Posts Tagged 'educational technology'

Nerve-Racking & Game-Changing: A Flipped PD Experiment

By Claudia Felske – So how was your week, last week? Mine (thanks for asking) was daunting, nerve-racking, stressful, gratifying, energizing, and game-changing.

Here’s the scenario:

Imagine teaching teachers (daunting, yes?). Now imagine you are a peer of those teachers (worse). Now, imagine that you are teaching them the day before grades are due and a new semester starts (a day formerly reserved for grading and planning). Now imagine teaching them on that day and being held accountable for each teacher’s learning on that day.

stress chalk boardOkay, deep breaths.

Now, on top of all that, imagine that they are allowed to complete this training…anywhere they want—at home, at Starbucks, in a hotel room at the Kalahari, wherever they choose to be that day.

I can imagine what you’re thinking right about now…perhaps a polite “no thanks” or a slightly more frank “Hell no!”

Well, that’s precisely what happened last week in my district, with yours truly at the helm (now you’re beginning to understand the daunting, nerve-racking, stressful part). We designed “PD Anywhere”: a full day of Professional Development that teachers could complete, well, anywhere.

Here’s what it looked like:

  • a Google Hangout to introduce the day.
  • a self-paced technology skill checklist with hyperlinked tutorials so teachers could teach themselves technology proficiencies.
  • a “flipped” Eric Mazur “Peer Instruction” video (our virtual key note speaker).
  • a video of our own students engaged in “Peer Instruction.”
  • four break-out sessions instructing teachers how to use different tools (Google Classroom, Pear Deck, Socrative, and “Unplugged” tools) for “Peer Instruction.”
  • teacher work time to apply this knowledge to their own classrooms.
  • accountability pieces throughout the process.

Why did we do it? Certainly not to save time; it took us easily three times longer to prepare. Certainly not to make things easier as the probability of things going awry was exponential. We did it in the hopes of modeling good teaching. After two years of providing tech training for teachers, encouraging them to create lessons that are student-centered, flexible, and personalized, it wasn’t until this inservice that we finally felt that we truly “walked the walk,” demonstrating the practices we’d been advocating.


We were able to leverage technology to personalize the day for each teacher, meeting them “where they are” (just as we strive to do with students).  And just as we know the most effective teacher is the “guide on the side,” not the “sage on stage,” we put the onus on the learners while being a call or an email away to help as needed.

We were also able to model courage. Trying out a new technique in front of a room full of teenagers can be unnerving, and more often than not in the case of new technology, things don’t go smoothly the first time around. In designing a full day of professional development where the staff did not need to report to work, where we were banking on all online tools we were using to work correctly that day, where WIFI had to be alive and well in all the various places our staff would be located that day, we also took a sizable risk, in the hopes that our teachers will be more likely to take risks in their own practices.

How did the teachers respond? Here’s a representative sampling of their survey comments:

  • yoga teacherIn one PD day, I learned many skills that will make me a more polished teacher. It was critical that I could learn the specific skills at my own pace – technology does not come naturally to me, so this was really a useful day!
  • I’m so happy that we could breeze through stuff we already know rather than being forced to listen to it for 45 minutes during an in-person inservice. It opened up my time to be spent actually trying out the stuff I did learn. This definitely was a much more efficient, productive use of my time.
  • Thank you for the option of working at home. It felt like a real luxury! I found that I was more focused and more productive working on my own and moving at my own pace than on most inservice days. I also did more planning about how what was being presented (Mazur’s methods) can be applied to my classroom.

All said and done, (stats), only one didn’t turn in all three required components (was working a long time on skills list), and only 2 negative comments on the day (all others were positive).

Screen Shot 2016-02-03 at 10.01.49 PM

My take-aways that day? My professional development? My epiphanies?

  • Helping a few colleagues navigate their way through the morning, I was reminded that teachers, just like students, have different predilections, paces, and styles of learning that we must accommodate.  
  • Hitting a satisfying “lull” midday, I realized that what we had planned was working, no emails, no phone calls. I felt like the director standing in back of the theatre opening night with nothing to do but watch (smiling sigh).
  • Seeing the lesson links come in from teachers who had time to apply their learning, I realized the practicality of the day, that students would very soon be the beneficiaries of their teacher’s learning.

