Monday, November 19, 2012

Learning On-Line


Move fast – don’t be afraid of failure
Empower your dreamers – say “yes”
Develop a vision and tie it to your mission
Focus on areas of most importance
Think about connecting with others
Brad Rathberger
Director, Online School for Girls


cc licensed image shared by flickr user Derek Purdy
As happens time and time again, at a professional learning experience related to technology, I learned not as much about technology as about learning.
I’ve enrolled in Charting a Direction for Online Learning, a year long course designed for educators at independent  schools. The course is sponsored by Online School for Girls, a learning organization serving a consortium of independent girls schools by assisting member schools to collaboratively develop blended learning experiences for their students. Most of the learning in this professional course occurs on-line, yet this past week I attended the first of two face to face sessions.
“Blended and online learning is as evolving of a field is there is in education. It is flipped on its head every six months or so,” shared Brad Rathberger, Director of Online School for Girls. We are beginning to recognize the potential to dramatically shift control of learning from teachers to students not as much through the technology as through the previously unimaginable potential for flexibility in the use of space and time made possible with technology.
Among the greatest moments of learning was the opportunity to hear from a number of students at School of the Holy Child. “We learn a lot about responsibility, academic integrity, learning to work with other people, and flexibility,” shared one of these very impressive high school seniors, reflecting on a course she was taking in multi-variable calculus. Participating in a college level math course, and interacting with some of the top female high school math students in the country, she interestingly didn’t reflect as much on math or technology, as on learning and growth, noting with maturity how she is less shy and more able to manage her time than she had been prior to her online learning experience.
While one cannot make generalizations about online and blended learning as there are so many approaches, evolving so rapidly, there are a number of broad models currently in use:
  • Rotation Model
  • Flex Model
  • Self-Blend Model
  • Enriched-Virtual Model
Rotation Model
Station Rotation Model
  • Students rotate through three broad types of activities in a continuous loop: individualized online instruction, teacher-led instruction, and collaborative activities and stations. This is the simplest blended learning model.
  • Alternatively, instead of one component of online learning there are two components, the individualized on-line instruction and the on-line assessments. Students rotate through four broad types of activities in a continuous loop: individualized online instruction, individualized online assessment, teacher-led instruction, and collaborative activities and stations.
Lab Rotation model
  • There is direct instruction for 3/4 of the day in math/science and literacy/social studies with teachers. There is a learning lab with on-line activities for the rest of the day, supervised by paraprofessionals.
Individual Rotation Model
  • There is a central computer lab along with numerous other learning settings, chosen depending on what a student might need; intervention, seminars, direct instruction, and group projects.
Flex Model
  • Students learn in a massive computer lab staffed by paraprofessionals for about half their day; and work with teachers in small groups for the other half. They come together for lunch and social activities.
Self-Blend Model
  • There is a physical place for students to come to learn in a collaborative environment when they choose to do so. Students can also work at home with their online teacher. They are not required to be in school.
Enriched Virtual Model
  • Students participate in supplemental on-line courses.
Independent mission-driven schools, not yet as fast moving or skilled at collaboration with other schools as we will need to become, must overcome a number of challenges, and capitalize on numerous strengths and opportunities, in order to design our own solutions for utilizing on-line and blended learning. If we are not proactive, as Brad Rathberger warns, we may find ourselves forced into solutions that do not reflect our missions.
As we move forward, what shall we consider in the move to blended learning options? How might we imagine anew possibilities for use of space, time, and financial resources? How might we assess the quality of on-line options? How might we support teachers to adapt and prepare for teaching and learning in a blended environment? How might we prepare our students? What cautions might we consider? What might inspire and enable us to dream?

Cross Posted on Sharing Our Blessings: www.sharingourblessings.wordpress.com by Shira Leibowitz

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Lots of Small Sections and Efficiency Too? The Economic Case for Building Competency in Blended Classroom + Online Learning


Guest post by Dr. Harry Bloom (hbloom1@yu.edu)

Few topics have engaged the Jewish media and Shabbos table more intensely than the day school “tuition crisis” which is jeopardizing the sustainability of our day schools by placing tremendous stress on family budgets on the one hand and on schools’ abilities to fund first rate programs on the other hand.
The pressure to reduce expenses and tuition levels is intense. Based on benchmarking analysis conducted by the YU School Partnership (YUSP) in approximately forty schools in five East Coast and Midwestern communities*, a prime source of potential efficiencies lies in making more productive use of faculty resources in our schools. After all, faculty members are the most valuable, highest cost element within our schools.  A key challenge to productivity is thinly populated class sections. By “section” we meet a course offering such as 9th grade honors Talmud or Advanced Hebrew language.
An examination of course offering and enrollment patterns at five high schools drawn from our benchmarking school sample illustrates the point. All of the schools are college preparatory in nature, all are co-ed. Enrollment ranges from about 100 to 300.
When the schools’ sections are arrayed from high to low in terms of enrollment, we see the following pattern.
Section Enrollment
School A
B
C
D
E
School Avg
Lower 1/3
6.5
7.2
4.1
7.0
6.5
6.2
Mid 1/3
13.1
10.8
9.2
14.2
13.1
12.1
high 1/3
19.5
16.4
17.9
21.6
18.9
18.9

In terms of the extent to which the schools’ are filling their enrollment capacity with capacity defined individually by each school, a picture of underutilized capacity in two thirds of the sections emerges.

The cost implications are significant since the cost of offering a section is basically fixed: teacher compensation and facilities costs.
Options to improve capacity utilization must obviously include offering fewer sections where this is possible. Schools often take the position that they need to offer a large range of sections to meet the needs of diverse learners and to be competitive in their marketplaces.
Another obvious solution is to fill seats in low capacity sections through enhanced recruitment and retention activities. This should obviously always be a priority. But in some markets the potential student populations are already saturated and retention is high.
Fortunately, another emerging powerful solution is for schools to build their competency in blended classroom instruction and online instruction to enable fewer, larger sections coincident with more individualized instruction and high quality student learning. In a blended classroom, teachers can utilize online resources in a variety of ways to complement their own teaching: to convey new concepts and/ or reinforce concepts taught in the classroom through structured exercises tailored to each individual student. Teachers can also utilize new learning management systems to monitor the precise degree of mastery of concepts by each student and group students with common learning needs in small groups so they learn together independently.
The range of online course offerings and curricular materials is proliferating. Open source learning management systems like Moodle enable faculty members to put their own blended curricula together . We are on the cusp of a golden opportunity to blend efficiency and higher quality learning experiences. Now is the time for active experimentation with blended learning by all schools.
The YUSP’s educational technology expert, Dr. Eliezer Jones (ejones1@yu.edu), is actively exploring all of the available options including commercial platforms and curricula, open source (free and ability to customize) learning platforms and curricula, as well as the creation of consortia that pool proven open source courseware and collaboratively develop affordable and high quality online curricula in general and Judaic studies. This fall, Dr. Jones will be facilitating an online certificate program for Jewish Day School educators in online/blended instruction and design in an effort to build schools’ capacity to implement these models effectively and efficiently. He is an available resource as part of the YUSP education team focused on 21st century learning in Jewish Day Schools. Interested parties can sign up at www.YUeLearning.org to follow YUSP's work in this area.

For additional information or to share your own experiences and thoughts about this topic feel free to contact Dr. Harry Bloom at hbloom1@yu.edu


High schools should also actively consider the creation of consortia of schools with similar educational aspirations and market and customer challenges. Having school 1 take the lead in subject A and school 2 in subject B is a way for schools to capitalize on scarce talent and resources while learning through active experimentation.
It is only through this kind of purposeful and collaborative experimentation that we will learn how to achieve the benefits of truly tailored instruction and learning and efficiency, both critical elements for sustainable, high quality day schools of the future. “If not now, when?”
*This work is generously supported by The AVI CHAI Foundation and federations and foundations and schools around the country

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

It was WOOFINGLY good!



So – what was so great about ISTE?

As the Bearded Dog settles back into his usual kennel, having rinsed the final traces of San Diego sea-sand and sea-air from his hair (what is left of it) and his lungs, the question remains – what was so great about ISTE. What lessons will the dog apply this year, what skills gained and what knowledge acquired.

Arrff!

Without doubt, the best part of ISTE for the dog was the opportunity to meet then strangers who are now friends. As the dog always says – a stranger is simply a friend to be. And what are friends if not people of whom to take advantage? In a good way of course!

The dog considers himself to be very fortunate to have met and befriended so many wonderful people not only from the Avichai Contingency, but from the real world too. And – one of the best parts of ISTE, the “BoF” (Birds of a Feather) sessions allowed the dog to meet real people who are dealing with real Ed Tech challenges in real schools. (In the way that the dog imagines himself to be doing too!)

The dog considers himself to be “ok” with Moodle. But – as a result of ISTE, the dog has at least three real people – all of whom live in an imaginary world, with whom he can discuss Moodle questions, challenges and stumbling blocks. If ISTE provided nothing other than this – the dog would have left San Diego happily.

But what – like the Shamwow – there’s more!

The dog met many of the people who actually write – or wrote the books. Real live human beings who, up until then, existed only in the Dog’s cyber-imagination. Sir Ken Robinson (much better in the Dog’s imagination – BTW), Steve Hargadon, Karen Kator, Professor Michael Fullan, Dr Avraham Kadar (founder of Brainpop) and so many more…

ISTE offered the dog a chance to meet and interact with giants in their field.

Then, a highlight for the dog was the opportunity to participate in a real live panel on the last day of the conference.

The dog responded to a request from the Twitterverse and before you could say, “Fetch that juicy bone…” the dog had been invited to join a panel discussion around the idea of Social Media in Schools.

Arrrff! – The irony is that this very topic was reason that the Dog wanted to come to ISTE in the first place.

Led by Steve Hargadon of stevehargadon.com; Classroom 2.0; Twitter, Google+; Facebook etc fame, the panel offered its opinions on the use of Social Media in schools – and then faced questions from the audience.

The dog had a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

And learned that any one of us could be on the panel, could be on Twitter, Facebook, etc. The dog learned that, in fact – so many of the “experts” were and are ‘chalk-face’ teachers.  Actually, perhaps the correct term is SmartBoard Face Teachers. But – whatever the term, teachers who stretched themselves just a little bit and began to create a cyber presence for themselves.

Inspiring stuff!

And so the challenge remains – the dog hopes to share his experiences with his colleagues, students, faculty and community and build shared learning networks of individuals who, like those at ISTE, stretched themselves a little – and gained so much more in return!

Arrrfff!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Perhaps Small Is The New Huge

cc licensed image shared by flikr user pulihora

Forty two million new web pages were created last year and educational technology expert Adam Bellow recommended in a session at ISTE (Interational Symposium on Tech Education) trying just one. Perhaps small is the new huge.

Thinking small, or rather thinking focused, is an initially counterintuitive insight to have taken from a conference of the massive scope of ISTE. I went to San Diego, guided by numerous blog posts on how to avoid being overwhelmed by the immensity of the event: plan "must dos" in advance, leave time for serendipitous conversations, and wear comfortable shoes so as to be able to cover as much ground as possible at least literally if not figuratively.

