Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Fighting Another Curriculum or Maybe Not

My school district has been working on creating curriculum documents, using them and making revisions for the last four years. We've made some great progress and some good (though sometimes overwhelming) changes have happened. Conversations about technology in the classroom focus on learning goals rather than cool tools.

Because we've spent so much time on the academic curriculum and because so many changes have happened based on this effort, I've not been an advocate of even creating a technology curriculum. Until tonight...

While relaxing and enjoying a little downtime tonight, I came across something on Doug Johnsons' blog that was actually written in January, 2006. He refers to adopting a philosophy of "AND not OR." My focus has been on technology curriculum or no technology curriculum. I've advocated for NO technology curriculum because of all the other things that are currently pressuring our classroom teachers and because my fear was that a technology curriculum would cause us to just simply teach technology for technology's sake and not for the sake of learning. But Doug has reminded me that this doesn't really need to be an "or" situation at all.

Here's what I'm thinking: let's create a technology curriculum but let's write it as something more than just a laundry list of skills that should be accomplished by the end of some particular grade level - the revised NETS comes to mind as a start. Then let's take that curriculum and view our academic curricula through that lens. Perhaps with the addition of a technology curriculum we could really begin to make some headway with technology for learning supported by some more frequent training opportunities for teachers. Many of our teachers are doing good things with technology in our classrooms, some are still dabbling, while others are begging for the opportunity to have the time and the training that would help them move forward. The time is right to think about technology AND!

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Friday, September 07, 2007

Routines and Procedures

Elementary teachers are amazing! Our school year here began this Wednesday and I marvel how, after only three short (and very hot) days the students have already been trained in some regular routines. It almost seems like they never left the building and we're back to business as usual.

As I think about those routines, I think about some parallels between them and the ways we learn to use technology. Here's what typically happens with these simple classroom routines:
  • Teacher explains what the expectations for performance are (no talking in the hall, walking in a straight line, hanging backpacks up on the appropriate hooks, sharpening pencils before the day begins and whatever else)
  • Teacher guides students through the appropriate performance step by step
  • Teacher helps students practice and supports the learning of those individuals having difficulties with the performance
  • Students are expected to perform independently
  • Teacher shapes further performances as needed
I think about how that applies to the learning of skills that we teach in technology. We follow the same sort of process whether we're teaching reading strategies or teaching technology skills. If we could take students through the procedural knowledge they need for performing with technology tools with the same intent as we teach them the steps in using a particular reading strategy or walking from the classroom to the cafeteria we could save ourselves so much more time in the long run.

One of the primary teachers I work with recently moved from 1st grade to 2nd grade. She spent a lot of time exploring technology tools with her students and carefully helping them to build some basic skills while in 1st grade. Since she has most of her former 1st graders in her new 2nd grade class she can really see how the development of that procedural knowledge is helping her to move into the use of some more advanced tools with ease.

If we could only take a little extra time at the beginning of the school year to establish technology routines, the payoff throughout the school year would be tremendous. Not only would that benefit the individual teacher but it would set the stage for the next grade level and beyond.

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Wednesday, September 05, 2007

It's the little things...

I've spent many hours over the past few days doing what we do every year at this time - checking out the little things that may have been missed during summer cleaning/reconnecting/imaging or helping teachers with little things like making sure their projectors are connected properly to computers and in working order. We also strive to get those last minute things out to teachers as quickly as possible, in particular the passwords that will be used by students to gain access to computers. But the most important part of all is the interaction with the teachers and the PR that results from responding to their technology needs as quickly as possible. Those initial connections are priceless.

In 8 short years, we've gone from staff who didn't know how to turn on the computers to staff who can't possibly do without their projectors on the first day of school. This comes, in some part, as a result of training that we've done over the years in a variety of ways - everything from gathering large groups together to meeting with single teachers at their convenience to answer the questions that are burning on their minds at that point in time. One of the most significant things that helped us is the interactions among our teachers - the kind that they've initiated all on their own.

We began our technology infusion with a Model Classroom approach where 2 teachers in every building became the first to get multiple computers in their classrooms. Their role was to share what they were doing within their buildings. From there, we gradually added more computers in two more phases until every classroom was equipped. It wasn't just placing a projector in a classroom or providing them with particular pieces of software that made a teacher want to use it. It was another teacher who had found that really great website or who already had had a projector before them who sat in the staff room talking about using that projector to show the students something on the Internet or demonstrating how they would use a particular piece of software. [I still fondly recall the wonders of trying to arrange 22 first graders around a 12 inch computer screen so that everybody could see how to do something on a computer - a far cry from the projectors we have now!]

From our small beginnings 8 years ago have grown some really great and inspiring instructional uses of technology from many of our teachers with new ideas being developed, implemented or considered all the time. We still struggle with all the issues that other schools and districts struggle with [time and training in particular] and I can spend hours talking about all the things that still frustrate me. But the fact that so many teachers spent so much time making sure that the technology in their rooms was set for the first day has been really inspiring to me. I look forward to continuing to provide any support that I can to our teachers and hope that I can provide the leadership that will help them to achieve their objectives for improving student achievement in our district.

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Monday, September 03, 2007

Test Scores and Professional Development

Two postings are itching at my brain this afternoon. One, from David Warlick, talks about the importance of teacher's getting up to speed with technology in the 21st century. The other, from Karl Fisch, talks about test scores and what we look for in the schools we send our children to. For me, these two postings have many connections.

When Karl talks about test scores as a predictor of school quality I reflect back to the role I'm currently playing in my school district with data analysis. As the person who gathers the test scores, breaks them down by building and then by state standards and performance indicators, I see the trends in performance for all the buildings in which I function as an instructional technology specialist. But, I've also had the opportunity to sit with those teachers and listen to their discussions about various aspects of the test and why their students did or did not handle a particular skill or question well. I hear them talk about the learning goals designated for each question and then their discussion about the teaching strategies they have used or need to use more specifically in order to meet those goals. Our teachers are really focusing on their practice and what they need to adjust in order for students to improve their achievement.

What's missing from the discussion is the role of technology in helping students to develop skills. I'm not just talking about the skills needed to be successful on the test. What the scores are showing us consistently is that our students have difficulty with questions that involve higher level thinking and broad background knowledge. And, what recent history is showing me is that we don't provide enough teacher training in the instructional use of technology. Yes...I still hear the "digital immigrant" excuse - "the kids know more than I do", "I have too many things to do now as it is" and others. But, I don't really see this as an excuse. I see it more as an indicator of our lack of attention to teacher training. If we want to improve student achievement, we need to turn our focus to producing some concrete applications for technology tools supported by strong instructional practices so that teachers begin to see connections between tools, instruction and student learning. The more we work on those connections, the more successful we'll be in bringing our teachers into a more active role in preparing students for the 21st century.

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