And so I’ll take the daunting and nerve-racking along with the gratifying and game-changing: the yin yang of teaching and of PD, reminding me to take risks, to practice what I preach, and to remember that what’s good for kids is also good for their teachers.

How Technology Could Solve the Make-Up Snow Day Problem

snow-246119_960_720.jpgBy Nick McDaniels – I know snow days are a very geography-specific occurrence, but, having just spent 6 full days out of work due to snow, I couldn’t resist blogging about it. In Baltimore, we got over two feet of snow from Friday through Sunday, closing schools on that Friday and for the entire following week, mostly due to hazardous travel conditions and, ultimately, no where to put the snow.

The Mid-Atlantic is prone to these crippling storms about once or twice a decade.  I can remember two or three from when I was growing up and I have enjoyed another two as a teacher.  For me, this means more time performing side-work as a plow operator and more time sledding with my daughter.  I can’t complain.  It also means, though, that I will likely have to work longer into the summer to make up the days we missed.

And while technology in snow-removal is improving to allow us to clear our streets, driveways, and sidewalks more quickly, our ability to keep students from missing valuable mid-year instructional time (this storm disrupted our mid-terms for high school students) seems to remain stuck.  Well, I think our current technology could solve the problem of “winter learning loss.”

With teachers everywhere “flipping” their classrooms, we certainly have the ability to ensure students can be provided with educational content outside of the school building.  Why then are we not building platforms and enacting policies whereby students and teachers can work remotely during snow days?  I am proposing, quite simply, that districts enact policies that utilize their current web-based learning platforms (all districts have them!) during days of weather-related closing.  Students would know, when school is cancelled, that teachers will post assignments and content, upload videos and podcasts, and even engage in live-chats with students at designated times.

If this policy could be successfully implemented, a work-from-home policy for students and teachers, then we can make a strong argument for not adding make-up days at the end of the school year.

Certainly, remote learning cannot replace face-to-face classroom time, but we are fooling ourselves if we think adding five days in June adequately substitutes for five lost days in January.

Video Games in the Classroom: What the Research Says

nick blog picBy Nick Rocha – When I was in elementary school, we had a computer game that we played a few times during school that helped to explain addition and subtraction. Today the use of video games for educational learning has increased dramatically and extensively within many educational institutions. According to a study conducted by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center, nearly three quarters (74%) of K-8 teachers report using digital games for instruction. In addition, 88 percent of the nation’s children ages 8 to 18 play video games (Gentile, 2009). Many teachers and educators utilize video games for a variety of learning objectives and measures, but how might the use of video games impact the overall development of the child?

First, I would like to make the distinction between e-learning and video game environments. E-learning consists of online courses that are offered at educational institutions that attempt to mimic similar classroom curriculum and instruction. Video games, on the other hand, take on a more interactive and stimulating approach to online learning. “While completion rates for online courses barely reach 50%, gamers spend hundreds of hours mastering games, writing lengthy texts, and even setting up their own virtual “universities” to teach others to play games (Squire, 2005). E-learning has a reputation for being dull and ineffective whereas games have a reputation for being engaging, fun, and immersive (Gee, 2003). The use of video games in the online classroom may provide advanced learning opportunities that e-learning may fail to provide.

One of the major reasons that video game learning is so popular is because the games are relatively inexpensive to build and to distribute (Shapiro, 2015). A computer-based math game can be readily accessible from anywhere with a computer and the Internet; students are more familiar with these types of technology than they were two decades ago. Educators would need to take the digital divide into account before integrating a video game-based curriculum into the classroom since many students may not have access to a computer or the Internet to complete assignments.

Furthermore, some course subjects are more suited for video game learning environments. “Nearly three quarters (71%) of digital game-using teachers report that games have been effective in improving their students’ mathematics learning…only 42% report the same about their students’ science learning” (Takeuchi and Vaala, 2014, Joan Ganz Cooney Center). More research needs to be conducted to determine which academic subjects would benefit from video game-based pedagogy and how students could benefit or become hindered by this method.

