Tag Archives: innovative instruction

New Tricks

cc licensed flickr photo shared by JB London

I am honoured to have another one of my teachers, Norm Usiskin, guest post on my blog today.  Norm is a shining example of how you can be leader from any position in a school, and that learning is continuous as educators.  He inspires me daily by his work with kids and staff.

I was fortunate this past week to attend an inservice at my school intended for a parent audience on the subject of “Connecting and Sharing – Building Learning Communities Using Web 2.0”. This workshop was delivered by my principal, George Couros and one of my colleagues, Lesley Cameron to approximately 15 parents from our school community.

As I listened and watched as the parents were given an overview of some of the current thinking on educational reform and the initiatives involving technology that we have undertaken here at Forest Green School in Stony Plain, Alberta, I couldn’t help but sense a feeling of apprehension and uncertainty amongst some of the parents. This caused me to reflect on my own thoughts and feelings when I was presented with an opportunity at the end of the last school year that would see my teaching assignment change fairly drastically.

You see, George came to me and asked me if I would consider taking on the challenge of being a Technology Integration Facilitator at our school. No big deal I can hear some of you saying. Possibly true, but let me give you some insight into who I am. I am currently in my 27th year of teaching which to most of us makes me an “old dog”. New tricks aren’t supposed to come all that easily for people like me – and I am the first to admit that I have always liked using technology, but my knowledge of using it effectively and in ways that meet the needs of the students we face today was, at best, limited. Needless to say, I was apprehensive about my ability to fulfill this role that I knew came with high expectations from “the boss”!

Fortunately, I have always enjoyed learning new things, and I have always enjoyed collaborating with colleagues so once the year started and we had mapped out a plan for rolling out some of the initiatives we were wanting to introduce to our teachers and students (which included providing email addresses for students in grades 3 – 6, establishing blog sites for students in grades 3 – 6, introduction of the use of Google docs, a 1:1 laptop initiative in the grade 5 and 6 classes), that while overwhelmed at times by all of the minutiae of setting things up, the work with the teachers and students was fun, challenging, and invigorating. The prospect of helping our students into the world of Web 2.0 tools (not to mention the teachers) continues to make more and more sense as we progress through this year.

I have observed our students being very engaged by the opportunities to Skype in with teachers and students from around the world, to receive comments on blog posts from people both within and outside of our school community, and having everyday, all day access to information and tools that assist them in their studies. And on top of all of that, I have benefited and learned from great mentorship from George and great interaction from my colleagues and the students in our school.

I guess I am living proof that old dogs can learn new tricks – and these tricks are going to be of benefit to me and my students as I continue to travel this path. Can’t wait to see what might be around the corner!

Creating Balance

cc licensed flickr photo shared by 0xDE

An article that has really influenced me over the last year was Will Richardson’sNo, Actually You’re Out of Balance“. Will discusses how many complain of the imbalance technology creates when they do not use technology at all.  I have heard the “balance” argument a lot and to be honest, totally agree with it.  Our school is actually trying to create more of a balance through the use of technology tools in our classroom.  Our students do not have access to computers 24/7, but we are trying to ensure that they have more opportunities for meaningful interaction using this technology.

We often look at kids who tend to read books often and say things like, “Wow…Janie never wants to put that book down!  She loves reading.”  When it comes to technology though, we could say the exact same sentence (substituting “book” for “computer”) and it sounds horrible.  The truth of the matter is that everything needs to be in moderation.  I distinctly remember my mom telling me to get outside and get some exercise when I was a kid and rather lazy.  I also remember my mom upset about all my training for marathon running when I was an adult and telling me I need to just be able to sit down and relax.  In both cases, she was right. Moderation.

Tonight, I read a few fascinating articles regarding social media.  One discussed the “traditional” belief that teachers do not need to connect with students using Facebook.  The author states:

Ultimately, the teacher-student relationship is all about guiding the student through a set curriculum involving reading, writing, arithmetic, and so on. This is and has always been a professional relationship, not a social one. Social media facilitates a social relationship. Call me “old school,” but it doesn’t seem right for students and teachers to connect in this way. Managing a Digital Life, Robert Siciliano

For the record, I do not believe teachers should “friend” kids; there are better ways to connect with our students using this medium.  Although I have a certain ethical standard for my profile, my friends from high school, who are not teachers, may not.

On the other side of the spectrum, the article “How Social Media Is Having a Positive Impact On Our Culture“, talks about how the connectedness social media creates as something very positive.  In my experience, I have made some very close friends who I “met” on Twitter and know that these relationships will last a lifetime.

The author has a quote that really sticks out to me:

The Internet doesn’t steal our humanity, it reflects it. The Internet doesn’t get inside us, it shows what’s inside us. And social media isn’t cold, it’s just complex and hard to define.

This question also from the same article also really stuck out to me:

“Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare … is all this making you feel closer to people or farther away?”

On the above question, I believe that we need to just see this as an opinion question and based upon each person.  For me personally, I have felt more connected because I have learned and connected that have shared my passions.  That is just my experience.  Why can’t we accept that the above question can have different answers for different people?

If we are working with our students on building character first, it is beneficial that we teach them also have to emulate these citizenship skills in social spaces as well.  We often have contrasting messages with social media when we tell our students that their online presence represents who they are, yet ask them to sign up for sites using names that create total anonymity.  The balance that we have found in our school is by having our students use first names only. This creates a safe environment for students to begin building a digital identity, while also teaching them that they are accountable to what they do on the Internet.  This seems to be an essential skill, especially when we are reading articles like this: Five Reasons Why Your Online Presence Will Replace Your Resume in 10 Years.

Yes students are using technology more in schools to connect, but we are focusing on ensuring that we create this in moderation.  I have no idea how connected students are at home, but that balance needs to be created by parents.  Some students are in situations where they may have not access to technology at home, creating more of a reason to ensure that they learn to effectively use these technologies for learning at school.

I think that we are doing a great job at creating this balance at school.  Where are you at?

Innovative Instruction

cc licensed flickr photo shared by tamburix

“Communications tools don’t get socially interesting until they get technologically boring. The invention of a tool doesn’t create change; it has to have been around long enough that most of society is using it. It’s when a technology becomes normal, then ubiquitous, and finally so pervasive as to be invisible, that the really profound changes happen, and for young people today, our new social tools have passed normal and are heading to ubiquitous, and invisible is coming.” Clay Shirky, Here Comes Everybody

I had a great opportunity to speak with educators in Bawlf, Alberta today and since many of my talks are planned, yet impromptu, it came up (in my head) that we really need to stop focusing on the technology.  So many people get caught up in this and I have to admit, if it is not about learning, why are we doing it.  The thing is, we never talk about “pencil integration” in our classes but we are often so focused when we use technology.

This is not about the tool, it is about learning.  The tool is just the medium we are using at the time.  I am doing my best to use the term “innovative instruction” (thanks Alec) when talking about what works best for our students.  This could mean using a pencil, a computer, a brush, your hands, whatever, but focuses on innovative ways for students to learn.

Let’s just ensure that there is a balance of tools we are using, and just focus on what best meets the needs of our students.

Are we there yet?