Friday, June 01, 2012

Online Learning - Making it Meaningful

IMHO it is not enough that learning be online - it has to make sense and have meaning. It is not enough for us to take our classes and put them online - we have to create engaging material. So, I ponder this question...

I had a teacher in high school who drew on the chalkboard. She made explosions around words and used color chalk. I started to do the same thing in my notebook. It was not the words that mattered to me so much, but the drawings, but the words stuck and I started to get it. In fact, I still believe today she instilled in me back then a love of history I carry with me and it all started with funny drawings around words (oh, and the great narratives she told about these historical characters).

Making content come alive is the most interesting part of education to me. When I think of putting a class online I think about making the vast web of material available for my students to explore, consume, play with and understand. I have to step outside of what I know and ask them how they want to learn this material today. These are the thoughts that are captivating me. I remember in September of this school year having a conversation with someone and I said - well, tablets are great but they are not utilitarian. Then I started thinking about this differently. Tablets can be utilitarian - you just have to rethink how you use them. The same thing is true with online learning. It's not enough to post reading assignments and get material back - you may as well be standing in front of the room. The content needs to be ubiquitous to the environment. This is the challenge I am facing. Making the content meaningful. Students should be creating, experimenting, and actively producing content that they share with each other to develop a meaningful learning experience. Students in the same class have a shared purpose so working collaboratively is a natural. Consider the opportunities of cross generational sharing on projects of historical content, for example.

I listened to the TED Ed with 12 year old Thomas Suarez, he poses the question, where do kids go to learn about how to write apps, they can't go to their parents - "not many parents have written apps!" This gets a big laugh from the audience, but the statement is clear - students are leading the way today and we must listen. Teaching has truly become the learning profession and it is my belief that I want to find the place to blend what I know about teaching with what they know about learning . I welcome your thoughts.

Monday, May 28, 2012

The Task of Keeping Up - Scoop It!

If you are anything like me you are charged with the task of keeping up with everything new in Educational Technology. We are on the precipice of change and it seems that as soon as you think you've got it you need to get something new.

Currently, I am on the curating wave. I LOVE it! As I find articles that interest me about topics I am currently researching I scoop them up using allows you to create a beautiful magazine by curating content of interest from the web into your account. It is somewhere between twitter and blogging. You can curate your content through the site or by putting the bookmarklet on your toolbar then when you are on a site you want to recall or share... Scoop it!

After a while of scooping I have come to find others who share my interest and have some great sites for me to see. Try it and let me know what you think! Take a closer look at my scoops

Friday, March 09, 2012

PD that Motivates

Recently I worked on an idea for collaborative professional development among competing schools. Seems crazy - schools that compete for the same demographic coming together to collaborate and train their staff, but actually it is brilliant! Collaboration is not a cookie cutter concept, but rather an opportunity for people to work on an idea and then go off and develop it at your their school with their own flavor. Then, come back to the group with your piece and together the pieces make a creative collaboration.

I have often said teaching is a learning profession - a group of interested and inspired people that learn from their students while they teach them..  When I think about teaching I don't really care much about the tools that are used or that my students use the tools, instead I am excited to witness students learning, synthesizing and conceptualizing ways to share what they know - using the Web 2.0 tools I share with them is just a plus.

This is especially true in the arena of Professional Development. According to an article in the New York Times today teacher morale is at an all time low. How can we motivate teachers that feel rejected by the system designed to support them? What motivation can we offer? There are many theories about motivation ranging from Aristotle's Seven Causes to Dan Pink's Drive. We can apply them all but I believe ultimately it is intrinsic. People are inspired to change, try, become, do from inside. There are so many stories about people that had nothing, down on their luck and then they make one small change and it is like the Butterfly Effect - it changes everything around them and they are moved from one "life" to a completely different one.

I believe the learning begins not by showing the teachers the Web 2.0 tools they can use, but rather as they begin to conceptualize and share their lessons with the idea of a new conveyance... one that may further engage their students.

Powerful Learning Practice
A simple, small disruption can bring about monumental change. It is my hope that by bringing together educators that share a similar goal but different persuasions, each will become inspired by the other. Ideas will flow, challenges will be met and overcome, and through this disruption will come creation. We decided to work with PLP Network to achieve this goal and we set about writing a collaborative grant with the hopes that we will be able to reach all these educators and bring about great things in every school. I am holding my breath that and keeping my fingers crossed that we get the grant. Even without the grant, this methodology (PLP Network supporting collaborative learning among our faculty) is one we are excited to explore.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Making the Blended Classroom Work

In our lower school we have launched two online math programs side by side in different grades. I thought this would be a good way to get the teacher's input about how they use the programs and which they prefer. In grades 2 and 5 we are using a deployment of IXL and in grades 3 and 4 we are using MangaHigh.
Each program has it's own set of benefits and I am still waiting for the teachers to compare their experiences - I will write more about that in the future.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

QR Codes through History

At our seminal meeting this September I posted a QR code for all the Administrators of our school to use. At first they were stymied by the idea, but as I showed them what to do they became engage and excited. Taking snapshots of QR codes became and excited conversation among us. One of the challenges we face at our school is Judaic education is based in two worlds - the ancient world from which the lessons come and today's world where student's lessons are applied. QR Codes helped our teachers bridge the gap.
With this in mind, two leaders in our Jewish Education Department in Middle School, created a "QR Quest Through the History of Our Sages." After learning about the six time periods of great Jewish scholars in the classroom, students were brought to one of the main hallways of the school where they found over 150 of these QR codes taped to the windows. Using their smart phones, students scanned the QR codes and were instantly linked to various informative websites. Each of the codes corresponded to a different Jewish scholar, starting with the greats who lived during the Second Temple and ending with the spiritual leaders of modern times. With the information culled from these codes, students created a Torah timeline ranging from 515BCE until 2011. By tapping into their students' interest in technology, the middle school faculty was able to generate tremendous excitement about the Torah personalities that students learn about on a daily basis and give them a more intimate view of the special tradition of which they are an integral link.