Sunday, June 26, 2011

Confused? Frustrated? Good!

This past week our staff attended a training for all schools starting a New Tech school in the fall. There are 18 new high schools opening across the U.S. next year. There were also teachers from four schools in Australia who are not officially part of New Tech Network, but use a problem based learning environment. My school had already had an extensive three day training in PBL so I went into the training with a good background. Some of the other teachers had just been hired the week before so everything was new to them.

Our morning session did not make a ton of sense to me. We were being immersed into a PBL situation as students. Our task was to make an audio walking tour of historic sites in Washington DC based on Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol. We were required to tie the historic sites to the beliefs of the Founding Fathers. We went through the PBL process of an entry document describing the task and found out what we know and what we needed to know. During this the question came up as to whether or not we needed to actually read the book. This question was discussed but never answered. This was the pattern of this daily session: lots of questions answered with questions and little direction.
from Flickr

We were often confused and frustrated. Now this was not the whole time. We completed a great group contract with our Australian partners in our group. We talked about the task and had divided it up. I attended an excellent "workshop" on how to find the ties in the symbolism between monuments and primary source documents.

On the last day our trainer laid out the scope and sequence for us of how the whole project would work in a real classroom. It was not until then that I understood the whole process and the whole week. I was confused and frustrated by design. They wanted us to feel the stress of a student "doing" PBL for the first time.

I thought the trainers were a bit unorganized and should have explained the directions better. A typical teacher (read me) would explain the whole project in detail at the beginning including how to find and interpret the appropriate resources and what tools to use. This approach tends to kill interest and motivation. But there was another reason to allow some confusion and frustration. It is what they call "just in time" instruction. How many of you all know that students tune you out when you explain something and you must re-explain it over and over again to them individually?

One of the important principles of PBL is to allow some confusion/frustration to create a need for students to seek out more information. Then you have their attention when you explain or share resources. Now you don't want students to be frustrated too long so that they want to give up. If they are new to PBL it probably will only take 5 minutes of confusion before they are ready for more instructions.

As Dan Meyer says "Be less helpful." I need to work on more questions and less answers from me to students. I need to put the responsibility and focus of learning back on the students. How about you? How do you use confusion/frustration to teach students?

Monday, June 20, 2011

Why I unfollowed you (or not)

OK this may be a narcissistic post but here I go anyways. I enjoy cleaning, well not really cleaning but throwing away stuff. I adhere to the model "When in doubt, throw it out." So as I obnoxiously tweeted yesterday I unfollowed almost 300 people on Twitter and told people if they want me to follow they need to talk to me. I am here for the conversations. So here are my reasons for following/unfollowing someone:

* If I have had a "conversation" with you through @ messages on twitter then I kept you. If you have never tweeted @ me then I may have unfollowed.

* If I recognize your avatar in my stream because I often read your tweets I kept you. If I feel like I never have seen your avatar, I checked your page and if you rarely tweet or haven't tweeted in months I unfollowed.

* If I have met you in real life I kept you even if you rarely tweet. Those relationships are more important than Twitter.

* If you tweet about your meals, your kids, your vacations, and your favorite sports teams I kept you. If you only tweet about education and links I might have unfollowed you. If you only tweet links I suspect you may be a bot rather than a human.

* If you are a social studies teacher I kept you. If you are a math teach I might have unfollowed you. Social studies is my new focus and math was my old one. If I connected with you as a math teacher and you are active I kept you (see first * point)but if you are a math lurker then sorry you are gone :)

* If you are an international teacher or live outside North America I kept you. I am looking to make world connections related to social studies and expanding my network.

* If you are an educator in Michigan I kept you. Local connections are important too.

* If you are part of New Tech network I kept you as this is part of my new school.

In short, for me Twitter is about getting to "know" people. If you want me to follow you all it takes is a few @ messages. I don't judge or rank my followers other than whether they interact with me as educators (not interested in spam :)So if I dropped you just starting talking to me. Also I don't block any educators so anyone can follow me. I am not elitist. I just don't see the point in listening you if you don't want to talk to me.

Ps. My favorite people on Twitter are those who give my crazy ideas pushback. Yeah I like to respectfully "debate" people :)

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Can skatebaording save our schools?

Watch this great TEDx talk over on Shawn's blog (go watch his TEDx talk too it's excellent) and wanted to share it here.

Money quotes:

         Nobody knows ahead of time how long it takes anyone to learn anything.

         When learning is the goal and learning is the reward there is no point in cheating.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

What is TPACK missing?


How many discussions, blog posts,and tweets have you read saying"It's not about the tools" or "We need to focus on the pedagogy" or "Just purchasing technology will not change the way teachers teach." We criticize schools for adopting shiny tech and expecting it to radically change schools. Studies show that teachers just keep teaching the same way as always trading in blackboards for whiteboards for IWB's and exchanging overhead projectors for bullet points in PowerPoint on LCD's.

TPACK is an attempt to articulate the proper balance of technology integration into education. It seeks to find the intersection of technology, pedagogy, and content. The "sweet spot" is where all three of these are balanced and intersect. While I understand and appreciate this diagram it really does not help me with the how to make this happen.

Saying that we need to focus on pedagogy first before technology is not helpful because it does not define what good pedagogy is.(at least not in my admitted limited reading about it) That is my problem with TPACK.

Recently I had problem based learning (PBL) training from the Buck Institute. In my humble opinion PBL is the pedagogy that we should be advocating for. It is student centered, inquiry based, with authentic tasks, community involvement, and a real audience.Teachers start either with the standards or an interesting problem and tie it to the standards. Then teachers develop a guiding question for students to explore with further essential questions to define it in more detail. Students collaboratively research and explore the problem and create some kind of proof of learning that they present to the community as their final product and assessment.

All of this process can be done without any technology, but it is easier, more efficient, and offers more opportunities for depth and collaboration WITH technology. Research can be done through the internet instead of books. Writing can be done in a word processor instead of on paper. But the real gains are that social networking tools can be used to gain information not found in books. Collaborative writing can be done in GDocs. Interesting final products can be made such as web based wikis or produced on computers such as podcasts or movies. Computers also allow different groups of students to take the project in unique directions that are difficult to achieve when using limited paper materials.

So if I was an administrator considering a major technology implementation such as going 1:1 with some kind of internet device, I would start with PBL training. I would have every teacher go through the training preferably even a year before the technology was purchased. Then I would create time for teachers to work together and discuss PBL implementations in their classrooms. I believe that PBL is the pedagogy that would lead to a successful technology integration program.

When the time came to add the technology teachers would "naturally" add it to their PBL projects. After teachers had created great project ideas they would look to technology to support the learning goals through research, writing, and collaborating. They would look at technology options for students to create "proof of learning" and presentations. Teachers and students would hit the "sweet spot" in TPACK.

So TPACK experts, where am I wrong? Am I misrepresenting it in anyway?

Teachers, how many of you have taken an education class on PBL in undergrad or graduate school? I never remember even hearing it mentioned.

College of Education professors, is PBL a required part of the coursework at your school? If no, why not?

I am not (quite) ready to declare PBL the only pedagogy schools should use, but variations of it seem to be the best practice to me. Anyone got a different pedagogy that they think is equal or superior to it?