Friday, July 27, 2012

Getting Students to do Deeper Analysis

When I attended the New Tech Network's Annual Conference (NTAC12) I knew which facilitators I wanted to see.  One of the best in our network just happens to have been our school's NTN Coach for the previous 5 years - Kevin Gant.

Kevin is a great guy, a pleasure to work with, and a person who is capable of getting you to think.  As a matter of fact I have heard many people say something to the affect of "he made my brain hurt - and that's a good thing!"

I attended two of his sessions.  The first, A Framework for Supporting Deep Learning Instruction, introduced us to a model of deeper learning (see the image below).  The second session, Analyze This! How to Consistently Engage Students in Analysis built upon the earlier session.  And so, between these two sessions, he got us to examine the cyclical process of  thought:  Exploring, Analyzing, Applying, and Reflecting.  As can be seen by the diagram, this process is best realized when there is the anchor of Desire from the individual involved.      

From Kevin Gant, Nex+Gen 

The key first point he made with us is that PBL does a great job with the vertical components of this process.  Students get hooked through our Entry Events (the desire), and then they explore concepts and apply what they've learned to create their final product (Exploring the idea and Applying the idea).

Where we are often less successful is on the horizontal axis: Analyzing and Reflecting.  And so he spent time having us discuss and explore our own knowledge and experience with these two very important components.

So what are some ways we can help students do analysis and reflection better?  An important thing to note is that the only real difference between Analyzing and Reflecting (in this model) is the target of each of those.  With analyzing we are looking at the content and with reflection we are looking at self.  Therefore we can use similar, if not the same, activities with our students.

We came to four "levels" of analysis and these were used as a way to think about getting our students to do this process.  They are "Compare Stuff," " Compare to Criteria," "Find Patterns, " and "Extrapolate and Find Analogies."

So, to start, we need to have something for our students to compare.  As with the way math and science teachers prepare prior to working problems, do the analysis first to anticipate the student responses.  This will allow you to pose questions that get students discussing the matter.  Remember to challenge students about their analysis and have classroom norms in place.

Some common mistakes students will make in their discussions are Overgeneralizing, Making Claims Without Citing References, and Judging Without Considering a Different Perspective.  In anticipation of these  the teacher can ask that the reasoning come before the actual statement.  This may require teachers to have a good "poker face" so that the ideas aren't squashed before being presented though.

The beauty of a PBL classroom is that there are lots of opportunities to engage in deep analysis.  This can be done in Class Discussions, Group Discussions, Workshops, Journals, or as part of any written or oral assignment.

What is important is that teachers recognize that the average student is happy to do research.  But as Kevin points out about analysis, "this is execution-heavy....which is to say, a structured examination of ideas may not be something that students know how to do.  Exploration, students do on their own.  Analysis, maybe not.  A teacher should think carefully about how to structure conversations and activities that allow for careful examination of ideas."

Students will not want to dig deeper and do analysis to get a better understanding without intervention.  Purposefully planning and executing days of doing deeper analysis will pay dividends and just might encourage more of your students to become life-long learners.  Isn't that really our ultimate goal for all of our students?

Saturday, July 14, 2012

New Tech Conference Grand Rapids 2012: A Survival Guide

     As we get ready to attend the annual New Tech Conference in Grand Rapids (NTAC 2012).   Here are some tips to get ready for the conference and some of my favorite things to do in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

     This is an update to my New Tech Conference Planning Guide (NTAC 2011)  including some thoughts from this year.  One thing to know is that although THAT Guide covers everything you can think of, the link in that post takes you to last year's sessions!  For this year's draft of the 2012 sessions click on this link.

     As I get ready I am wearing a new hat:  Instructional Coach for Decker Middle School in Manor Tx.  I'll be bringing 8 teachers who are new to New Tech and new to Grand Rapids.  And so I have created a Wall Wisher for them to let me (and the others) know what sessions they will attend and their one take away.  In addition to that I have a room set aside to meet each day to discuss what they saw and how we might include that in our school as we bring in on line.

     I have also selected some sessions that I think they shouldn't miss.  For example the math teachers need to attend anything with the idea of Problem Based Instruction (PrBL) and anything with Geoff Krall's name on it.  And, since our district is trying to improve literacy, anything with Alix Horton's name or the word literacy in the title is a must.  And finally, because he is always insightful,  anything with Kevin Gant's name on it is a must.  I made sure I included many more of my "must see" facilitators in my recommended sessions list but you can't go wrong with those three names.

     Please take time to read my post from last year (in the second paragraph and here) and, if nothing else, you must watch this video (with nearly 5 million views).  It was shot all around the conference center and it's just fun!

     I hope we get a chance to talk during the conference and make sure you do what we do as New Techies:  Work Hard, Learn Hard, Play Hard.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

That Left Out Feeling

     Ah, summer.  That time when teachers pack up their classrooms and move to the pool or the beach.  They are out there hiking, fly fishing, and sailing.  Isn't it great only working about 40 weeks of the year!  That's 12 weeks of kicking back and doing nothing.