Taking the advice seriously, I planned my ISTE strategy, making the deliberate decision to veer away from the "big names" of ed tech (although I couldn't resist learning at sessions with several ed tech leaders whose writings have guided me). Instead, I sought to connect mostly with by no means "small names" but with important voices not necessarily acclaimed; in the trenches teachers striving to make a positive difference in their schools by integrating technology to improve the quality of learning for their students. I was profoundly inspired by the array of talent among presenting teachers who are engaging students in blogging, electronic portfolios, collaborative writing, multimedia presentations, and global collaborations. I was similarly impressed by the tremendous ability and accomplishment of participants at the conference learning together. I found guidance and wisdom in areas of great interest to me.

I returned home and reflected, intending to make some initial decisions on how I might bring my learning at ISTE back to my school, wondering whether I as a principal might potentially teach courses in which students create and collaborate through blogging and electronic portfolios. Instead of rushing forward with plans, I gave myself permission to slow down and with the more relaxed pace of summer, allow learnings at ISTE to unfold and take shape in my mind without deadline. As the days and weeks passed, and the blog posts I intended to write about my experiences at ISTE swam in my head without making their way quickly into writing, I kept hearing the conversation beneath the conversation at ISTE - the passion of teachers, the gratitude toward principals who nurture and support teachers' passions, and the frustration with principals who do not as effectively nurture and support teachers' passions as effectively as they might.

I had come to ISTE with the essential question "how can I as a principal more effectively support teachers in my school to improve learning?" I wondered whether in answer to that essential question, the greatest insights might come not from the content of sessions, but rather from the emotions and longings teachers expressed quietly between the lines and beneath the content of sessions. I imagined what teachers at my school might present at a conference like ISTE and recognized a plethora of possibilities: using interactive white boards interactively in kindergarten and first grade, ipads as assistive technology for special education students, social media with training wheels: edmodo as a tool to introduce elementary school students to on-line creative collaboration, engaging families and students in learning through engaging teacher web pages, from voice threads to voki: giving voice to student voice, and flipping the classroom for the tech tentative teacher. The potential for creating a platform for teachers to share and to shine was sounding more and more compelling.

Paradoxically, perhaps the greatest gift I received at the ISTE mega conference was a new set of lenses through which to look at professional learning; focusing on small as the new huge. Forty two million new web pages were created last year. Even the most tech tentative among us can try just one. Perhaps that humble beginning will make a potent difference. Perhaps, just perhaps, small is the new huge.

Cross Posted on sharingourblessings.wordpress.com

Sunday, July 08, 2012

ISTE2012 IS OVER - NOW WHAT?

So, it has been over a week since I've returned from the best experience to kick start my summer: the ISTE12 conference.  Thanks to the generosity of the Avichai Foundation, I got to spend 4 glorious days in sunny San Diego, learning all about education in the 21st century.  In my previous blog post, I reflected on the "wow" effect this conference had on me.  In this blog post, after being back for over a week, I choose to focus on the take aways and lessons learned from this conference.  First and foremost, I think that the success of this conference is in the opportunity it gives educators to network and learn from each other.  In planning for the conference, I was so focused on choosing and re-choosing the sessions.  As great as those were, I think I learned the most from the people I had the privilege to interact with and have discussions with, and most importantly, will continue to remain in touch with. I got a chance to meet and learn from some gurus in the field, and I'm so grateful for that.  But, meeting educators from all over North America, connecting and learning from them, being able to continue these connections beyond the conference, is invaluable. Second, I was re-introduced to twitter. I had an account that I signed up for a long time ago. I was not really using that account much.  When at ISTE, you kind of have to tweet, just like the saying goes "when in Rome...". Everyone was blogging and tweeting. So did I.  Every session mentioned twitter (at some point), and I kind of got into it. The truth is that I really got back into it, and I haven't stopped ever since. I'm so impressed with the wealth of information that can be found on twitter,that I'm embarrassed that I haven't kept on top of my tweeting in the past while.  As a matter of fact, I've been following so many new hash tags and been so involved in new discussions, that it feels as if ISTE never ended.  And then there is what comes next, which is sharing.  I've taken so many notes and learned about so many apps, initiatives, ideas and projects, that I am bursting at the seams. I am trying different things, setting up initiatives for the fall, trying to bring forward different suggestions and idea to my team, wanting to implement some of the wonderful things I've learned about. That is what proves that ISTE was indeed worthwhile, if the takeaways from it can or would be implemented, if it was inspiring enough to be taken further.  I'm excited about the possibilities and am determined to take it further. Yes, it is kind of overwhelming... So many notes have been taken at the conference, so many ideas and apps have been introduced.  Trying to implement it all is simply impossible. But, I'm lucky to work with an amazing team of educators, who are used to me getting excited over new initiatives that have to with technology.  They are "on board" with me, willing to try it out and implement it with my support. What will be implemented at Associated Hebrew Schools this fall? Well, we intend to experiment with QR codes. This was a big take away for me.  I saw some great examples of using those in educational settings, and the away that the codes make teaching come to life and that is certainly one thing that we will implement in the fall. Also, our school has purchased several iPads this summer that will be deployed in September. Many of the sessions I took gave me tips, tricks and ideas of how to deploy and use those iPads successfully, not to mention a huge list of apps I would like to explore. A very exciting thing to look forward to. A third initiative that has been brewing in me since coming back from ISTE has to do with student blogging. I've attended several sessions outlining the success of allowing students to blog, the way different educators have implemented student blogging in their classroom. I've even learned about the flat classroom project where blogging connected children from across the globe. I intend to pursue this with my colleagues and take it further into the implementation stage.  Lastly, I would like to further my colleagues and my learning through our PLCs (I believe that it is PLCs in Canada and PLN in the US).  Sharing knowledge and ideas, learning and reflection can all be done through these wonderful networks and communities. Whether in school, on line, or otherwise, I look forward to sharing and continuing my learning and experimentation with technology in the classroom to promote student engagement and success. Once again, thanks Avichai for all that you've done to get me to ISTE. Todda Rabba! Wishing everyone a great summer,  Avital Aharon Associated Hebrew Schools Toronto, Canada

Friday, July 06, 2012

ISTE 2012: Large-Picture Take Aways


The learning that took place at the ISTE Conference (at least for me), took place everywhere: in the exhibition hall, the various sessions, the lobbies, outdoor patios, meeting rooms and shuttle bus, not to mention our Avi Chai sessions each evening.  There are a lot of great teachers and administrators out there and I found myself trying to absorb as much as possible throughout.

That being said, the experience was also overwhelming, especially when I stopped to think about the work ahead and the feeling that no matter how pro-active we are, the risk of treading water or falling behind the eight ball looms heavily in my thoughts.  How can our school, or any school, implement all of the tools, applications or educational approaches that were presented at ISTE?  How can I possibly follow and learn something from all of my new twitter connections?  How many of the various tools presented in the exhibition hall can any one school adopt, even if budget were not an issue (which it is)? 
Then came my AHA moment…provided by a wide variety of my ISTE “teachers.”

§                     Take away one or two terrific ideas, tools or implementation ideas from any given session or discussion.
§                     Don’t worry about the tweets you miss.  Rather, be excited to learn new ideas from the tweets you were able to read and process.  Whatever you DO read and learn is more than you would have discovered only a few days ago. 
§                     Share, share, share.  Do you have a great idea that worked in your school?  Don’t be proprietary…why shouldn’t students everywhere be able to benefit from your spark?  I met a young Spanish teacher who decided that she could not teach 11 year old kids using a 13 year old textbook.  So she created her own online textbook using weebly, which anyone can view and/or use.  Take a look at this:  http://spanishtechbook.weebly.com/
§                     Don’t be afraid of failure…your own and those of your teachers.  That’s how you learn.
§                     Put the education process in the hands of your students…let them own it.

So what am I going to do this summer to prepare for the 2012-13 school year as a result of participating in the ISTE Conference?

First and foremost, I am going to develop a number of action plans for the upcoming school year, focusing on:

1)      Establishing a resource wiki or site for our teachers suggesting various web tools and providing links to some of the wonderful projects and tools I learned about at ISTE.  I look forward to having teachers add their resources to the reference site as well as feedback from others who have tried new approaches or tools.
2)      Outlining a course of professional development for our faculty for the 2012-13 academic year.  The plan will include a combination of peer mentoring, online professional development,  as well as discussions, demonstrations and presentations on curriculum development and technology integration.
3)      Widening my own personal learning network – this was one of the main messages I took away from the ISTE Conference.  In order to grow professionally and impact the learning culture at our school, I must expand my PLN and learn from the experience of others.  I am awed by the quantity and quality of dedicated education professionals who are willing to share their ideas, knowledge and skills with anyone.  I intend to take advantage of their openness and smarts (and in turn share my newly acquired knowledge with colleagues at our school).  I will encourage our faculty members to establish and/or widen their own PLNs for the same purpose.
4)      I will investigate the concept and implementation options of blended learning to see if and how our students can benefit from this educational model, both in their secular and Judaic studies.

This is a great beginning and I am excited and grateful for the opportunity provided by the Avi Chai Foundation.  I hope that other members of our faculty and administration will be able to attend ISTE in future years.


Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Controlling the Technology Curriculum


Controlling the Technology Curriculum

“The war between the digital natives and the digital immigrants is over, and the natives won.”  (Marc Prensky in opening ISTE keynote).  The statement points to  technologies promise for student empowerment.  Yet, just as in earlier eras when learning centers, project-based learning and differentiated instruction held such possibility, there is always a pull in the opposite direction. 

Prensky got it right in the imagery of  a “battle”.  Those of us who believe in constructivist learning, need to leverage technology for this purpose.  Alan November's workshops were all about this - empowering our students to construct their own knowledge. The other guys (top down educators) who were quite apparent in many of the packaged education technology solutions presented in the exhibition hall will use technology for their ends -  skill based learning sells.  To be sure, there is a role for skill based learning - but a limited one - one that is in the service of higher order thinking.  But the natives will move on taking their learning outside of the classroom as they do now if school use of technologically reduces to skill-based learning only.

The ISTE conference was transformative for me in that it gave me the time, space and connections to reflect about these "big" technology issues.  In the past, I would have sent only my technology teacher to a conference like this.  Thank you Avi Chai for having the wisdom of sending a Head of School.  I now can engage (and already have) my whole staff to think carefully about our technology goals for our students.  I can envision a future and build capacity in the school to set us up for best practices in this area.  This week, I sent an email to my parent body and my staff explaining Alan November's lesson about searching for credible sources on the internet.  Although it is summer, I received more responses to that note than I have to most blogs and emails that I sent throughout the year to our community.

A few more thank yous are in order:  Thank you for bringing the day schools together - it was always comforting to see and to chat with colleagues in what could have been a very overwhelming, impersonal experience.  Thank you for orchestrating complicated food needs.  Finally, thank you for making me into a tweeter, albeit a timid tweeter, but a tweeter nonetheless.


Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Twitter Comes to Life at ISTE

I have written in the past about the importance that I attach to the social network Twitter, but the true importance of it was driven home to me on several occasions during last weeks conference of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). I knew going in that there would be many people there that I knew about via Twitter, perhaps because I follow them or perhaps because they are "Twitter rock stars". However, my own personal "Twitter moments" at the conference made the event something that it would not otherwise have been.

