foundational underpinnings do we want for ourselves, our teachers, our students? How do we best help students think for themselves?

We reminded ourselves visual literacy is crucial–how do we make that a vital part of our curriculum?  Back channels came up–we talked a bit about how conferences are changing because of back channel conversations–and the power of networks like twitter.

Our notetaker recorded these questions:

  • Redefining what literacy means, what is the “new literacy”?  Does everything 21st century mean “just technology”?  What about collaboration?
  • How do we hold ourselves accountable for addressing 21st century teaching and learning (beyond “you have to have 2 technology projects each year) information literacy, visual literacy, inquiry, collaboration
  • How do we stay on top of all of what we need to know and be able to do?
  • What do we mean by “21st century learning”? Not all wikis are 21st century?
  • If it sounds too intellectual and we don’t make it practical enough and related enough to the learning environment, are we pointing out the right stuff in the examples?
  • Examples that cut across specific projects but illustrate how we can just do this as what we do?
  • How do we make this more about who we are and not just something a few people do?
  • What does inquire, collaborate, etc. mean for students?
  • Why do we wait until after the SOLs to do cool stuff?  creative productions with choices…why aren’t we doing this all of the time?

We decided to meet again closer to the time we go, and also go to the opening reception together. We also agreed that we should pair up to go to sessions so we could bounce ideas off of a teammate.

And, again, we were reminded:

“Watch the back channels – this will be very interesting.”

iPod Pilot Lesson-Station 3

On Thursday, May 21, 2009, ** Chris O’Neal ** brought a colleague from Fluvanna to observe my 3rd grade math students work with their iPods. The day before, I had discussed with my kids what they thought we should show and how the class should be organized.  I WISH I had videotaped that conversation, as it was simply amazing. However, I didn’t, so this is take 3, the description of Station 3.  (See previous posts for description of stations 1 and 2.)

Station 3 was to record the number of rolls it took to get 6 of a kind in ** Motion-X Dice**.  We had done this before, just collecting data and then looking at that data. Today’s twist was to predict how many rolls it would take and then calculate the variance between their prediction and the actual count.

To introduce this task, I put a three column chart on the board labeled P, A and V.  (I use T-charts all the time as organizers in my classroom, so adding a column is nothing the kids haven’t seen before.) As I introduced the chart, I told them that today we were not only going to record the actual rolls of the dice, as we have done before but we were going to calculate something called “variance.”  I then pointed to the chart and asked what they thought the V meant.  Of course they said variance, and I said I would tell them in a minute what variance meant in this case.

Then I asked about the P, thinking they would immediately say prediction, even though I hadn’t pre-loaded that word into the conversation.  I can’t remember everything they guessed, but the third or fourth guess stuck in my head, and that’s when I told them it was prediction.  One kid raised his hand and said, “PRAY?”  I laughed and said, “Explain that, please,” and he responded, “We pray to roll the same six numbers really quickly?”  At that point I named “P” for prediction and A for “actual,” then gave a few examples, to make sure they not only knew how to fill in the table, but understood that the variance could be positive or negative.

I have never taught negative numbers to these kids, although their classroom teacher has done a quick one day lesson, and many of their parents have told me they have worked with negative numbers because their child asked. However, math just makes sense to these kids, so I don’t worry about them not having prior information–I give them enough to figure the patterns out and they usually do.

As I watched this station, my observations were focused in two ways:

1. I wanted to see if they were indeed calculating the variance correctly and if they “got” negative numbers.

2. I was looking to see if predictions were even close to the actual number of rolls.

What I saw surprised me in some ways.  First, there were a couple of kids whose predictions matched the actual count perfectly at least once. Generally the variance was fairly low, which told me the kids had figured out some patterns in the rolling, and gave me fodder for the next class’ conversation. I was surprised the variance was as low as it was in many cases and was anxious to ask what they were basing their predictions on and what patterns they were looking for in their work.

The kids whose variance numbers were larger were doing things like holding the iPod differently as they shook it, or talking to the iPod as they rolled it, or attaching some ritual to the act of rolling the dice (much like some people blow on the dice before they roll for good luck.) That told me some people were believing, at some level, luck (or chance) could be manipulated, and again, gave me info to use in the next conversation.

While I didn’t initially think this station was as powerful as the others, when I went to observe (and then to reflect here) I realized there was lots to be gained by asking kids to do a similar activity again, with just a small twist. Only one child needed support to understand negative numbers, they all were predicting, couting and recording accurately, and talking to one another about their results as they worked.  PLUS, I found out that despite our work on probability this year, there were a few kids who were still believing they could manipulate chance to improve their results.

