Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Getting Technology, Learning Technology, Using Technology

     I am so excited about the upcoming school year!

     For the first time ever, all of our school buildings will be wireless enabled.  This is the first step in our efforts to build a 1-to-1 learning environment for all of our students.  This is such an exciting time to be in education.  We have had a couple of schools pilot a Bring-Your-Own-Device (BYOD) system and we have learned from their experiences.

     In less than a month, I will meet with 250 teachers in a wireless-enable high school auditorium.  I can't wait.  During this meeting we will use Google Hangout to hear from four different companies that offer four great products for use in the classroom.  Some parts of these products are free to all teachers for use in the classroom and some have a fee.  All of these products have embraced the 21st century learning model of encouraging students to discover information and to ask more questions about what they see and learn.
     None of the four presenters will be physically present in the auditorium.  This is how we learn in the 21st century.  One presenter will be 3000 miles and three time zones away from us.  The four companies presenting on this day will be: DesmosTen MarksDiscovery Education, and Learn Zillion.  The teachers in the auditorium will bring their own devices and will be able to access the website of each company as the presenter is talking.

     It will be a great learning experience for our teachers and an excellent example of the possibilities that (now) exist in our classrooms as the 1-to-1 learning environment begins.

     At 50 years old, I am constantly learning about different websites and various learning products that provide resources to students and teachers.  The P-12 education landscape is (indeed) changing to mirror the lives of our students.  We must change to keep up with the changes that are happening all around us.

     So get ready to bring your device to school.  It is lighter than a textbook and infinitely more valuable as a learning tool.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Best Teachers are Lifelong Learners

     Every teacher has this experience.

     It usually occurs during the first year of teaching.  I hear them saying it all the time.  "I never knew this (content) so well until I had to teach it."  "I understand this content so much better now--as a teacher--than I ever did as a student."

   There is actually a lot of research behind this idea that "doing" and "teaching" helps students (and adults) to learn, understand, and retain information.  And it makes sense too.  

     As much as (some) teachers would prefer that their students learn merely by listening, the data suggests that very few students (and adults) learn solely by listen.  The best learning occurs when students can combine what they've heard with what they see and what they are asked to do.  Learning comes from struggling with concepts, asking questions, discovering answers, discussing ideas with other learners.  The best learning comes from "doing".

     If this is true for adults, then it is true for students too.  An active classroom is a learning classroom.  Teachers that are able to create an atmosphere in which students are willing to ask questions and pose ideas tend to have better student outcomes that those that can't (or won't).

     From a teacher's perspective, the best teachers are constantly learning new things about their subjects.  This is the deep understanding that comes from building on previous understandings.  Teachers aren't finished learning when they complete their college degree requirements.  Teachers continue to learn and to improve.  

     Teachers are lifelong learners!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Meeting the Needs of All Students

     One thing that I have always been proud of about public schools is our desire and efforts to meet the needs of all students.  This seems like a natural thing for schools to do; but when we say "All", we mean "All".  While most students fall in the average category, some students are very strong academically and some struggle a lot with academics.  Public schools strive to help all of these students wherever they may fall on this spectrum.

     Probably the most difficult part of achieving this goal is reaching the students on the extremes.  For students who have severe learning disabilities, public schools have personnel trained in Special Education who work with teachers to help our weakest students to achieve.  Improvements in the education of our weakest students have been great over the past generation; and these improvements continue.

     For students who are significantly strong academically (able to understand work that is two and three--or more--grade levels above their current grade level) public schools look to make special arrangements.  This can be done via online courses, grade acceleration, and help from outside organizations.  Keeping these students challenged year after year is a challenge for our schools.  But we do our best to make it happen.

     As always, a good working relationship between parents and schools is the key to great outcomes for students.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Learning During Summer Vacation

     In addition to relaxing and enjoying time with family, summertime is a time for teachers to take courses to persue masters degrees, to take part in curriculum development, to read books about teaching and learning, and to prepare for the next school year.

     As a math supervisor, summertime is always a busy time for me as I prepare to roll-out updated curricula and new resources in addition to planning leadership development and professional development for all of our secondary mathematics teachers.  My school district is also on the ground floor of developing a 1-to-1 learning environment and I want to help my teachers and leaders to successfully progress to this new teaching and learning model.

   Additionally this summer, my wife's bookclub is reading The One World School House written by an ex-hedgefund manager turned educator by the name of Salman Khan.  The bookclub invited me to read the book and to join in on the monthly meeting where they will discuss the book.  Considering that education is one of the extremely few subjects that I am comfortable talking about with other people...How could I say no?

     Furthermore, our superintendent is also leading a book study on the book Outliers by Malcome Gladwell.  This book is about successful people who might not have seemed to have success in their future when they were young.  Gladwell suggests that family various situations as we grow can help to shape the future of any child.  Our futures are not predetermined.

     And so, I look forward to entering the new school year with new knowledge about students and learning.  Pretty good for a guy in his fifties!


Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Everyone is an Expert

     Sometimes it seems as though everyone is an expert at education.  And it makes sense because everyone went to school at some point in their lives (or they are currently in school).  Education is often in the news.  Politicians debate about education and comedians joke about education and business leaders laud the value of education.  So it makes sense that there is a lot of knowledge about education out there.

     It would be fair to say that (from time to time) the diverse knowledge about education in a community can sometimes lead to disagreements.  But on the whole, I believe that hearing different points of view leads to better decisions for our schools and for our students.

     Parents often cite their own experiences in school.  Some are positive and some are negative.  Often we want to keep the things that we felt worked well and change the things that we felt didn't work very well.

     I've always felt that it is incumbent on public schools to explain their decisions to the public.  In doing so, it helps to educate the public about the issues that our public schools face today.

     And every public school wants to have a good relationship with their students' parents.  Parent involvement leads to better academic results for children and it strengthens our schools.

     I think that the hard part is to hear from as many parents as possible.  Often, it is the parents that are the most happy or the most angry that tend to speak up and be heard.  Schools want to gain the expertise of all of our parents.

     So don't be afraid to speak with your child's teacher or principal.  There want to hear from you.

Public Schools and Choice

       Is it true that public school kids and their public school parents don't have choices?  I'm sure that I will expose my igno...

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