To wit:

1) No sooner had I boarded my plane Sunday morning and settled into my seat than the woman across from me asked me if I was going to ISTE. Turns out it was Dr. Shira Leibowitz (@shiraleibowitz), Principal of Solomon Schechter in Westchester, NY, an avid and respected tweep, both in Jewish and general education circles. Finally putting faces to the avatars, we had some fruitful discussions, occasionally joined by Dov Emerson (@dovemerson), founder of #jedchat and Assistant Principal at DRS-HALB on Long Island.

2) While waiting to enter the opening keynote, I finally met in person Debby Jacoby (@debbyj18) of the BJE in San Francisco, someone with whom I have been corresponding all year - to the point that we have already collaborated on several projects. I should note that that last statement is not strange in the twitterverse - several presentations at ISTE were co-run by people who considered themselves colleagues and friends yet had never met before coming to San Diego.

3) I walked into the conference on Monday morning and noticed a semi-familiar looking individual sitting on the floor (which is common at ISTE) perusing his daily schedule for the day. Taking a chance, I said, "Mr. Amidon?" - and Tyler Amidon (@mramidon), who I had only corresponded with via #edchat, looked up, recognized my Twitter name written on my badge, and wound up following me to the first session of the day. We would attend several other sessions together during the course of the conference, and have continued our dialogue in the week since. As he tweeted to me following the conference: "Chatting now will be that much richer now that I've shaken your hand!!"

4) I attended a panel session about flipped learning moderated by Aaron Sams and Jonathan Bergman. During the session, I was tweeting notes and questions that I had about what was being discussed. Common practice is to do this mainly for those who cannot be in the session but want to follow it anyway (multitasking is very vibrant at ISTE). After I tweeted one question about something one of the panelists said, I glanced down and saw that he had tweeted me back an answer. This back-and-forth continued for a moment or two, and in the meantime others noticed the discussion and jumped in.

Now for the cool part. No sooner did the panel end when the person sitting in front of me turned around and asked if I was Rabbi Ross (my Twitter handle). When I replied yes, he introduced himself as the person who had just tweeted me a question, and we began speaking about creating online materials for Judaic Studies classes. As we made our way towards the door, someone else stopped me, and it turned out that she had also been following the tweets and suddenly we had a very rich conversation among five or six people about some new ideas in the Jewish classroom.

5) Of course, part of the way that I choose the sessions that I attended - out of several hundred choices - was by seeing which twitter heroes I wanted to hear from for more than 140 characters. As such, I had the pleasure of hearing Chris Lehmann (@chrislehmann) discuss his successes at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, Vicki Davis (@coolcatteacher) speak about wikis and the flat classroom, and George Couros (@gcouros) and Patrick Larkin (@patrickmlarkin) discuss visionary leadership and digital citizenship.

What is common in all of these anecdotes, and probably thousands of others that people could tell from ISTE, is that they highlighted the fact that Twitter is just a tool, but a very effective one. While I have learned much from so many people in snippet-length tweets, the most important thing to come out of all of that is the basis for real human interactions and relationships. Having interacted with people via Twitter, I knew to seek them out to learn more from them. I agree that networking with people in a blind fashion is missing something, but there is no question that it can certainly be a step to greater things.

(Cross-posted on jewishedd.blogspot.com)

Twitter Comes to Life at ISTE

I have written in the past about the importance that I attach to the social network Twitter, but the true importance of it was driven home to me on several occasions during last weeks conference of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). I knew going in that there would be many people there that I knew about via Twitter, perhaps because I follow them or perhaps because they are "Twitter rock stars". However, my own personal "Twitter moments" at the conference made the event something that it would not otherwise have been.

To wit:

1) No sooner had I boarded my plane Sunday morning and settled into my seat than the woman across from me asked me if I was going to ISTE. Turns out it was Dr. Shira Leibowitz (@shiraleibowitz), Principal of Solomon Schechter in Westchester, NY, an avid and respected tweep, both in Jewish and general education circles. Finally putting faces to the avatars, we had some fruitful discussions, occasionally joined by Dov Emerson (@dovemerson), founder of #jedchat and Assistant Principal at DRS-HALB on Long Island.

2) While waiting to enter the opening keynote, I finally met in person Debby Jacoby (@debbyj18) of the BJE in San Francisco, someone with whom I have been corresponding all year - to the point that we have already collaborated on several projects. I should note that that last statement is not strange in the twitterverse - several presentations at ISTE were co-run by people who considered themselves colleagues and friends yet had never met before coming to San Diego.

3) I walked into the conference on Monday morning and noticed a semi-familiar looking individual sitting on the floor (which is common at ISTE) perusing his daily schedule for the day. Taking a chance, I said, "Mr. Amidon?" - and Tyler Amidon (@mramidon), who I had only corresponded with via #edchat, looked up, recognized my Twitter name written on my badge, and wound up following me to the first session of the day. We would attend several other sessions together during the course of the conference, and have continued our dialogue in the week since. As he tweeted to me following the conference: "Chatting now will be that much richer now that I've shaken your hand!!"

4) I attended a panel session about flipped learning moderated by Aaron Sams and Jonathan Bergman. During the session, I was tweeting notes and questions that I had about what was being discussed. Common practice is to do this mainly for those who cannot be in the session but want to follow it anyway (multitasking is very vibrant at ISTE). After I tweeted one question about something one of the panelists said, I glanced down and saw that he had tweeted me back an answer. This back-and-forth continued for a moment or two, and in the meantime others noticed the discussion and jumped in.

Now for the cool part. No sooner did the panel end when the person sitting in front of me turned around and asked if I was Rabbi Ross (my Twitter handle). When I replied yes, he introduced himself as the person who had just tweeted me a question, and we began speaking about creating online materials for Judaic Studies classes. As we made our way towards the door, someone else stopped me, and it turned out that she had also been following the tweets and suddenly we had a very rich conversation among five or six people about some new ideas in the Jewish classroom.

