Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Thoughts on the US Dept of Ed. National Education Tech Plan

I just finished reading the United States' Department of Education's National Education Technology Plan which would put the United States at the top of the list for college completion by the year 2020 and help close the achievement gap so that all students graduate from high school ready to succeed in college and careers.

In this article, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is quoted as saying, "We have an unprecedented opportunity to reform our schools. With this technology plan, we have laid out a comprehensive vision for how teachers working with technology can transform student learning in classrooms across America. We must dramatically improve teaching and learning, personalize instruction and ensure that the educational environments we offer to all students keep pace with the 21st century." I agree wholeheartedly with Duncan. We have GOT to do something different if we expect to achieve a different outcome in education than we do now. As the saying goes, "If you do what you've always done, you'll get what you've always gotten." Something HAS to change.

Here are the five main focus areas of the plan:
  • Learning: Change the learning process so it's more engaging and tailored to students' needs and interests.
  • Assessment: Measure student progress on the full range of college and career ready standards and use real time data for continuous improvement.
  • Teaching: Connect teachers to the tools, resources, experts and peers they need to be highly effective and supported.
  • Infrastructure: Provide broadband connectivity for all students, everywhere—in schools, throughout communities and in students' homes.
  • Productivity: Use technology to help schools become more productive and accelerate student achievement while managing costs.
I think they have hit the nail squarely on the head. The aim is to reach each of these five goals by the year 2015. Here again I say, "Bravo!" But let's be realistic. As with every plan, it looks great on paper (but then again, so did the No Child Left Behind Act). The truth of the matter is this though - If the government can't provide the funding for schools to do this, it just plain won't happen. You're never going to get teachers to jump on this bandwagon if they don't have the money to buy the technology it's going to take to reach these goals.

It is easy for me to get excited about working toward reaching these goals. I teach technology classes, so this plan fits right into what I'm passionate about. I've also been provided with have a classroom of 24" iMacs on which to daily teach my students. Unfortunately, my colleagues aren't so lucky. Until the government provides the money that is necessary to provide schools with adequate technology, teachers won't be able to provide the technology opportunities that are necessary for students to come into the 21st century with the skills necessary to compete with students around the world.

If the government can step in and bail out companies that have made poor business choices, why couldn't they put that money to better use and "bail out" the children who are the future of our country? The best laid plans are only as good as the action behind it. We cannot expect schools to teach 21st century skills with the equipment they used in the 19th century anymore than our government officials expect to do today's governing with yesterday's pay. If government officials want schools to bring students up to speed, then they have to step up and provide the resources to do so. Like everything else, it's a matter of politics.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Finding Joy in Your Circumstances

Over the past several months I have found myself surrounded by people with nothing positive to say about their circumstances. They gripe and complain about everything from the weather to students, from parents to the administration. I tried to not let it affect me, but that is easier said than done. I found myself caught in the middle of all the negativity, and over time it took its toll on me. Before long I discovered that my attitude toward everything began to take on a new look, and I didn't like that new look one bit. I'd come home from school feeling like I'd fought a losing battle, and I'd find myself complaining to my husband about everything. I hated going to work. I hated what I did. I hated the idea that I'd be "stuck" in the classroom for the next several years. I couldn't find the joy that I'd once known from being in the classroom. I had let the negativity of others steal the joy in my life. Then one morning I woke up and a revelation hit me like a ton of bricks...I can't change my circumstances, but I CAN change the way I deal with them.

That was a new day for me. By changing how I think about and respond to my circumstances, I started a slow healing process. Now, when negative thoughts start to invade my mind and bring me down, I look for something positive to focus on instead. When others make negative comments about their students, the parents, or the administration, I either choose to walk away, or better yet, counter with something positive instead. I've even gone so far as to tell a colleague who was complaining about how her lack of motivation stemmed from our lack of good leadership that THAT was a cop out. Motivation comes from within, not from others. She didn't like my bluntness, but eventually came back to thank me for reminding her that joy comes from within, not from her circumstances.

Changing my focus from the negatives to the positives has made all the difference. No longer do I dread Monday mornings. No longer do I allow myself to get caught up in the negative gossip of my colleagues. No longer do I come home feeling like I've fought a hard fight and lost. It's not always easy, but at least I'm more pleasant to be around. But best of all, I've rediscovered the joy in teaching that I'd allowed others to strip away. Each day brings new challenges, but I'm much better equipped to face them now than I was a few months ago.