The other thing that struck me (AGAIN!) was the motivation they had to predict, shake, record and reflect on their results on the iPod.  The tool is virtual, there is no noise (unless they turn the volume up), but they worked the entire time at this station, doing something they KNEW how to do from prior experiences.

Once again, the iPod Touch motivated them to stay engaged and involved in the learning task. The tool here provides an avenue for learning that allows them to gather data quickly, and easily see results. The tool here engages the student.  AND, the tool here entices the kids to stay engaged.

iPod Touches should be in EVERY classroom!

iPod Pilot Lesson- Station 2

On Thursday, May 21, 2009, ** Chris O’Neal ** brought a colleague from Fluvanna to observe my 3rd grade math students work with their iPods. The day before, I had discussed with my kids what they thought we should show and how the class should be organized.  I WISH I had videotaped that conversation, as it was simply amazing. However, I didn’t, so this is take 2, the description of Station 2.  (See previous post for description of station 1.)

In Station 2, the kids were to use the WhiteBoard app to drill each other.  They decided they wanted to show this to our visitors to show how the iPods could connect over WI-Fi. When we were establishing the boundaries for the problems, the initial rule suggested was “no plus less than 12.”  You can imagine the conversation that ensued over the meaning of that. . . it was a perfect reinforcement of my prior lessons on the need for precise language in describing mathematical situations, (though I chose not to mention that in this lesson.)  After we established what that meant, I wrote “No + <12” on the board.  (I take every chance I can to reinforce the “greater than” and “less than” sign, as kids typically confuse those or don’t even name them, preferring instead to use the alligator trick.) Someone then suggested no multiplication over 100. I probed as to how many digits could they use, did that mean we couldn’t ask anything beyond 10 X 10, and the agreement became 1 digit by 2 digit problems up to 99 as the highest number, so I added that to our list.  I should have added n x nn, with n being 0-9 and nn=<100, to have that chance to reinforce a variable, the less than sign and algebraic thinking, but I didn’t think of it at the time. We stopped there, as I clearly got the impression they WANTED to practice multiplication facts, so I didn’t even address the other arithmetic operations.

Then I asked about checking correct answers. How were they to do that?  They decided that first, the person who developed the problem would also work it, and they would compare answers. THEN they would check it on a calculator–and they wanted a separate calculator, NOT the one on the iPod.  (I didn’t ask specifically why, but they wanted a separate one rather than move back and forth between apps on the iPod.)

When I went to this table, the problem they had created was 8 X 16. The kid working it, one of my best problem solvers, was doing something in his head , so I asked him to think out loud. He said he’d added 16 and 16 and gotten 32.  I had taught the strategy of “doubling and halving” where if you double one of the numbers, you can halve the other one and get the same answer (i.e., 4 X 32= 8 X 16), so I asked him what he was going to do to the 8 now. He stared at me blankly.  (HMMM. . .I may have taught it, but he, at least, didn’t get it–and neither did his partner, cause she didn’t jump at the chance to answer that one!) He then said, “128” and I asked him how he got it.  He repeated that he had added 16 and 16 and gotten 32 and just kept adding. His partner volunteered, “I did it another way” so I asked how she did it.  She described adding 16 and 16 to get 32 and then 32 and 32 to get 64 and then 64 + 64 to get 128. I didn’t probe as to how hers was different from his, (I think she figured he was continuing to add 16s) and I just wanted them to move to another problem to practice more without me interfering. I left them using the calculator to check, but realized several things about my teaching from their work.

  1. I had taught doubling and halving, but needed to work more with it.
  2. NEITHER of them went to splitting the problem into smaller parts such as 8 X 10 and 8 X 6. I need to help them shore up the various strategies they use, so they don’t rely on the same one all of the time, and learn when to use which to be more efficient.
  3. When I tried to suggest splitting the number, working 8X6 was not efficient for the boy, so he obviously didn’t know that fact. That tells me I need to work on fact mastery some more. This is a kid with an incredible memory, so I need to provide him some opps to practice the facts. Him not knowing that says I haven’t provided enough times to practice it.
As I’m writing this blog, I’m realizing my questions are as much to probe their understanding as they are to get feedback for me on how well they’ve learned and how well I’ve taught what I think I have. I don’t know that the iPod added to THAT process, OR the process of practicing multiplication facts. What it did was it MOTIVATED them to practice.
If iPods will MOTIVATE kids to sit around and make up multiplication facts for each other, then they’re worth having in the classroom, as far as I am concerned. I haven’t found anything non-technologically they’ll stick with like that to practice simple facts.  Their other favorite way to practice is online games. . . and they can do that, too, on the iPods.
I believe devices like iPod Touches MOTIVATE today’s kids to work at school tasks they typically try to avoid, because of the novelty, the “coolness” of the tool, and in this case, the interactivity of this particular app!