Video game addiction has also been a major concern among psychology and education communities. A study conducted by Gentile in 2009 found that 8.5% of U.S. youth are “addicted” to playing video games; children who show multiple signs of behavioral addiction often skimp out on homework, are irritable or restless when video game play time is reduced, and have trouble being attentive in school (George, 2009). The real question is whether providing video game pedagogy within the classroom provides a “gateway” into more addictive behaviors, or if using that pedagogy encourages students with video game “addiction” to engage within a learning environment. It is important to notice that in this study boys were 4 times as likely as girls to report behavioral addiction symptoms.

Using video games in the classroom can provide some beneficial learning opportunities that are engaging and fun, but educators should combine these new technologies with their instruction to reinforce educational objectives. An educator should take into account the digital divide, the gender ratio of their students, the complexity of the course material, and the learning/course objectives when deciding when to use video game-based materials. Additional research needs to be conducted to determine the overall impacts of video game pedagogy and childhood development, and teachers should weigh in the pros and cons before implementing a video game-based curriculum into their classrooms.

eLearning? eAcademy? eLegitimate? My Conversation with a Direct Mailer

By Claudia Felske — I am about to have a conversation with a direct mailer.

Advertisements for virtual charter schools have been clogging my mailbox, making full-color oversized promises of educational utopia in an attempt to lure away yet more funding from already cash-strapped local schools.

So when yet a third direct mailer recently entered my home from eAchieve Academy, a virtual charter school within Waukesha public schools, that little voice inside me, often squelched in the interest of good manners, demanded to be heard, and so, it shall.

eAchieve logoIn the following dialogue, eAchieve Academy (eAA) will be represented by its own words as quoted from its direct mailers, and I (CF) shall play the role of myself, a public school English teacher and technology integration specialist, more than a bit skeptical about the claims of eAchieve Academy and the merits of sitting a child in front of a computer and calling it a superior education.

eAA: “Is your child happy in school?”

CF: Happiness, while important, is not the first question one should ask a student about school, ever. Happiness to a teenager may mean a jar of Nutella and a spoon, a string of easy A’s, or the opportunity to watch a viral cat video over and over and over again, yet I hardly think any of those define a quality education. A better question might be “Is your child learning?” or “Is your child sufficiently challenged in class?”

eAA: “What if there was a tuition free alternative to traditional classroom based school?”

CF:  Nothing is free, period. As is the case with all charter schools in Wisconsin, state aid follows the student, so “free tuition” is taxpayer provided tuition, tuition which would otherwise contribute to the working budget of that student’s local school.

eAA: “[We offer] the ability to go to school from home in a safe environment free from classroom distractions, social drama, bad influences and bullying.”

CF: a.k.a. your child can avoid all potentially unpleasant social situations, can elect not to interact with others, can refrain from hearing differing points of view; in essence, your child can opt out of being a part of the larger world in its complexity, diversity, richness, and  yes, conflicts, but I hardly think this will give him/her an edge in our increasingly diverse population and global economy.

eAA: “[We offer] experienced, state-certified professional teachers.”

CF: On your website, I found rudimentary teacher bios, but nowhere could I find how long any of your teachers have been teaching, kind of a biggie when you’re boasting of an “experienced” staff.  I also wonder why teachers would opt for online teaching, especially when I learned from Principal Rick Nettesheim (I had questions about my mailer, so I called) that the average virtual high school teacher has 300 students (over twice what traditional teachers have). Why would an experienced teacher opt for a less personal relationship with students, and a much higher student-teacher ratio?

eAA: “[We offer] flexible scheduling with the opportunity to work at your own pace.”

CF: Knowing both students and human nature, I can see this working well for maybe 10% of the student population, tops.  Let’s be  honest here: we are, by nature, procrastinators, which in part is why in-person learning works, why teacher encouragement and face-to-face motivation helps, why the human element is essential. This seems to be corroborated by the low graduation rates of virtual schools (more on this later).

eAA: “[We offer] a wide range of technology-rich class options including honors, AP and elective classes.”

CF: Yet, when I look on the eAA website, I see that music offerings consist of music appreciation and music theory – no actual playing of music (this was confirmed by Principal Nettesheim). Furthermore, AP classes have no in-person dimension. Having taken some virtual graduate courses, I can attest that online discussion boards are “to do” tasks rather than rich human interactions. The same can be argued of online science labs. Hands-on learning and face-to-face interactions are essential to higher-order thinking.

eAA: “[We boast] a 10-year track record of success” and have “the best graduation rate of any Wisconsin virtual schools.”

CF: When I asked how “success” is defined, I was directed to the website where it became clear that eAA chose its words very carefully:  in comparison to other virtual schools, it does perform well, but in comparison it to Wisconsin brick and mortar schools it fares poorly.  Looking at the most recent comparatives (2011-2012) eAchieve Academy has a 69% graduation rate while Waukesha West High School has a 96% graduation rate and the Wisconsin state average is 89%. This means that eAchieve Academy has a 20% lower graduation rate than the state average and a 28% lower rate than the brick and mortar high school in its own school district. This is a curious definition of “success.”

eAA: “Aspiring athletes or performing artists find it difficult to pursue their passions in life when they are stuck in a school building all day.”

CF:  Our school buildings (the ones students are “stuck in…all day”) contain opportunities for those “aspiring athletes or performing artists” while yours don’t. We provide coaches, mentors, teammates, instruction, practices, performances, and competitions. You provide none of these, but instead require parents to become independent contractors seeking (and funding) private lessons, select teams, and other experiences outside of school to supplement their child’s education.

eAA: “Students with physical or mental health issues struggle to keep up when they miss class. Kids who don’t ‘fit in’ spend more time worrying about their safety than their studies.”

CF:  Here, you are correct. We support students with physical or mental challenges within a mainstreamed classroom environment because research shows that it is essential for student growth and well being to be part of a larger community, to grow in social settings, to gain real world experiences during adolescence instead of being isolated from peers and social interactions. We also believe the issue of bullying is one that must be countered with interventions and education rather than evasion or isolation.

eAA: “Your child does not have to spend another semester in an educational environment that does not match their learning style and individual needs.”

CF: I’m curious what “learning styles” and individual needs” can be met by a teacher sitting in front of a computer, juggling a student load of 300.  This sounds to me more like the warehousing of students than meeting individual student needs.

eAA: “Our rigorous, standards-based curriculum fosters critical 21st century skills needed to succeed in college, work and life; skills like self-motivation, time management, independent thinking and problem solving.”

CF: This sounds like 95% of  the public school mission statements I’ve read in recent years. Schools—whatever their shape or size—are exquisitely skilled at writing mission statements. Yet, perhaps the most essential of these “21st century skills” is sorely lacking in virtual schools: collaboration – critical opportunities for students to work cooperatively on authentic problem-solving tasks. Furthermore, employers repeatedly cite “inability to work with others” as a top reason workers are fired. This critical soft skill simply is not developed in a virtual school setting.

eAA: “[We are] empowering Wisconsin families through public education at home.”

CF: I wonder how many families are empowered through virtual schools. I wonder how many are actively involved in their child’s virtual education experience. I wonder how often—in this financially-trying time—both parents are working while students are unmonitored at home. And I wonder if this, in part, explains the low graduation rates of virtual schools compared to school settings where teachers and support staff are physically present to monitor and help students.  

eAA: “Too often, learning opportunities in traditional schools are hampered by rigid schedules, limited curriculum options, antiquated teaching methods or budget cuts.”

CF:  Wow.  You do know, eAchieve Academy, that you are a part of Waukesha Public Schools and, in turn, Wisconsin Public Schools? So why the public school bashing? Aren’t we in this together? Or has school choice created a civil war, pitting us against us? A most unfortunate state for education; still, these claims must be challenged:

