Sunday, July 13, 2008

Finding the Path

A_path (Cross posted to LeaderTalk)
The path to understanding and change. This is a personal journey but one that has been formed by the many people who form my personal leaning network. In the discussion surrounding NECC08 one of the things that people have talked about is how this NECC may have been different from the last. NECC is different each year because we are different having journeyed, grown, changed over the course of the year. In reflecting on this reality for myself , in thinking about about leadership and learning, I have had cause to think about my journey, my perceptions and the ongoing act of transformation.

A vision is shared,

connections and exploration begin,

a personal vision is developed,

a shared vision is built,

learning about tools, connections, and possibilities,

exploration/ practice begins,

reflection on practice leads to reflection on pedagogy,

establishing big picture goals for student learning

and knowing where to find the tools to help achieve your goals,

Obviously this is not solely a linear process but it does summarize my journey and the journey for our school. (The highlights represent our current focus.)

The first agent of change I encountered almost 4 years ago was Alan November. At NECC this year I attended his session "Designing Rigorous and Globally Connected Assignments". The ideas were not new but their value lay in how they embrace the big picture and they serve as a waypoint to evaluate your course of action. Alan always touches on the fundamentals like using country codes and other tricks of good searching and some basic tools ( a concept I will comeback too) but the heart of it all for me was in the following three statements.
  • Give the children problems to solve.
  • Rewrite the job description of learners.
  • We need more voices teaching

What impact does this have on my planning for next year? What do I need to do?

First, I need to know where my staff is with regard to the journey. I was fortunate to take 4 people with me to NECC and we will debrief tomorrow night and talk about where we are and where we perceive our colleagues are with this journey. The tools discussion also fits in here. What are the essential tools? We are re -imaging all the computers in the school with a basic tool box to ensure everyone has access to what they might need and to ensure some platform uniformity. We will include Google docs and open office, picassa for basic photo editing, skype, photostory3, Google notebook, diigo, audacity, Google reader, google earth, voicethread, primaryaccess one of the mindmap programs, wetpaint wiki and learnerblogs. The emphasis is on ubiquitous access to tools but it is driven by the pedagogy that says that learners need access to information, collaboration, global connectivity and the ability to be content creators.

With regard to Alan's statements particularly the middle concept that we need to rewrite the job description of learners I am thrown back into the whole discussion of how to be an agent of change. Chris Lehmann's NECC presentation on Understanding by Design (UbD) hit the nail squarely on the head because it addresses how we think about what we teach and what learning is all about. UbD will form the other part of our before school to do list. UbD is not a magic bullet but it is about thinking and planning and with each passing year I become more convinced that one of the reasons change is slow is because for the most part we plan like we always have, chapter by chapter, sticking in blogs and wikis or some other tool because we know we should but not because we are thinking differently or setting different goals. Once the school year starts and the busier we become we are more likely than ever to fall back into what is easy and comfortable. So starting our planing with the big picture and working with Ubd can change our thinking , our framework for learning and become a tool of change. At least that is what I am thinking.

The final piece I am going to strive for in the coming school year is to create an environment that values, supports and rewards risk takers.

So here are the questions: Tools are cool but what are the basic elements we really need? Personally and for your school -How did your journey unfold- Where are you and what is next? How can you rewrite the job description of learners? What agents of change are you putting into place for the coming year?

Photo credit:
Uploaded on January 21, 2007
by ionushi

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Thursday, July 03, 2008

Back from NECC- Where the real learning begins

NECC is over and now I am home sorry to have left the face to face leaning community but I am also ready to begin to think deeply, reflect and move forward. Tomorrow is Leadership Day and I am also thinking about what I have to contribute to that conversation.

This NECC introduced me to a few new tools ( not that there weren't plenty of them out here) but most of what I sought was a deeper understanding of the pedagogy and the learning that the tools facilitate. To that end there are several presentations I want to reflect on including, Wes Fryer's session at Edubloggercon on Digital story telling and Oral histories, Alan November who always helps put the big picture in focus and Chris Lehmann's presentation on pedagogy. (Those will form /inform my next post).

What tools am I using, what tools are we using at school, and why are we using them? What do we need to be doing? Having teachers with me this year was a great opportunity to hear what they needed, what they were excited about and what structures I can facilitate to enable them to move ahead.

A few ideas are already surfacing..

Mentoring...teacher to teacher...who will really learn what tool well and be willing to help others

As a community we need a repository ( social bookmarking) of tools and tutorials for just in time learning and to share academic content

We need a way to bring new teachers quickly up to speed and fire their imagination with possibilities

To avoid projects or technology being an end in itself we need to have clear curricular goals.
and a clear understanding of the big picture....inclusive of the concepts of Global awareness, digital literacy, critical thinking, creativity and innovation in problem solving etc.

So in the end what do you need from technology? Perhaps it is only three basic things- Connectedness, publication capacity audio and visual, & collaboration tools. It does not matter which specific tools ....It is about what tools work for us and about the learning and skills they facilitate.
Chris Lehmann said tools are invisible (not to put too much of a spin on semantics ) I was challenged by that to move beyond simply transparency for our tools. At what point do tools truly become invisible?
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Wednesday, July 02, 2008

ThinWalls- NECC- A Transformative Experience

Clarence has done a nice post outlining some of our plans for the future of ThinWalls. And I have to echo his reflection about our face to face meeting being a wonderful experience and an opportunity to also deepen the connection of all involved.

This morning we discussed briefly another aspect of a ThinWalls classroom, the interpersonal connectedness or community, we hope the students would establish. To foster this we have discussed opening some channels of communication, like Twitter, that would help them develop that sense of connection beyond the specific content area. We also hope to make use of social bookmarking which I hope will move beyond the specific academic content they are working with to embrace their leaning in all areas.

From the perspective of the NECC experience I think another important thing happened for the ThinWalls classroom. Doing the poster session served as a form of publishing that allowed us to reflect on , recognize and celebrate what we had actually done. For the classroom teachers, especially Lucy and Terri, the day to day work and planning kept them so busy that they did not recognize how much they had done or the significance of their work. It was a great opportunity to see the big picture and to realize the significance of the ThinWalls work. But even more importantly from and administrative perspective I am seeing that "publishing" teacher work to an authentic audience is every bit as important as publishing student work!

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