5) Of course, part of the way that I choose the sessions that I attended - out of several hundred choices - was by seeing which twitter heroes I wanted to hear from for more than 140 characters. As such, I had the pleasure of hearing Chris Lehmann (@chrislehmann) discuss his successes at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, Vicki Davis (@coolcatteacher) speak about wikis and the flat classroom, and George Couros (@gcouros) and Patrick Larkin (@patrickmlarkin) discuss visionary leadership and digital citizenship.

What is common in all of these anecdotes, and probably thousands of others that people could tell from ISTE, is that they highlighted the fact that Twitter is just a tool, but a very effective one. While I have learned much from so many people in snippet-length tweets, the most important thing to come out of all of that is the basis for real human interactions and relationships. Having interacted with people via Twitter, I knew to seek them out to learn more from them. I agree that networking with people in a blind fashion is missing something, but there is no question that it can certainly be a step to greater things.

(Cross-posted on jewishedd.blogspot.com)

The digital experience is all the rage now and people talk about there being two kinds of populations of users:  a) digital natives – mostly the younger generation who have grown up with technology and the internet and who have organically lived with it as part of their day-to-day experience. They know and understand how to use it and how it works.  And, b) digital immigrants – mostly those of the “older generations” ; those of us who came to it later in our lives as it became more prevalent in society and daily usage.

I am a digital immigrant. In fact, I just recently got off the boat!

While, there is clearly a huge reality gap between learning about technology and being a real immigrant to a country, I can’t help but think about my parents’ immigrant experience as a metaphor.  Like my parents who arrived on these shores in the previous generation and were strangers in America, I too sometimes feel like a stranger in this new world of technology.  I’m trying to learn the language (I know some  words and phrases to get me by) , I’m navigating the social and cultural ways  of this new society, and I’m trying to figure out how I fit in. Thanks to the Avi Chai foundation I had an opportunity to chip away at that last week at the ISTE conference in San Diego.

My school is going through a similar experience.  That is, we are a young institution only now entering this new world of technology.  We’re just learning the new language and finding our way in this new world. We’re beginning to seriously explore how we can use technology to support the kind of teaching and learning that we do in our school.  I know there are many other schools out there who share this reality. Schools who have watched technology and the digital workplace explode but who haven’t yet fully joined in, either because they weren’t prepared or didn’t have the staff members or leadership ready to invest in this new language and life style.

At my school we understand that the time has come. None of us can any longer afford to sit on the side lines and watch our students live digital lives without both joining them and stepping in to guide them.

I came to ISTE this week with many questions and walk away having answered some and generated others. The good news is that I’m slowly finding my way around this new world and learning to ask more pointed questions, and beginning to recognize the questions I still need to ask and conversations that I still need to have.  I’ve shared many of these thoughts with my fellow ISTE participants last week over dinner and many offered suggestions. To those of you out there in the blogosphere: I welcome your input as well. I’m hoping to learn from many of you. 

The operative question for me, at this point, is how do I help my staff come along on this immigrant journey with me and my leadership team colleagues.  My school is a young institution, thankfully already with a culture of active learning, differentiation, and reflection.  At faculty meetings and in professional conversations we’re already talking about how to structure our classrooms and design our curricula and programs in ways that engage students according to their needs, offer kids choice in their learning, and involve collaboration and authentic audiences.  Our teachers are already “guides on the side” (as opposed to the “sage on the stage”) and direct their students through constructivist exercises, inquiry and projects. But, for the most part, we don’t fully understand technology nor are we yet taking advantage of the very real potential that technology has to extend our kids’ learning experience.  Yes, we have a handful of Smartboards and a library of laptops, but we use them in pretty limited ways.  A few teachers know how to use the Smartboard and our laptops are used mostly for word processing and searching the internet.  I walk away from ISTE with the recognition that technology can support , enhance and extend the kind of active learning that we already do in our school. But how do I help my staff (and myself) get there?

We are a small school and don’t yet have the budget for an Educational Technology Coordinator to introduce and lead our motivated staff through this “immigrant experience.”  I’m still working through how I, an immigrant myself, can lead my colleagues through this new experience.  I’m looking to you,  fellow educators already familiar with, and committed to,  technology and the active learning it supports, to guide me in integrating it more into my school and helping my teachers maximize this active learning.  I welcome your input and look forward to hearing what has worked for you.

Gary Pretsfelder
Head, Elementary School
Solomon Schechter School of Manhattan

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Words of Woofdom from the Bearded Dog









Originally posted Monday 25 June. Sadly - never appeared on this blog - sucked into the Bermuda Microsoft Triangle.... rescued only by the kindness of the mermaids.

Arff! Me hearties - the dog is back in action.

Here in sunny San Diego in a balmy air-conditioned room, enjoying the wonders of ISTE 12.

Arrrrr - wonders indeed. The Dog wonders how a board that has more than 20 000 people at one convention could allow a key note full of product placments and advertising!!

The dog was not amused.

But - the dog believes in looking on the bright side!

He is very greatful to Avi Chai for bringing him out to the West Coast where he just cannot sign the many report cards waiting on his desk.

And arrrrrr - when the dog smells the sea, he perks up and his tail has been known to wag!

ISTE, the sea, happy doggy!
 

Friday, June 29, 2012

Lessons from ISTE and the Supreme Court Ruling: Why it's more important to get it right than to get it first.

The following post by Rabbi Tzvi Pittinsky is cross-posted on TechRav.blogspot.com.


I try to stay away from politics when blogging. Unless something in the news directly impacts on technology in Jewish education (like the Asifa), I shy away from commenting. It's not my role to pontificate about that latest current events and I don't think people care much about where I stand on political issues. However, I think there is a tremendous lesson about the role of technology in education to be culled from the news reporting surrounding the recent Supreme Court decision on the national health care plan.

Both CNN and FoxNews got it wrong. In their initial reporting after the decision was delivered at 10AM yesterday, they both headlined that the Supreme court had struck down the law. CNN ran the wrong headline for 6 long minutes before correcting itself and declaring that the court had actually upheld the law. How could they both be so wrong?

In a report on NPR addressing this question, Brian Stelter of the New York Times made a point that was both obvious and profound. They didn't read. In their rush to get the news first, both networks read the first few paragraphs of the ruling in which the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court John Roberts wrote that the health care legislation could not be upheld using the Commerce Clause and ran with the headline that the Supreme Court had struck down the health care law. They failed to read the next few paragraphs in which Justice Roberts declared the law to be constitutional since its fines could be considered a tax and not a penalty.

The politics of this ruling is not something for me to comment on. However, the lesson for the role of attentive reading in our technological age is profound. How many of us are so quick to blog and tweet that we fail to read attentively and listen carefully?

This point was the source of a great deal of debate at an Avi Chai sponsored dinner at this week's ISTE technology conference. One educator posed the question that with so much tweeting going throughout the lectures, how many of us fail to listen carefully enough to understand what is really being said. I countered that with a back channel of dozens or hundreds tweeting about what was being said at the workshop, the effect deepened the conversation and made each lesson more interactive. However, I can see both sides of this debate. Yes, live tweeting a lesson or news event can make a discussion more interactive but is this at the expense of more active listening and reflection?

Many researchers have made similar points. In the book iDisorder, Larry Rosen discusses the similarity between technology users and various psychological disorders. For example, the behavior of many people during a lecture with many windows open on their laptop while they simultaneously take notes, tweet, and instant message closely mimics the symptoms of Attention Deficit Disorder. In the Shallows which I have blogged about in the past, Nicholas Carr argues that technology is discouraging attentive, careful reading since we read much more superficially online, jumping from hyperlinked page to page.

I believe that this desire to get things fast whether in the news or on Twitter mitigates against comprehension of complex text requiring higher-order thinking whether it be supreme court rulings or Talmudic debates. This should give us pause when embracing technology in education. While tweeting and other real-time technology tools can add interaction to a class, is this at the expense of depth and thoughtfulness? Other technology tools which can encourage reflection like blogging and asynchronous online discussion should be considered to encourage this type of thinking. Or perhaps sometimes we should just turn off the technology and practice deep reading and attentive listening. Time to pause and reflect are vitally important for our students (and for us). It's more important to get it right than to get it first.

From Facilitator to Activator


cc licensed image shared by flickr user The Darling Librarian

The definition of a motion leader is one who motivates the unmotivated in a way that the unmotivated then thank them for, Michael Fullan, ISTE Conference, 2012, Session Title: Stratosphere: Integrating Technology, Pedagogy and Change Knowledge

I came to ISTE (International Symposium on Tech Education) with one essential question: how can I, as a principal, support teachers in my school to improve learning? Perhaps attending an educational technology conference I should have shown more interest in the technology. And, I’ll admit, I was wowed by much of the technology. More significantly, I was moved by the focus on learning.

I gained more than I ever expected, experiencing a shift in a paradigm I had embraced and that has shaped my leadership in recent years. In the very first session I attended Monday morning, Michael Fullan, in true motion leader style, motivated me (ok I was already motivated, but supported me) to shift my perspectives on the role of teacher and by extension the role of principal from facilitator of learning to activator of learning.

Quoting John Hattie, Michael Fullan relayed that there is a .17 effect size on student learning when teachers act as facilitators of learning through problem based learning, simulations and gaming, and individualized instruction. Alternatively, there is a .84 effect size on student learning when teachers serve as activators of learning through offering feedback, accessing thinking, supporting challenging goals, and monitoring learning. It does not take extensive training in statistical analysis to find this research compelling.

I know, we love problem based learning, simulations and gaming, and individualized instruction. And, Michael Fullan did offer appropriate caution in our interpretation of Hattie’s findings, positing that gaming, for example, as currently utilized may not yet be effective but that skilled teachers may develop high quality use. Still, without dogmatic either/or – facilitator or activator – lines in the sand, I accept and appreciate Michael Fullan’s redirection.

Michael Fullan activated my learning even further, leaving me not only with a direction, but also with some concrete steps as to how to move forward. And, again, it’s not about the technology. Wisdom I gleaned included:
  • Offer respect to others before it is earned
  • Engage in impressive empathy, meaning empathy even for those who stand in your way
  • Invest in capacity building – human capital and social capital
  • Build social contagion
  • Eliminate non-essentials
  • Focus on a small number of ambitious goals.
Perhaps it is paradoxical that at a technology conference I walked away with the message that what matters is not new, but eternal. What matters is what has mattered for millennia: the quality of our relationships, our respect for one another, and the supportive environments we create. I spent the rest of the conference attending some fantastic sessions, learning some impressive technology tools, but most essentially, connecting and engaging with others who care deeply about learning. At a conference about what is current, I focused on what is enduring.

To Michael Fullan, the ISTE organizers, the AVICHAI Foundation who sponsored my participation, and the engaging educators with whom I learned, from one of the motivated, thank you!

Rabbi Shira Leibowitz, Ph.D.
Lower School Principal, Schechter Westchester
Twitter: @shiraleibowitz
Cross-posted at http://www.sharingourblessings.wordpress.com/

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The ISTE12 Conference - WOW!

