Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Breaking the Silos that Exist in Education

“Breakthrough innovation occurs when we bring down boundaries and encourage disciplines to learn from each other” Gyan Nagpal

I was reminded this week of a story I once read about "Rip Van Winkle". Not the original story but instead a tale connected to education and our classrooms. While I don't remember and couldn't find the exact story, it followed the story of Rip Van Winkle waking and being amazed by the new world he finds until he walks into a classroom. Upon walking into a modern classroom he finally finds something familiar. The only difference he notices is the color of the chalkboards. (aka whiteboards)

"The idea aims to eliminate one of the biggest gripes of students everywhere: 'What is the point of learning this?' Now, each subject is anchored to the reason for learning it." - Kabir Chibber
This quote was part of the article that reminded me of the Rip Van Van Winkle view of modern education. The article "Goodbye, math and history: Finland wants to abandon teaching subjects at school" describes how Finland aims to replace subjects with "phenomena". The article is work a read before going on and letting me know what you think.


I initially saw this change proposed by Finland as revolutionary and not very realistic for U.S. schools. All I could think after reading the article was "Wow, what an ambitious idea. How are they ever going to make this work?"  I initially doubted that schools in the United States could make such a tremendous shift in the way we manage schools and children in the United States. I almost decided to forget about the points made in the article. I don't think I'm ruining the end of this story by telling you that my thinking quickly shifted.

My second thought was what a great idea. I'd love to see a shift from departments to a  more theme integrated learning experience for students. Where besides high school do you need to be good at 5 to 7 different isolated subjects with 5 to 7 different bosses in a single day? I'm not saying that curricular experts are bad, I just believe that we need more interdisciplinary collaboration from teachers to better support student learning.

Excited about the idea, I decided to do a bit of research about schools and classrooms that were using an interdisciplinary approach to teaching and learning. While not common, I quickly realized that similar initiatives exist and are growing in U.S. schools. Curricular or grade level experts in separate silos are still the norm, but many districts across the U.S. have supported and encouraged collaboration across grade levels or subject areas with growing success.

Check out this incredible example of teachers teaming up across subject areas to motivate and inspire students.

We are doing this! We just need more! I have a simple resquest:
Get up and find someone who teaches a different subject or grade level. Get started with a simple question : "What are your students learning?"

In the immortal words of Bill Nye . . . "Need I say . . . we could change the world?" 






Sunday, March 15, 2015

Technology Habits for Teachers - Planning Professional Development

Just because something doesn’t do what you planned it to do doesn't mean it’s useless.
Thomas Edison (Inventor)

A year ago we started using this infographic with our faculty: 7 Habits of Highly Effective Effective Teachers Who Use Technology. It started more as a motivational idea, but actually became part of our planning and implementation of the professional development activities. Depending on the topic, we will share one or more of these to open up our learner centered professional development. I love the simplicity of the seven habits and it has really helped us move forward with many instructional initiatives connected to Instructional Technology. 


Here are a few examples of how we've used several of these habits:

  • We use the habit of embracing change to get people started with a new resource. For example, this is a great starting point to introduce and new LMS or Gradebook.
  • We use the habit of sharing to get people to collaborate and share their learning  both in our PLCs and embracing broader PLNs. Here is an example in our PLN Challenge
  • We use the habit of why to start conversations about how the technology could support learning.  We shift the focus away from the tool and on the pedagogy the tool can support. 

Think about it: 
  • What other Habits might you suggest? 
  • How could you use these Habits to support teaching and learning? 
Additional resources: 





Thursday, March 12, 2015

My Day at NSTA

The important thing in science is not so much to obtain new facts as to discover new ways of thinking about them. -William Lawrence Bragg

NSTA 2015 Conference

The NSTA Conference is an incredible event filled with science teachers of every size, shape, and teaching style. The diversity and skills of the educators at this event cannot be truly described. Add to the incredible educators is the incredible Vendor Area. (Probably the biggest I've ever seen. I hauled out 3 bags of cool stuff. I was a bit conflicted as an Environmental Science Teacher.)

Most of the time I love being a learner even more than a teacher. Believe me, I love being a teacher a whole heck of a lot. I consider it a boring day when the only questions anyone asks me are the ones I already know or think I know the answer to. 
When it comes to environmental science, technology, and online resources for teachers I sometimes fall into a trap of forgetting how much I don't know. No worries about that at the NSTA a conference. I found many new inspirational questions.

So what questions am I looking for answers to after my first day at the NSTA Conference?

  • What can the Argo Buoys tell my students? How can I use the data to support learning and engage my students?
  • What are the Next Generation Science Standards? How will they help my students "Change the Word" (Courtesy of Bill Nye!)
  • How do we think like an expert without being an expert in the content? (We want students to learn to behave like experts. Not no it alls, but learners who solve problems like the experts.)
  • What is 3 Dimensional Learning and how can I use it with my students?
  • How did Bill Nye become and expert on taking selfies? (You had to be there!)
  • How did I not know about so many of the incredible resources the vendors shared today? (I actually have 3 full tote bags for of some awesome learning swag! More to come tomorrow!)
  • How can I use more formative assessment to support learning and improve my teaching?
I guess its time learn some new things and be inspired.

This is my secret to staying young - Never Stop Learning!


Sunday, March 8, 2015

Teachers - You Must Share to Learn and Grow

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”Mahatma Gandhi

I love being a teacher because of the constant need change. There is something new every year, every month, every week and every day. Yes this can be stressful, difficult, time consuming, but it is never dull. I always tell anyone who will listen that if I ever start to believe I am good enough, I will quit teaching. While perfection may be out of reach, it is a great goal.


There are 2 things that have changed my teaching and learning in the last 5 years than anything I've ever done connected to being a teacher. I've shifted from a teacher centered content delivery machine to a learner centered facilitator of learning and student choice. I thought I was good at what I was doing before and maybe I was, but I am better at what I am doing now. I owe this fundamental shift in my teaching philosophy to both face to face interactions and my online social network, including:

I tried an experiment a few weeks ago with the teachers in my building. My idea was to engage them in digital Personal Learning Networks. Our building is full of incredible educators who share incredible things in our established Personal Learning Communities. Many teacher present and share what they now at local and national conferences. The only area where I don't see extensive engagement is online. I wanted to see if I could change this, so I created the PLN Challenge.

The PLN challenge seemed like a great idea, but it was complete and utter failure. Two teachers in a building of 300 staff engaged and tweeted to our district hashtag: #iplearns. Reflecting back, I think I failed in the delivery of the challenge. I believed that sharing the challenge through our Department Chairs and ILT would be enough to get the ball rolling. I did not take an active role encouraging teachers to participate. I did not help teachers who might be new to Twitter. I did not do enough to convince teachers how powerful a personal learning network could be.


We learn from failure, and in the future I will approach encouraging teachers in a more active way. I'm still thinking about how to best accomplish this, but digital PLNs are too powerful of a learning tool to ignore. I plan to take what I learn from this first attempt and turn it into something better.


How do you promote / share the power of Personal Learning Networks? 


A few PLN resources: