Friday, November 30, 2012

District Tech Planning - Student Goal 1d - Instilling Purpose

(This is the fourth post in a series on developing student goals for the next revision of our district technology plan. Though at this date and time it does seems a little silly to have a separate plan for the use of technology in schools when technology is so ubiquitous.  The student goals described below are less about technology and more about what we wish students leave our schools with in terms of skills, knowledge, and potential for continued growth.

Technology Plan Student Goals

  1. Strong Foundation in the basics (Not much to say here, have been doing this for decades.)
  2. Ability to Solve Real Problems
  3. To Be Independent Thinkers
  4. Make Healthy Choices

Student Goal 1d - Instill A Sense of Purpose

  • To feel that they matter and are positive contributions to our community. (Purpose)
    • Community Awareness
      • Cultures
      • Ages
      • Economic status
      • Geography
      • “Neighbors”
    • Identify Needs (huge and very broad, no limits)
    • Contribute to Solutions

If there is one thing I don’t think we do well across all curricular areas in our students is foster their sense of purpose and worth. I don’t mean giving out ‘that-a-boys’ or more certificates at the monthly awards assembly. There is more to this goal than building self esteem. What I’m referring to is students knowing their community, where they fit in context to their community, and how they can be contributors in their community. You may be thinking, how the heck do you foster a student’s feeling of purpose or worth in a algebra class, or a remedial language arts class? This is a very good question, and the answer is going to take some work. If we expect to educate our children better than we have, we have to start doing things different from the ways we have always done them. Instilling a sense of purpose in our students is one of those “different things” that I think can become a catalyst for learning in our schools across all subject areas.

There are and have been many organizations that have instilled this sense of purpose and worth in their members. The result of the work in this area by these organization has resulted in improved communities, communication, and standards of living. For many of these organizations, this goal has been a staple in their “curriculum plans” for decades. It seems in public education, kindergarten is the only place in the K12 curriculum, maybe first grade too, where there is any emphasis focused on the community. Without students at all ages understanding the community they live in how are they ever going to be able to realistically place themselves in a mindset where they feel they can contribute? Why haven’t we implemented this goal in our schools more effectively? As I eluded to above the models and their results have been available to us for hundreds of years.

So as this is a goal in our (draft) district technology plan, how does technology fit within this goal?

To begin with, I have identified three large components to this goal. They are Community Awareness, Identifying Needs, and Contributing to Solutions.  Community awareness has a series of sub-topics within it: Cultures, Ages, Economic Status, Geography, and Neighbors are a few. In my opinion the concept of community awareness holds content that addresses every curriculum area in our schools and across all grade levels. For example, the ability to bring up photographs and maps/satellite images covering our local community contributes to the early elementary school age learner’s understanding of their community while at the same time addressing standards such as, describe familiar people, places, things, and events and, with
prompting and support, provide additional detail. Primary students that have the ability to explore media about their community by interacting with content in multiple formats on a regular bases will begin to develop an understanding that will in the later grades provide them with the foundation for understanding their place within the community and the contributions they can make to the community. (Originally, I accidentally wrote “Primary language students...” in the last sentence, but edited it out. However, that brings up an important point regarding our second language learners, and the makeup of our changing communities. All the more reason for an emphasis on community.)  Older students can dive more deeply into the context of their community by investigating charts a graphs related to populations and other census data as found directly through the US Census Bureau, Using this content teachers and students can address standards such as measurement and data, and statistics and probability while at the same time developing a clearer understanding of their community. The clearer the understanding a student has about their community, the better it is for them to see where they can contribute.

The final two large themes, Identifying needs and contributing solutions can be thought of as independent level
sub-goals, ideally, one follows the other. The concept of student contributions  can be thought of on one level, say in the primary grades, as simply an investigation of organizations in the community that already seek to solve community issues, all of which are easily available on the Internet.  Then having them share or publish their knowledge back out to the community through a blog or an editorial. On a higher level, older students may identify needs within the community and addressing them through videos or podcasts and shared back out to the community. Ultimately students get to the point that they begin to brainstorm and seek solutions for issues and problems within their community that they have identified and identifying those organizations that are providing solutions.

My idea is by providing students a better picture of their community, where they fit within the community, and what they can or have the potential to contribute (purpose) to the community, will result in a stronger engagement at their skill level
acquirement (Standards), while also improving their higher order thinking skills and communication skills. As I mentioned in the beginning, this will take some serious work to accomplish in the classroom, professional development and otherwise. There are not very many ebooks available for teachers to push out to say kindergarten students, that address our local community. However, at the early primary grades, there are a number of traditional books and ebooks that address components of communities that are common across all communities, and as most teachers do, they relate those concepts back to the student by sharing similarities within their own community. Technology has afforded us a wonderful opportunity to explore our local communities much more in depth than ever was possible in the past. We need to begin using technology to foster the sense of purpose in our students through the in depth investigation of our community.

CC licensed image courtesy of Patrick Feller

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Tony Wagner's Latest, Creating Innovators

I just finished Tony Wagner’s latest book, Creating Innovators - The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World. It supports many of the current ideas that are popular regarding the needs for changing our education system to better prepare our children for a globally competitive world.  Some of the concepts he expresses in the book include the importance of play, passion, and purpose in learning. He addresses these concepts through looking at our education institutions, K12 education, higher ed, parenting, and business among others. One of the “others” is the US Army and the changes they have planned in their education system for 2015.

General Martin Dempsey, commanding general of the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, TRADOC created the Army Learning Concepts 2015 document that describes philosophy and recommended changes for the Army’s training programs. In a world where everybody has access to the same information, even adversaries, it does no good to just possess the knowledge. What creates the advantage is knowing what to do and how to use that knowledge to your advantage. That requires creativity and innovation.

The US Army Learning Concept 2015 report provides a plan for restructuring learning and education in the Army. The plan, which was created in 2010, began implementation that year and  provided some immediate guidance related to the practice of education in the Army.  Three concepts in the TRADOC plan are highlighted in the book by Mr. Wa

  1. Convert most classroom experiences into collaborative problem solving events led by facilitators (versus instructors) who engage learners to think and understand the relevance and context of what they learned.

  1. Taylor learning to the individual learners experience and competence level based on the result of a pretest and assessment.

  1. Dramatically reduce or eliminate instructor led slide presentation lectures and begin using a blended learning approach that incorporates virtual and constructive simulations, gaming technology, or other technology delivered instruction.

These recommendations are similar to the ones many folks have been suggesting for improving our public schools for years.

Creating Innovators does a great job of looking at education and learning across the spectrum of parenting, k12, higher education, and business.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

District Tech Planning - Student Goal 1c - Making Healthy Choices

(This is the third post from a series of developing student goals for our District Technology Plan. The first student goal was Students With Abilities to Solve Real Problems and the second was having students become Independent Thinkers.)

Student Goal 1c - Students That Make Healthy Choices

  • To make healthy choices.
    • Awareness of self
    • Interdependence
    • Physical - less idle
    • Social Etiquette
    • Safety Online
    • Turning Off (putting the digital down)

Wow, how does, “make healthy choices” end up on my short list of student goals for our District Technology Plan?  Actually, there are quite a few areas where technology plays an important role in having students learn to make healthy choices. The Internet is the world’s interests all encapsulated into a device that fits in your pocket and the palm of your hand. Everything that is good about our world, and everything that is not so good about our world is available today in our pockets. Also, unlike a genie out of a bottle, there is no putting the Internet back in the bottle. It is here to stay. If we choose to ignore it we put ourselves and our children in potential harms way. For this reason I am identifying six goals under this this theme.

I’m going to mix the order of them up here a bit, even though to begin with, they are not in any particular order. These six items were thought up a while ago and I seem to be having some questions as to why I originally listed some of them. But my initial ideas may present themselves to me as I work through this writing. I’ll start with the most obvious one, Safety Online. There are a plethora of resources to help children understand the skills and strategies for staying safe online. Once such curriculum available is the CommonSense media resources, CommonSense media provides curriculum to educators starting at the kindergarten level on up through twelfth grade.

Social etiquette is the second targeted goal for students. Social etiquette skills parallel some of the same concepts found in safety online. For example, concepts such as when and where texting is appropriate bring up both fundamental concepts regarding safety and appropriate use. As a result of these parallel concepts, many of the education resources available to teachers covers both areas. For example, Common Sense Media provides resources to help students understand the dangers of risky text messages, and curriculum to help students learn to review their media habits, and the role of digital media plays in their lives.

Awareness of self and Interdependence are the next two goals. These two are the most difficult for me to remember why I originally listed them as goals. However, like I am modeling here, awareness of self and interdependence are related, at least in the area of technology, to self-reflection, or in this case, the act of sharing online. Again many concepts in these two sub-goals are shared in the above goals mentioned above safety online and social etiquette. Concepts such as privacy, copyright, creating personal learning networks or common interest groups for lifelong learning relies heavily on students being able to identify their interests and strengths, share their knowledge with an audience, and identify other “experts” with common interests. A student’s awareness of their strengths and the understanding on their part of the fact that to improve their skills requires an interdependence with others is vital to their ongoing development.

The last two goals for this theme are the importance of being active or physical and turning off (putting down) the technology. Our emphasis on digital media and changes in our culture have led to a devaluation of doing things without technology. Our minds work best when we include activities that get us up off our bottoms (This is your brain on excercise). These activities do not need to be rigid and require great athletic talents but instead can be as simple as taking a 20 minute walk or a short bicycle ride. There is strong evidence that supports the fact that  our minds do best when our bodies are active ( whether we’re learning math concepts or mastering the next level of WOW.  

CC image courtesy of on flickr

Friday, November 16, 2012

District Tech Planning - Student Goal 1b (Independent Thinkers)

 (More tech plan musing...)