I am writing this post as I sit and wait for the final keynote at the ISTE12 conference to begin. I'm surrounded by thousands of people as I am trying to reflect on what I experienced during the last 4 days. Thanks to a generous grant from Avichai, I had the opportunity to attend this amazing conference in San Diego. The ability to be part of this large gathering of educators made me feel like I am part of a massive club of committed educators ("techies" if you will) all of whom want to learn about education in the 21st century, technology integration and want to be informed of the best tools and ideas that exist out there. In preparing for this, I read the blogs, tweets and postings about ISTE. I tried to get ready by making sure I pack comfortable shoes (I am usually in high heels), charge all my idevices, fill out the forms, spend a week choosing and re-choosing sessions, print out my schedule, print labels with my information for all the prizes I thought i will be winning, take another look at my sessions and change some things around, sign up for some after hours parties and basically... make sure I can make the most out of the experience. But nothing could have prepared me for what I experienced. It truly was an overwhelming experience (in a good way), full of learning and intense jam-packed few days. I tried to do it all, which was really impossible... I attended session after session, running from one end of the convention centre to the other, I went through the exhibition, trying to have hands on experiences and listen to some information about products and services (and yes, I admit, I wanted some swag, things to take home, praying that I win a an iPad). I sparked conversations with complete strangers, I tried to learn from everyone and everything: poster sessions, other educators, keynote speakers, computers, tweets, random volunteers, and ofcourse- children. Each session I attended opened the door to new information, meeting new people, considering new options for improving teaching and engaging student, but most importantly - learning. I will be amiss if I don't mention the opportunity that I had to connect with the great group of Avichai educators who joined me on this journey. It was fantastic to meet them, talk to them and be able to reflect with them each evening on what we learned and discuss the application of this learning opportunity in our different Jewish day schools. I made some great friends, got to meet face to face some of the individual's I've been following on twitter, and catch up with some old friends as well. This alone - was an important and worth while experience. It was great to meet other Jewish day school educators who, like me, are so passionate about education and technology, who are committed to teaching and learning in today's digital age, and who want to make a difference in Jewish education. ISTE also helped me think about our learners: our students and the way we can reach them better, how we can get them to collaborate, how I and the teachers I work with can make a difference in their lives by implementing these fantastic ideas, tools and incredible learning opportunities. There is no arguing that digital age learning and teaching has changed and will continue to change. ISTE helped me See what digital learning can be all about. On one hand, the gurus in the field presented. People like Adam Bellow, Vicki Davis, Michael Fullan, Tony Vincent and other big names offered fascinating opportunities to learn about topics and issues close to my heart, as a technology coordinator and a teacher (first and foremost). They had much to say about education as a whole, and technology's role in it. Then there were sessions where everyday teachers, and even students (yes, students!) presented and showed us, the participants in the conference, what can be done. It was just inspiring to be part of that. ISTE's theme was "Expanding the horizons" and that they really did. New possibilities were introduced, sites, apps, social media, products and so much more are the things I'm coming home with. I'm committed to share this learning, whether it is by including it in the posts I'll be writing, I'll be presenting it in the PD I'll be offering, or by implementing it by introducing it in our PLCs throughout the upcoming year. Thank you Avichai for your generosity and for this amazing opportunity, for your hospitality and for all the excitement I feel as I think of what I'm coming home with and where I can take this knowledge from here. I can't wait to impart this knowledge! Avital Aharon J.S and Technology Coordinator Associated Hebrew Schools Thornhill, Ontario, Canada

Technology in Education is not about Technology

That title must seem fairly strange, especially as I am now at day 4 of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) conference, a 20,000 person shindig with educators from around the country and around the world all here to discuss and learn about - what else? - technology and it's place in education. I will post more about someof the specific take-always from this conference and some of the really cool things about it as well in later posts. For now, I want to focus on this one issue.

One of the overriding themes at many of the sessions that I have attended has been about keeping the focus on the students. I attended a session this morning co-presented by George Couros and Patrick Franklin, principals in Alberta, Canada and Burlington, Massachusetts, respectively, who between them have over 27,000 followers on twitter and are certifiable rock stars here at ISTE. One of the first things that George said was that he wants to remove the word digital from what we do because it incorrectly puts the focus on that aspect of our work. Their talk was about how principals envision their schools and how they encourage their students to think and take control of their education. It just so happens that a lot of technology is really useful for doing all of this - but it remains a tool, not the driving force.

On Monday morning, I attended a session by Alan November, wonderful speak who consistently advocates for teachers to find more and more ways to make students more active within the classroom. A key word in his presentation was motivation, with a particular focus on finding "jobs" for individual students to carry out in the classroom, such as scribe or researcher, that will allow them to have a greater and more active role in the learning that is taking place. Again, many of these ideas could not come to fruition without the powerof technology and the web, but the goal is what we do with all of that technology, not our focus on it.

I could go on and on, and I yet may do so in later posts. If you want to see my notes from the seasons I have attended, I have been posting them using Evernote (a wonderful tool that Tzvi Pittinsky just wrote about on his TechRav blog) and sting them to twitter (follow me at @rabbiross). But my point for now is that this conference is largely nothing that a critic of technology in schools would assume it to be. Yes, everyone is walking around with a smartphone and an iPad or chrome book or laptop and sometimes using more than one at a time. Yes, there is an overwhelming large vendor expo with more technology products than you could ever dream about. And, yes, I have learned about some really cool sites and devices.

But at the end of the day, this is an education conference and not a technology conference. To those people who have an allergic reaction every time someone suggests a new device or app to be used in the classroom, get over it. Technology already exists in your classroom and the best thing that you can do is to get ahead of it. It is indeed overwhelming and there are more products and sites and apps out there than we have time to think about. Nevertheless, the word from the experts and gurus out here is that the key is to keep our focus on where it has always been in schools - on our students. The rest is just commentary.

(cross-posted to jewishedd.blogspot.com)