Category Archives: Web 2.0

Do Your Technology Investments Advance Your Priorities?

Last week, a client that I have consulted with for almost a decade asked me a simple question:  With a TON of digital tools being embraced by teachers but a limited budget to pay for district-wide subscriptions, how could he be sure that he was making the right choices about which tools to invest in and which tools to walk away from.

That’s an essential question, isn’t it.  And probably one that you’ve had to wrestle with at some point in your professional career.

The truth is that there ARE a ton of great services being developed for the educational marketplace.  But it is equally true that we DO have limited budgets.  We simply can’t invest district resources into every single tool that teachers believe in, no matter how valuable those tools seem.

The good news is that identifying the right tools to invest in is actually pretty darn easy.  

In fact, the best decisions around technology investments can be made by working through three simple steps:

Step One:  Clearly define the core teaching and learning behaviors that you want to see happening in your classrooms.

The way I see it, school leaders have two primary responsibilities.  First, you must create a clear and compelling vision of general terms like “effective instruction” and “meaningful teaching and learning spaces.”

I ought to be able to ask you to describe what an ideal classroom would look like in action and you ought to be able to give me specific descriptions.  What would teachers be doing in those classrooms?  What would students be doing in those classrooms?  Why do those behaviors matter to OUR students and OUR communities at THIS point in time?  How would technology be used to support the core instructional and learning behaviors that you value the most?

Once you’ve developed a clear and compelling vision of the teaching and learning behaviors that you want to see happening in your classrooms, you need to communicate that vision consistently to everyone in your system.

If your principals and teachers have no real sense of what your “ideal classroom” looks like in action, they can’t take proactive steps to create those classrooms on a regular basis.  As my good friend Becky DuFour likes to say, clarity precedes competence.  You can’t expect meaningful change until people understand exactly what you mean by “meaningful change.”

Need some help developing a clear vision for what meaningful instruction should look like in your classrooms?  Here are some planning handouts that I use in workshops that I run:

Technology Vision Planning – A document that can help school/district leaders to carefully define a technology vision based on their community priorities.

Technology Vision Statements – A document that can help school/district leaders to develop a set of clear statements defining what effective technology integration would look like in their classrooms.

Technology Scenario –  An example of a scenario that a school/district might develop to communicate a vision of an ideal classroom in action.

Step Two:  Identify digital tools that can be used to support the core instructional/ learning behaviors that you believe in.

Finding digital tools in today’s educational marketplace isn’t the hard part.  A simple scroll through your Twitterstream will leave you buried in potential services to spend your money on.  And the fact of the matter is that, with rare exception, ALL of those tools and services can probably improve teaching and learning in SOME of your classrooms.

That’s why you have to be deliberate about FIRST defining what your priorities are and THEN identifying specific services that advance those priorities.

Don’t over-complicate this.  Start by creating sets of simple If, Then, Because statements detailing the reasoning behind each individual choice that you are thinking about making.  Here are a few examples:

If we believe that teachers should be providing instruction that is carefully targeted to the individual needs of students, then we would invest in MasteryConnect because it automatically tracks and reports progress on classroom assessments by student and by standard.

If we believe that professional learning teams are the most powerful change strategy in a school, then we would invest in Global PD because it provides comprehensive resources that support learning teams at each individual step of the collaborative process.

If we believe that intervention efforts in our multi-tiered system of student supports should begin in the regular classroom, then we would invest in Brainpop because it allows for quick initial reteaching and retesting of core concepts without requiring a ton of additional planning on the part of the classroom teacher.

If we believe that students must begin to accept ownership over tracking their own progress towards mastering important outcomes, then we would invest in SeeSaw because it allows students of all ages to begin building digital portfolios of artifacts that can serve as evidence of their learning.

Once you’ve developed your initial If, Then, Because statements, have teams of teachers and school leaders challenge the service that you’ve linked to in the “then” portion of your statement.  Are the services that you’ve identified capable of supporting the core behaviors that you say that you believe in?  Are there other services that do a better job supporting the core behaviors that you believe in?