  • We’re “hampered by rigid schedules”? — You’re hampered by a lack of structure (see human nature/procrastination argument above).
  • We have “limited curriculum options”? — The pot clearly calling the kettle black. I teach at a high school with less than 600 students, yet our course offerings far surpass yours, 48 more to be precise. We have a plethora of offerings to meet student needs from remedial to AP, and we have many courses not offered at eAchieve Academy including live music, hands-on art, physical education classes which are actually physical, tech ed, agriculture, robotics, STEM, and others.
  • “Antiquated teaching methods”? – We integrate technology into our teaching practices instead of largely replacing teachers with technology; we interact face-to-face with our students while leveraging a wide variety of teaching methods: lectures, activities, discussions, labs, interactive web tools, collaborative group work, student presentations and speaking opportunities.
  • “Budget cuts” – Okay, you got me there. Yes, we do have budget cuts thanks to many factors including charter schools such as yours whose advertising tactics and questionable claims do indeed lead to budget cuts. Kudos for taking ownership on that one.

One of several eAchieve Academy mailers sent to my home

Don’t misunderstand me. Virtual schools may be a viable alternative for some individuals. What I find objectionable is not the existence of eAchievement Academy, but its barrage of direct mailings, its misleading claims, its the tone of not being with us, but against us.

What’s clear here is that schools are being pitted against each other. Wisconsin’s broken school funding system is forcing districts to cut corners, to engage in deceptive student-grabbing tactics, to put finances before learning. And once again, it’s the students that suffer.

No more mailings please.

I think many would agree – not a prudent use of taxpayer dollars.

Can Technology Bring Us Closer Together?

By Claudia Felske —Imagine being separated from your spouse for seven years. It’s not what any of us sign up for, especially after 30 plus years of marriage.

My friend Barb faced this exact situation as the state of the economy forced her husband Al to take a contracting job in New Orleans while she remained back in Wisconsin. Through holidays, periodic visits, Skype, and gritty determination on both of their parts, the state of their marriage remained strong.  Connect6

And happily, this summer after seven years of living separately from his wife, Al was able retire. He moved back to Wisconsin, and now Barb and Al live like married people are meant to live—together.

Sounds like a happy ending, right?

Imagine my surprise when Barb, wine glass in hand, lamented the other night that she felt closer to Al when there were four states separating them.

I inquired and she explained.

When he was in New Orleans, they spent an entire hour each night face-to-face Skyping. No multitasking, no running to this commitment and that event, no half-conversations while watching t.v. or surfing the net: one full hour of face-to-face, eye-to-eye conversation about how their day went, about the family, about their plans, about the state of the world, one full hour every single day. How many of us have an hour like that?

Now that they’re living together, she explained, that hour simply doesn’t happen. Life gets in the way. Emails, meetings, obligations, television, hobbies, the internet—all of these happen, and so remarkably (though not so remarkable when you think about it) she feels less close to him than she did during their 7-year separation. She pines for that hour.

And HOW (you may be asking) is this related to education?

One of the biggest fears people have about technology in schools is that it will depersonalize learning, that students will hide behind screens and teachers will hide behind their desktops.

Not  unlike Barb and Al’s Skype sessions, the reality is that the effective use of technology can bring us closer together, in our relationships, in our schools.Rid6eAni9

Sage teachers use backchanneling technology to engage ALL students to participate in class discussions rather than just one raising his/her hand at a time.

Tech savvy teachers use polling and surveys to check for understanding throughout the class period, making each student  aware of his/her learning at any given moment.

Innovative teachers use technology to flatten their classroom walls, connecting with other classrooms in the district, state, country and world.

I jokingly advised Barb that maybe she and Al should consider going into different rooms each night and Skyping each other to rekindle their bonding hour.

And maybe those in education who fear that technology will depersonalize the classroom should consider the opportunities it offers to connect us to each other and to the larger world.

Technology These Days…

Multi Media Internet Laptop with ObjectsBy Aubrey Murtha — Lately, the global emphasis on modernization and the development of newer and faster technology has got me discouraged.

I have always been an advocate for the simple life, but easy-to-use technological advancements have people digitalizing their lives these days, and the temptation is there—even for me. Ask anyone, I am pretty much the opposite of that which is hip and trendy. For example, I am still without a Twitter, I am illiterate when it comes to pop culture, and I’d rather shop at Goodwill than waste money on anything that is name brand.