Below is an excerpt from a great blog post by Dave Navarro that was originally posted on Rockyourday.com about how to take control of your moods. It is a great post that fits well with the life-lesson I've learned. Please allow me to reprint a portion of it here.

Using A Framework to Escape From Paralyzing Emotions

A: AGREE With Yourself That You Don’t Want To Be In This Mood Right Now.
C: CLARIFY The Mood or Emotion You Want To Move Towards
T: TAKE Responsibility For Taking Immediate Action.
F: “What Would I Need To FOCUS On To Feel this Way?”
A: “What Would I Need To ACT On To Feel The Way I Want To?”
S: “What Would I Need To SURROUND Myself With To Feel The Way I Want To?”
T: “What Would I Need To TELL Myself To Feel The Way I Want To?”

* If you ask yourself, “Why me?” or “What can I possibly do?” you‘re going to be paralyzed.
* If you ask yourself “What can I do next, from where I am, with what I have,” you’re going to put yourself in a position of strength.
* Ask better questions. Train yourself to be the sculptor of your moods, rather than being tossed about by urgency and externalities you can’t control.

To read the full article, click here.

As you go through each day, remember this:

No one can MAKE you feel anything. You decide how you interpret the stimuli. You may not be able to change your circumstances, but you CAN change the way you deal with them.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Collaborating with Kids 500 Miles Away Adds Excitement to a Class

Well, I have finally entered the realm of the flat classroom. After attending a ITEC 2010 Conference in Coralville, Iowa, I was privileged to hear Vicki Davis, a.k.a. Cool Cat Teacher, speak about the flat classroom project that she was instrumental in creating. Her keynote address sparked an interest in me that chose to linger long after the conference ended. How could I incorporate global learning into my current curriculum without reinventing the wheel? That question pestered me for several days and then, out of the blue, I was hit by the inspiration train.

I was sitting in my living room one evening, perusing my Facebook page when I came across a status update by my niece Jennifer who teaches 6th grade language arts in Arkansas...some 477 miles away. She commented that it was awesome to see the excitement on the faces of her students when they picked up their 1:1 computers for the first time. After the initial wave of jealousy washed over me, (we aren't a 1:1 school yet and probably won't be for at least another two years) my brain kicked into high gear and began dreaming up ways that my classes could collaborate with hers. There had to be SOMETHING that I was already doing with my kids that could involve hers as well. After a few minutes of pondering, my brain settled on the national parks wiki project that we were about ready to begin. It took a bit of scrambling on my part and Jennifer's to figure out the logistics, but within two weeks of intense planning we were ready to launch our "mini-flat classroom" project.

To start off with, we used Skype to teach in a virtual classroom. Since Jennifer had never done the project and was fairly new to the concept of wikis, I took the lead and taught both my class and hers about the project and how to interact with a wiki. I must admit it felt a little bit strange teaching to a classroom of students that I could not see. It was very rewarding, however, to see how engaged the students were. It's as if they felt they were on display for one another and didn't want to be thought of as disruptive or immature. The students who normally exhibited a short attention span stayed focused for much longer periods of time. The students who normally had difficulty keeping quiet during lessons were suddenly transformed into well-mannered, respectful students. I was so proud of them!

Once we paired up the Iowa students with the Arkansas students, we were ready to begin the research process. The biggest obstacle, however, was finding a way for the paired students to communicate with one another as they worked on the project almost 500 miles from one another. Our initial plan was to use individual Skype accounts for the students. This, unfortunately, was out of the question because the Arkansas students were not yet allowed to have individual Skype accounts. We thought about using Google.docs, but that plan failed because 6th graders have not yet reached the required age (13) for their own Google accounts. So we chose to use TypeWith.me, an on-line collaborative document site that allows students to type simultaneously within the same document and which has a chat feature that students can use to talk about what they are doing. The end result was fantastic! We left Skype up and projected on the big screen in the event the students need to do some face-to-face consulting. This also allowed us to feel connected to the students in Arkansas even though we live hundreds of miles away.

The final step in the collaboration project will be a celebration of our final product. As I write this blog post, students haven't even yet begun to create their own wiki pages within the class national parks wiki. But once they start that phase, the project will be close to completion. I can only imagine the excitement on the faces of the students when they see their handiwork on the Internet for the very first time. When that day comes, I assure you I will proudly write another blog post that brags on my student fine work.

While a project of this magnitude takes a lot of planning and preparation, it is one of the most rewarding of all the projects I've done throughout the past 20 years of teaching. It has been an incredible experience for the students, for Jennifer, and for myself. Even now my brain is spinning in an attempt to come up with other opportunities to go global with my students.