For some extra fun, try to write If, Then Because statements for the services that you ALREADY invest in.  You might just find that you are spending money on services that do nothing to support your vision of what good teaching and learning should look like in action.  The fact of the matter is if you struggle to write an If, Then, Because statement for a service that you are spending money on, you are probably wasting your cash.

Step Three:  ALWAYS compare the per pupil price of services that you are considering to the money that you are spending on other school products.

Whenever I make technology presentations, I nudge school leaders to invest in the paid versions of the services that they believe in.  That often feels counter-intuitive to my audiences, who have grown up in a digital age where we expect every digital product that we use to be free.  That also feels impossible, given that a school or district-wide subscription to any service can cost thousands and thousands of dollars.

But there’s good reason to invest in the paid version of services.  Perhaps most obviously, the paid version of services often include additional features that have real value.  Often, those features facilitate collaboration between teams of teachers, communication with parents, or tracking of progress at the school and/or district level.

Perhaps most importantly, purchasing the paid version of services can help to ensure that the services you are investing in will be around for the long haul.  The simple truth is that digital services are for profit companies that are trying to make ends meet.  If we want them to help us meet long term district goals, we have to count on them being a part of our instructional/ learning practices for a long while.  Purchasing the service helps to make that possible.

So how do you justify laying out anywhere from $5,000 to $100,000+ for a subscription to a digital service?

Start by figuring out the per pupil cost.  Chances are that those costs will fall into a range somewhere between $3 and $7 per kid.  Then, ask yourself how that $3 to $7 per kid compares to other things that schools spend money on.

Is that more or less than your students spend on school spirit wear?  Is it more or less than your students spend on their student planner/agenda for the year?  Is it more or less than your students spend on their field trip to the zoo?  Is it more or less than your students spend on their fall festival or their field day at the end of the year?  Is it more or less than your students spend on admission to a school athletic event or dance?

How does that $3-$7 per kid compare to the cost of the staff polo shirts that your school buys every year?  How does it compare to the cost of the motivational posters that you have hanging up in your building’s hallways every year?  How does it compare to the cost of the meals that you purchase for your faculties for professional development days?

What you are likely to find is that the services that you need to support the instructional / learning behaviors that you say that you believe in don’t cost a heck of a lot when you compare them to the cost of other things that you are already spending your money on.

If that’s true, start advertising that to everyone in your school community.

Ask teachers if they are willing to forgo faculty polo shirts and staff meals on professional development days in order to invest in services that can help to change instruction and learning in your building.  Ask parents if they are willing to sponsor a subscription to a service instead of purchasing a team t-shirt.  Ask the PTA if they would consider rolling their yearly fundraiser proceeds into a subscription to a service instead of a campus beautification project or an end of the year gift from the graduating class.

The fact of the matter is that until schools are fully funded by our state legislatures, our primary goal should be to prioritize our spending on things that can make high quality teaching and learning more effective and efficient.

We don’t always do that.

Does any of this make sense to you?

Essentially, I’m arguing that schools and districts need to start putting their money where their mouths are when it comes to technology spending.  In the words of Richard Elmore, for every new increment of performance that you demand from classroom teachers, you have an equal obligation to provide the time, the tools and the training necessary to meet those new expectations.

That’s impossible when we aren’t making deliberate choices about the digital tools and services that we are purchasing.

#trudatchat


Related Radical Reads:

Does Your School Have Technology Vision Statements?

Is Your School Wasting Money on Technology?

Note to Principals:  STOP Spending Money on Technology

 

“Glorified Notebooks with Onboard Cameras.”

One of my favorite Radical Readers is Bob Schuetz.  Bob regularly pushes my thinking by leaving provocative comments, and that’s something I really, really dig.

A few weeks back, Bob left a comment arguing that all too often, classroom technology — iPads, Chromebooks, BYOD devices — become nothing more than “glorified notebooks with onboard cameras.”

(click here to view original image and credits on Flickr)

Slide - Glorified Notebooks

That thinking is rolling around in my mind today.  Here’s why:  Outside of the purpose driven learning work that I do during our schoolwide enrichment period, most of the technology work being done in my classroom probably fits into “glorified notebook” status.

My kids take pictures of notes that I write on the board and store those pictures in dedicated folders in their Google Drives.  I hand out and collect digital versions of handouts using Google Classroom.  Videos and still shots of lab experiences are captured and incorporated into final products, replacing the hand-drawn observations that students used to complete in required lab reports.