However, I love my iPhone, and it would be awfully preachy of me to tell you to cut down on your use of technology as I sit here and type an article for an online publication on my lap top while checking my Facebook every ten minutes.

My concern is not technology in general. Obviously, I do appreciate electricity, running water, and the vast breadth of information that is available for me when I need it. However, I am concerned with the way that modern conveniences are affecting my generation and those to come.

In my opinion, the two main negative results of the Digital Age are materialism and an overwhelming need for instant gratification. The alarming rate at which companies are producing new and fascinating technology leaves children longing for the latest and greatest piece of modern equipment. In addition, kids and teens are exhibiting signs of complete dependence on technology.

How many eighth graders do you know that do not have a cell phone for texting their friends? How many college students do you know that do not use a computer to complete essentially all of their homework assignments? This dependence perpetuates materialism, in my opinion, and I find it discouraging that so many of our relationships and many of our academic endeavors depend on computers and smart phones.

The way in which the Internet and sites such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter provide kids and teens with instant gratification is hotwiring us to expect immediacy in life. Amongst the U.S.’s younger generations, this urgency seems to dissolve our work ethics as we simply expect that we will be given what we want right away. Instead of taking our time with things, everything is rushed and accelerated.  There is no value in the search anymore, no honor in waiting, no love of the quest or respect for the chase.

Maybe I’m reading into things a bit when I say that, but I believe this to be true: Technology is often a detriment to the development and maturity of America’s youth because of the manner in which it destroys our patience.

As teachers, parents or students, I am encouraging you to challenge the youth in your life to unplug. You too! Yes you! Be an example for your student or child, and promise that you’ll be present to him or her whenever you can.

Let’s not get wrapped up in the cyber world.  Let’s live in the now!

Follow the Money: ISTE 2014

ISTE graphicBy Claudia Felske — Last year, around this time, I was an International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Conference wanna-be, lurking via #ISTE2013, drooling over tweets I was reading by those educators lucky enough to be in San Antonio at the International Society for Technology in Education Convention.

I went so far as to blog all about it last year, dubbing it The Best Conference I Didn’t Attend.

This year, I was fortunate enough to be accepted as a presenter, and so, I spent four glorious days last week at ISTE 2014 in Atlanta, Georgia. Long story short: it is all that it’s cracked up to be. Because of the innovative and immense variety of its sessions, because it’s teeming with “aha moments,” because it means networking with 16,000 like-mindeds, I plan on finding a way to attend every ISTE until the year of my retirement, and perhaps beyond.

Now, instead of recounting all the sordid details of four days of edtech euphoria, I will fixate on one idea: “Follow the Money.” Legend has it that the “Follow the money” phrase was the directive from Deep Throat, the anonymous source that lead to the breaking of the Watergate Scandal and the resignation of a United States President. “Follow the money” suggests that to find the truth of a matter, one need simply follow the money trail.

So, what does this have to do with ISTE 2014? What became readily apparent to me last week is that If one is to follow the money in education, one will quickly surmise that American Corporations, specifically tech-flavored ones, are currently courting American schools like a politician at a donor dinner.

ISTE 2013 conference at the San Angelo Convention Center.

I’ve been to my share of educational conferences and seminars, local, state and national, but in my 20 years of teaching, nothing has come close in scope or sponsorship to what I experienced last week at ISTE.

  • Follow the numbers: 16,000 educators and education leaders
  • Follow the corporations:  500 companies and 4,500 industry reps
  • Follow the prestige: a cut-throat 10% acceptance rate for conference presenters
  • Follow the learning: hundreds of robust, inspirational learning opportunities
  • Follow the VIPs: sponsored networking events galore, top shelf ones requiring VIP badges
  • Follow the Expo Hall: ISTE’s vender hall compared to that of most educational conferences is like Times Square compared to Mayberry Square
  • Follow the Ads: for $13,000 your company can have a prime program ad; $4500 and attendees’ hands will touch your logo as they take the escalator between sessions. Advertising is ubiquitous at ISTE.

Clearly there is money to be made and influence to be gained at the crossroads of technology and education.

Just follow the money.

What is a Marquette Educator?

Follow us on Twitter