Saturday, September 17, 2011

Mistakes are Wonderful Opportunities to Learn

If mistakes are wonderful opportunities to learn, then why do we resist them so much as adults? Could it be in part because we no longer see ourselves as learners? Perhaps. We need to accept and embrace our mistakes regardless of our age, especially when it comes to integrating technology. We do a disservice to our students and rob them of an authentic learning experience, both in our households and in our classrooms, when we don't model what recovering and learning from a mistake looks like.

As we get older, we want to be the experts, the ones who have their act together, but this can limit us and hold us back from helping others (and ourselves) learn. Learning in the 21st century, when things change so quickly, means living in a time of constant innovation. Innovation comes from taking risks. Taking risks means making mistakes. Learning new technology requires a risk, a risk of letting the world know that you don't know it all. Embrace that you know how to learn and a part of that knowing is accepting that mistakes will be made. It is important for us to model that in our classroom, to let our students to see us attempt something new and innovative. What better preparation can we give our students than to take a risk with an innovation and see how it works, gather information, reflect on how it went, and take action by making different decisions. That means being among your students making mistakes. It also gives them an opportunity to be problem-solvers, because students are always willing to help us along the way, especially when it comes to using technology.

Yes, not only are mistakes wonderful opportunities to learn, but they are wonderful opportunities to teach.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

What People Need

I can't please everyone! I know, not much of an epiphany you say. But so often, I trick myself into thinking that I can please everyone, provide what they need in a relationship, provide new understanding that will help them see different perspectives, provide skills that will help them experience success and growth.

I see this especially when it comes to helping teachers become comfortable using technology in their classrooms. There are so many obstacles: some in our minds, some in our skills, some in our beliefs, some in our egos.

I think a key might be figuring out what people need. What are their hopes and fears? Conversation is the key, but these are the often the kinds of conversations we shy away from, awkward and uncomfortable, conversations that make people feel vulnerable. I want to create a culture in both of my worlds where these kinds of conversations can happen more regularly. Then maybe I can't please everyone, but I can be there to witness them figuring out what they need. And maybe sometimes, just sometimes, I can fill that need. When I can't, at least I was there to witness and support.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Work-Life Balance

So it's been a few weeks since I've posted. In an effort to achieve some sort of work-life balance, I stepped away from my computer to reconnect with family and home. Then the school year began and the crazy-busy schedule along with it. When would I ever find the time to blog again? Time to check the balance.

As educators, we recognize that what looks balance to one individual will not look the same to others. For many of us the work we do fuels our lives, so down time is reading articles, conducting research, and sharing our findings and reflections with others. Prioritizing, reflecting on the things that make our lives meaningful, and taking action towards the high priorities are the best way to achieve that balance.

As educators, we also understand developmental stages. When we transfer that information to our adult selves and colleagues we can gain insight into the ages and stages of teachers. Those with small children at home have less time to devote to work passions. Those veteran teachers find that time spent devoted to our passion for education has us working weekends and nights, but still feeling balanced.

I found my time and am glad for it. What does balance look like for you?

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Prompting Reflection

There can be a lot of life events that cause one to stop and reflect. I tend to see this happening in the "real" world during a time of transition or difficulty: death of a loved one, job loss, traumatic event. But I believe that a habit of reflection can make living life, and living through life's challenges, a little easier. Why? Maybe because reflection helps you see your purpose, create meaning from your actions, and empower you to make decisions.

In my world of education, we ask students to reflect on their learning and development. Why? Because reflection provides opportunities to think about the connection between oneself and the learning, leading to self-awareness and new action. Here is a great post on Reflection as an Aid to Understanding.
Ten Ways to Encourage Student Reflection provides some great ideas, and here are some of my favorite prompts:

  • One thing I learned...
  • I was surprised by...
  • I am confused by...
  • This reminds me of...
  • I want to learn more about...