And while those uses have made life infinitely easier for both me and my students, there’s nothing revolutionary there.

A part of me feels a sense of shame about that.  I’m a pretty progressive teacher who has been experimenting with technology in teaching and learning for almost 15 years.  Why the heck haven’t I figured out something better, right?  How can I be progressive while simultaneously creating learning experiences that are nothing more than digital versions of the same tasks my students were completing a decade ago?

But a part of me wants to remind everyone that nothing has changed about the curriculum that I’m being asked to teach or the outcomes that I’m being held accountable for.

My state standards are still massive, covering more content in one year than is truly reasonable.  Worse yet, the end of grade exam that I am required to give is nothing more than 35 fact-driven multiple choice questions covering isolated details from that massive set of state standards.  Finally, our end of grade exam carries incredibly high stakes:  Student results become a significant part of my annual evaluation.

All of those realities influence the choices that I make as an instructor, y’all.

Of course I’m going to have my kids keep a detailed digital notebook.  Collecting evidence and information (read: completing fill in the blank handouts that are organized by unit and never lost because they are automatically stored in Google Drive) is essential in our state.  Students need something to study from for the end of grade exam.

And there’s no way I’m going to find the time and space for self-direction and investigation in my room.  Self-direction and investigation take time that I don’t have.  Getting through everything that is required is already darn near impossible — and getting through everything that is required becomes a priority when you are held accountable for nothing more than the number of isolated facts that your kids can remember at the end of the year.

So I get it.  Schools really DO need to change.  And technology really CAN help us to transform learning experiences.  

But let’s not pretend that teachers can drive that change in spite of their required curriculum.  Our classrooms and our learning experiences are a reflection of the expectations set by our state standards and end of grade exams.  Until THOSE change, our classrooms are going to look a lot like they always have.

#truth

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Related Radical Reads:

Lessons Learned from an Amazing Group of Student Bloggers

Why Can’t This Be School?

Blaming and Shaming Teachers for Low Level #edtech Practices

 

 

Grades AREN’T Motivating.

Check out this tweet that landed in my Twitterstream, y’all:

Brett’s right, isn’t he?  

We SHOULD barf every time someone makes the argument that without grades, students can’t be motivated to tackle meaningful tasks.

More importantly, we should stop using grades to sucker kids into completing assignments in our classrooms:

 

Slide - If It's Not Graded

(click here to view original image on Flickr)

So how SHOULD we motivate learners?  

Easy:  By rethinking the kinds of work that we are asking them to do.  Any task that is worth doing should be relevant and interesting.  Learners should be hooked by our assignments and should be convinced that every task will strengthen their knowledge and skills in important areas.

Any task that is worth doing should also be challenging.  Create assignments that are too easy — or that seem completely impossible — and learners tune out.  But create assignments that require kids to stretch just outside of their comfort zones, and they will invest completely in the work.

Finally, any task that is worth doing should help students to drive meaningful change beyond the walls of their classrooms.  The simple truth is that today’s students want to be influential.  They aren’t satisfied with work that has no clear purpose beyond filling their report cards.  But if you can show your kids that the questions they are asking and lessons that they are learning can improve their families, communities or countries, and they’ll tackle anything.

Now don’t get me wrong:  You CAN use grades to try to influence the kids in your classroom — and most will probably respond.

The vast majority of our students still want to earn passing marks.  And they still feel pressure from their parents and their teachers to score highly on classroom assignments.  After all, they’ve been buried in messages like “you’ll never get into college with those grades” and “for every A that you make, I’ll give you $20 bucks” and “make anything less than a C and you will lose your phone for a whole quarter” for most of their lives.

But don’t mistake those reactions with motivation.  

If anything, what you are seeing when students put effort into assignments simply because they are being graded is compliance.  Motivation begins when our classrooms become places where interesting, relevant, challenging, and powerful tasks become the norm rather than the exception to the rule.

#trudatchat


Related Radical Reads:

Celebrate Your TEACHING Geeks, not your TECH Geeks

Are Kids REALLY Motivated by Technology?