Student Goal 1b

  • To be independent thinkers.
    • (Everything under goal Life Long Learning) Plus...
    • Non-Judgmental
    • Open to Suggestion
    • Learn from mistakes
    • Concerned more with the process and not the product
    • Emphasis on the big picture and not the independent steps*
    • Seek Experiences - “get out of comfort zone”

This goal seems a little more difficult to justify as a separate goal. It could be considered a prerequisite for both the goals of lifelong learning and for the ability to solve problems. In order to be effective in those two realms, being an independent thinker would be an asset. Is it more a characteristic of a person as opposed to being a skill? So if we were going to teach someone how to be an independent thinker, what skills would we practice?

The first three bullets above, the skills we would like our students to take away from school under the Independent Thinkers goal all require self-reflection, or what we also know as metacognition. So what are the skills of metacognition? Metacognition is at the top of the a three tiered thinking process. It It starts at Cognitive Description, or a focus on what the child is thinking about a content, moves to Cognitive Extension or a focus on how the child is thinking  about the content, to finally Metacognition that focuses on the child’s thinking about his/her own thinking about the content. Robert Fisher in a paper titled, Thinking about Thinking: Developing Metacognition in Children,  describes in detail this progression to metacognition in children and writes that, “We need to encourage children to probe deeper into what they have said and what they think, through what has been called 'empathetic challenging' (Bonnet 1994).
Inquiring into a child's thinking facilitates thinking.” The bottom line is successful students have a higher degree of metacognitive capacity than less successful students. How do we teach metacognition in the classroom?

Initially developing student metacognition skills begins by exposure to reflective vocabulary during instruction.
Language is modeled by the teacher and takes the forms such as, “The thinking we are going to use today is...” or “What thinking have we been doing....?” and sets the stage for students to begin thinking about their thinking. In addition instructional lessons can be created to further model self reflection during instruction by the teacher. One such example that I experienced over the Summer was demonstrated to me in a workshop put on by the Great Valley Writing Project, the Stanislaus area group of the National Writing Project. In one example, the teacher demonstrated her thought process while writing in front of her students, modeling what she wanted her students to do. Instead of having the conversations in her head as she wrote, she verbally described what she was thinking as she wrote her narrative. Her modeling showcased to her students what was going on in her head as she decided to what words to use, and the decisions she struggled with as her narrative took shape. This short example runs the gamut from cognitive description straight through to the potential for metacognition.

I’m still struggling whether to keep "Independent Thinker" as a separate goal in our District technology plan. However, an emphasis on on creating independent thinkers is a real goal whether it is embedded into another goal or not; modern tools facilitate students’ ability to substantiate their internal thought process in much more varied ways than traditional paper and pencils. 

cc original photo courtesy of  

Thursday, November 15, 2012

District Tech Planning - Student Goal 1a

(A little musing as I jump into the beginning of a district tech plan rewrite...Feel free to add your comments below...)

This year is a technology plan rewrite year for us. Schools in California have to have a technology plan in order to be eligible for the Federal E-Rate program or eligible to write for any competitive grants the State may pull out of their Federally funded hat, such as EETT Enhancing Education Through Technology grants. The likelihood of grants in this economic environment is slim, but be that as it may, most would agree that a technology plan is good etiquette for school districts.

Technology has become an integral part of our normal day outside of school. Technology should be just as integral in our students' learning day. This idea is the foundation for our current rewrite and will be the catalyst for some major goals in our new plan.

All good plans dealing with education must start with the needs of the student. Those needs are specific and targeted to student learning. Whether you are planning the construction of a new school, or planning the use of technology, your first step is to examine the needs of your learners and design for their future. For instance, among the skills that we would like students to leave our school with is the ability to solve real problems.

Real problems in this instance are not the problems, 1-12 on page 201 of the textbook. Real problems are complex, multifaceted challenges, based in real life that are not solvable in a 50 minute class period. There are no shortages of examples, or models of real problems that we can use to introduce students to concepts and skills real world problems. Crack open almost any piece of classical literature and you will read about real problems and how the characters of those stories solved their real problems. The skills that we discover in
those stories are very often the same skills that we would like our students to come away with from our schools. However the world has changed since those stories were created, and our problems and solutions have become much more sophisticated. The tools required to solve current problems have kept pace with the challenges and have become just as sophisticated. The problems of today can not be solved by the tools of yesterday. 

Draft #1 - Student Goal (a) Ability to Solve Real Problems
  • Skills:
    • Seek collaboration
      • Locate and identify experts
      • Build Teams
    • Communicate in multiple modes
      • Defining the problem and report the solutions
    • Create and Ask questions
      • Clarify
    • Listen to Understand
      • Empathize
      • Respect Different views
      • Reflect on what you hear
        • Don’t jump to conclusions

The skills in the goal above say nothing about technology. However, in order for students to acquire these skills to mastery, they need to use technology. Reading between the lines above, how many different ways do you see technology utilized in the skills? ( I realize that this may be difficult if you are unfamiliar, but that's where the professional development component of the technology plan kicks in.) Also, the skills listed above could become the start of a rubric that evaluates students, not on correct multiple choice answers, but on student product (digital portfolios.)

What would you add?

CC Image courtesy of exfordy