Friday, July 15, 2011

Technology Leadership

I read a great book this summer, The Principal as Technology Leader by Theodore Creighton. In it he states, "The teacher's responsibilities involve creating classroom environments where students think, explore, and construct meaning, while including opportunities for students to have social interaction." So wonderfully simple, right? If only that were the case; it is really challenging to be a constructivist educator because you have to always be thinking. Step away from the textbook; it can only take you so far. Technology can support the creation of this classroom environment AND provide a higher level of engagement. But again, using technology is not easy for some teachers. A colleague hypothesized that some teachers feel they don't have adequate skills to use technology or perhaps they are embarrassed to admit feeling inadequate. This is also a reason teachers shy away from inquiry-based teaching. Why do educators feel like we have to know it all to teach it well? There is enough evidence out there to support the removal of teacher as "sage on the stage." Educators need to see themselves as learners alongside their students, especially in the area of technology. There is no way to keep up with the latest and greatest, know how to use every piece of hardware, software, application etc. What we have to do as educators is what we ask of our students:  continually think. Then we need to make that thinking visible by modeling it, verbalizing our processes, and helping to categorize it for our students. Which brings me to my next summer read:  Making Thinking Visible by

Monday, July 11, 2011

Summer Learning

Learning doesn't stop in the summer. Despite the collective image of Alice Cooper we (teachers and students) have singing in our heads, learning in the summer doesn't have to be a drag. Just as good technology usage in classrooms needs to be integrated into good teaching via authentic activities, summer learning needs to be more than drill and kill computer programs. The good news is that there are plenty of authentic learning opportunities during summer travel.

Mobile devices offer a wealth of chances to embed learning and technology into vacation time. Mapping trip routes using Google Maps (or similar app) helps with  problem solving and geography. Writing reviews of restaurants, hotels, movies, and attractions allows learners to use technology skills while sharing personal experiences with others via the written word. Break out that iPhone and start learning! Want more ideas? Check out 50 Creative Ways to Prevent Summer Brain Drain.

Learning doesn't stop for educators either. We all need a break from the hectic school year, but summertime is also time for the learning that you want. With the creation of virtual learning experiences, this no longer means attending a week-long workshop or taking a college course. It might require a bit of a shift in mindset, but this is learning that will inspire you and help you add a few technology skills to your tool belts.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Overcoming the F Word

Technology can bring out the best in learning, and the worst in a learner. I can't tell you how many times the F word has gotten in the way of successful technology implementation. I am not referring to the word that often comes out of a user's mouth when faced with an unforeseen obstacle; I am talking about the word that keeps a user from even trying:  FEAR.

The Seven Golden Rules of Using Technology in Schools highlights how we are doing a disservice to our students when we let our fears (of being replaced, of not knowing enough) keep us from teaching good digital citizenship. Technology is here to stay, and it is in students' hands regardless of what we do in the classroom. Isn't it best to teach them how to use it responsibly and intelligently? Or should we continue to run away?

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

My Professional Learning Network

Using an online mind-mapping tool called MindMeister, I created the following graphic organizer to highlight my PLN. This particular tool, while quite useful, requires membership for more than 3 maps, but there are other free services out there to support the use of collaborative mapping. David Warlick recently posted about how he used a similar tool at the ISTE convention. Regardless of which tool you use, using collaborative mind maps is a great way to integrate technology into good teaching practice.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Online Professional Development

I recently participated in an online professional development entitled, The Needed Virus, provided by the Discovery Educator Network and Learning.Com. Well actually, I viewed an archived webinar from April of this year. The wonders of technology continue: not only can educators take live courses via the internet, but if we missed one, we can still benefit from the learning thanks to the archives. There are quite a few key elements to providing successful professional development online, and I highly recommend you read this ISTE article, Successful Online Professional Development, as a way to learn from others' successes. 

In the particular webinar I viewed there was extensive information about creating your own Professional Learning Network. The content was much the same as my graduate school course, Improving Productivity and Practice with Technology, for educational leadership. There are three purposes for creating a PLN: connecting, contributing, and collaborating. Using tools like Twitter, Google Reader, Wikispaces, and Diigo and educator can enhance his/her teaching practice by connecting with other educators, contributing his/her own experiences and knowledge, and collaborating with others to improve the quality of education. All of this can happen while you are sitting in the comfort of your own home!

The primary benefits on online professional development include:

Friday, July 1, 2011

Engaged Learning

I just watched my first VoiceThread, and I am inspired by the possibilities. One thing immediately came to my mind as an educator: a learner can engage with knowledge that a teacher or fellow student presents in an interactive format full of digital literacy skill building. As a learner I was excited by the chance to connect with other learners; VoiceThread added the human component that is essential for me in learning and is too often missing when we integrate technology in the learning environment. Here is a tool to create opportunities for engaged learning. Not only does a VoiceThread allow you to create, but it allows others to comment and collaborate on your creation. Teachers can give voice, video, or text feedback to student creations. Students can  share their learning with others around the world. There is a ton of research out there that speaks to the need for engaged learning. But using VoiceThread is not just good brain-based learning, it's fun! Technology improves learner engagement. Check out mine below:

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Building a Professional Learning Network

Not only does technology provide tools to improve learning and student achievement in the classroom, it provides educators with opportunities for professional development. Virtual classrooms for educators earning advanced degrees, webinars, video tutorials, and educator blogs are just a few of the technology tools that can support teachers in their quest for life-long learning, all made possible via the amazing internet. We have experienced how the power of the internet helps students gather information in seconds and connects them with learners across the globe, but we need to experience that power for ourselves. Now is the time to create a Professional Learning Network. Develop a network of educators and experts to connect with and contribute to your ongoing professional development.

I know, it can be a bit daunting, especially with so many sources of information out there. Who has enough time in the day to visit all the educator sites, read all the articles, and check out the latest technology tools for teaching? Google Reader can help you manage the flow of information by bringing it to you instead of you going out to find it. You can even carry those connections with you on your mobile phone using an application like Feedly.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Technology and Creativity

Let's revisit that Daniel Pink video for a moment. He highlights the science that shows we are not motivated by incentives when tasks call for higher order thinking skills, the same types of skills we want our students to be using in our 21st-century classrooms. So what can we do to motivate students? We can allow them to innovate and create - an ideal constructivist classroom opportunity. The science shows that when we are given a purpose and an opportunity, we are motivated to achieve.

Embedding technology skills into learning opportunities can increase engagement and motivation even more. Technology supports creativity and innovation via tools like Prezi. The next time you ask your students to solve a real-life problem or apply their new knowledge and thinking to a class presentation, why not try it out.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Technology and Multiple Intelligences

In an ideal world, technology in schools would be integrated into all subjects in order to advance both student engagement and achievement. Technology provides educators an opportunity to do what we do well, even better. One example of this is using technology to meet the individual needs of all learners.
The image below shows my learning style:
Using a voice recording device to capture my thoughts is a good use of technology to meet my learning style. My blog posts all begin as voice memos on my iPhone. When I am hit with an epiphany, I grab my phone and record. I come back later and organize my recordings by naming them according to topic. I listen to my thoughts and refine them for the written version, which often means creating a more purposeful post from the stream-of-consciousness memo in which they began. Students can do this with a variety of audio editors including Audacity or with the built-in sound recording devices found on most computers today.
This is just one use of technology to meet multiple intelligences. Click here to learn more.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Why a Blog is a Wonderful Vehicle for Reflection

A key component of being a learner and a constructivist educator is reflection. A blog is perfect for this because it allows one to organize his/her thoughts in a shared written expression. The writing process of composing a blog gives the writer the opportunity to consider a wider audience and purpose. This form of written expression, unlike others, is dynamic. It allows an audience member to come to it in his/her own time/space and share further reflections thereby creating a dialogue. Click here to read about how blogging supports constructivism and creativity.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Reflection and Purpose

Sometimes we can get so caught up in our day-to-day tasks that we tend to forget how those tasks are related. What is our larger purpose? It is through the act of reflection that we can reconnect to that purpose. The moment of reflection then feeds our day-to-day tasks so that we stay moving toward our goals, our purpose.

The video below of a speech by Daniel Pink, from his book Drive, talks about what motivates us. Purpose is key. I think there are some great educational implications to be found in this video. Tell me what you think.