Are YOUR Students Doing Work that Matters?

Anatomy of a SMiShing Text Message.

An interesting text message landed in my inbox the other day.

Here’s what it looked like:

(click to enlarge)

My first reaction was to panic a bit.  I do a ton of work on public wireless networks — and even though I use a VPN to protect my deets from snooping eyes, I’m always worried that I’m going to give away enough information to get myself hacked.  Maybe it’s paranoia — but in today’s world, paranoia is probably a good thing.

But then my bunk detectors kicked in.  Can you spot the three reasons that this text message raised alarms?

Here’s what caught my eye:

The sender of the message is trying to make me panic:  Probably the most important step to detecting whether a text or email message is up to no good is to ask yourself a simple question – “Is this person trying to make me panic?”  Fear is the best friend of a phisherman, after all.  If I’m convinced that my account has been hacked or my money has been stolen, I’m more likely to take immediate action — read: hit that link and enter my most important details — than I am to stop and think.

So whenever I spot an attempt to generate fear, I force myself to slow down and look a little more carefully at the message that I’ve received.

The web address in the link is wonky:  Seriously.  Read it.  Why would a major company point me to any address as weird as http://bankofamerica.caseid-2078.com?  That’s a cheap trick that phishermen (and other shady folks like the leaders of the Fake News brigades) are resorting to.  Their hope is that as I’m panicking over my breached account, I’m going to see the first half of the web address without questioning the second half.

The harried, urgent, worried me might see “Bank of America” and click.  The thoughtful, skeptical, refuse-to-be-tricked me read the whole address and said, “Nope.  Not falling for that.”  And the Interwebs loving me typed the address into my Google Machine and found about a thousand references to a phishing scam.

#anotherwinforthegoodguys

Banks don’t usually send text messages — particularly asking users to update their personal information:  In a world where phishing — and in this case, SMiShing — has become an all too common method for evil creeps to fleece the innocents, banks have taken a pretty hard-line approach to contacting customers.  They pretty much NEVER send out email or text messages when there is a problem.  That protects everyone.

I don’t know if that is Bank of America’s policy.  I’ve never bothered to look, to be honest.  But I DO know that it is the policy of most major banks.  That means I never take emails and texts from banks seriously.

So how did you do?  Did you pick up on all three of the things that raised alarm bells in my mind?  If so, huzzah for you!

Now for a more important question:  Could your STUDENTS spot all of that sketchiness?  

If not, you’ve got some teaching to do!

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Related Radical Reads:

What are YOU Doing to Teach Students to Spot Fake News Stories?

The Anatomy of a Hoax Website

Curating Sources on Controversial Topics

 

 

 

 

 

People are Definitely Dumber.

Last week, Paul Horner — a creator of fake news sites who is convinced that his work helped to turn the tide in Trump’s favor in America’s presidential election — sat for an interview with the Washington Post.  In that interview, Horner explained why he thought that fake news stories gain so much traction in social spaces.

Here’s what he wrote:

slide-people-are-dumber-black-border

Stew in that for a minute, would you?

Here’s a guy who earns a living peddling lies — about world leaders, about important events, about controversial issues — who recognizes just how easy it can be to manipulate thinking in a world where no one questions the content that they come across in their online lives.  That IS scary, isn’t it.  After all, Horner ain’t the only guy with motivation to manipulate thinking.  He’s just the only one willing to talk about it publicly.

Acting responsibly in a world with no filters between publishers and consumers means recognizing that anyone with an agenda can push their ideas — no matter how intentionally flawed they may be — out to huge audiences with nothing more than an Internet connection.  If we are going to develop “global, critical citizens ready to change the world for the better” — a goal that I certainly believe in — our students MUST learn to consume content with a critical eye.

So what are YOU doing to teach those skills?

#goodquestion

Blogger’s Note: If teaching students to judge the reliability of online sources is important to you, check out this lesson on my Teachers Pay Teachers website.  It introduces students to three simple questions that kids can ask to spot fake news sources.  

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Related Radical Reads:

What Kind of Kids is YOUR School Producing?

How Testing Will Change What I Teach Next Year.

What Are You Doing to Teach Kids to Spot Fake News Stories?