     If only that were true.  Yes, there are some teachers who will take an elaborate (and well-deserved) vacation during the summer.  But most will find time to relax and reload with their immediate families.  They will do some much needed yard work or house repairs.  They will work on that one project that they've been meaning to do since last summer.  It really isn't that glamorous.  And, more and more, teachers are spending a huge part of their summer getting smarter.

     Many are taking graduate classes.  Many are taking part in conferences and professional development (PD).  Some of this training is required by their district.  And some are just teachers wanting to be the best they can be and recognizing that learning the latest techniques or being involved in conversations about the latest in educational topics will help them attain that goal.

     And, that's where this post is coming from - I'm envious of many of those educators who have been able to attend really great conferences or PD's and have shared what they have experienced on twitter (got to follow that hashtag!), on Google+ (gosh I wish they hadn't shared that with me - wish I were there too), or in a Blog Post (Wow!  They really brought that conference to life.  That must have been awesome!)

     Wouldn't it be great if airlines gave away "tickets to anywhere" for educators to use during the summer to attend these events?  All we would have to do is show our teacher ID and the attendance confirmation and "poof" we were on the next flight out.

     This summer's big sigh, for me, was ISTE12.  It seemed like everyone I know was there.  And, they were all romping around in my old stomping grounds - San Diego.   They were kayaking, visiting the zoo, and watching the sun set over the ocean.  And, most importantly, they were discussing the latest topics and learning from each other.  They now have shared experiences which make them seem closer sounding in their tweets.  They sound like old buddies on Google+.  Heck, as I see it, the entire future of education was decided by these few hundred people.  And all this was happening 1300 miles from my home.  It might as well have been happening on Pluto (and, as we know, that's not even a planet any more!)

     So, I will re-tweet their hash tags with a smile.  I will give them a + on a well written account of what they discussed at their silly conference.  And I will leave a pleasant comment on their very descriptive blog post; thanking them for telling us all about it and telling them how much I enjoyed the post.  Even though I want to tell them that I hate them!  What right do they have for traveling to places I can't afford to travel to?  Why do they have to enjoy themselves and then tell us about it?  

     Well, I'll show them!  I'll be there at EdcampDallas and I'll be there at TechForum Austin.  And then I'll save my pennies and I"ll head to Educon 2.5.  And, after that I'll be at TCEA 2013 and SXSWEdu 2013!  And finally, next summer, ISTE comes to San Antonio!  I'll be tweeting the heck out of those conferences.  They'll see!  Then we'll see who's envious.  Those guys will really feel left out of the loop.  I'll tell them about my speaker proposals, and my acceptance of the proposals , and my travel plans, and my parties that I accept invitations to, and my tweetups, and .......

      Hey, things are looking up already!  What a great summer....

Monday, July 2, 2012

You Want Me To Do What? Creating School Culture.


     Last week I sat down and took a serious look at what I need to do between now and the first day of school and I had to pause and shake my head (while saying "holy crap!")  It was one of those days.

     So, this transition thing - how hard can it be?  To answer that I took a look at an 8 day training plan I am putting together for the 6th grade teachers as they change from being regular classroom teachers to PBL teachers in our New Tech school.

     I decided that they needed to find out what it means to wear the label of New Tech (NT).  Anyone can become a teacher using PBL in their classroom.  There are 100's (1000's ?) of teachers in the United States who are trying out PBL or have been using PBL, successfully, in their classrooms for years.

      But what does the PBL look like in those classrooms?  How strong are the inquiry and the questioning?  How open-ended are the products being created?  And what is the school culture like for the school within which these classrooms reside?  In my opinion, it is this culture piece that is the biggest difference in schools with the NT label.

     If you are to be a NT school you must be willing to create a culture of Trust, Respect, and Responsibility.   And, you can't just give those three words lip service.  A bunch of posters in the hallways or the classrooms with what those three words mean doesn't mean they actually reside within your school culture.

     We will start building this culture with our teachers in Grand Rapids, MI as they attend the New Tech All schools Conference (NTAC12) during the week before we officially start the 8 day training.  The teachers will have assigned breakout sessions to attend and then share at the end of the day.  During the end-of-day get together we will be discussing and creating our meeting norms.  And, we will be establishing our School-wide Learning Outcomes (SWLO's).

     These teachers will never have used learning outcomes to grade student work.   When schools attend the New Schools Training with NT they spend hours upon hours establishing their learning outcomes complete with written definitions and rubrics of how they will be assessed.  Our teachers will not have had that benefit and so I will have to facilitate this conversation.

      To make life easier for them I intend to put the learning outcomes used by our district, in its Strategic Plan, on the table as a starting point.  They are: Collaboration, Communication, Critical Thinking, Digital Citizenship, and Work Ethic.  Our teachers will have at least a cursory vision of what each of these look like and this will be easier for them as they make these outcomes our own learning outcomes.

     At the end of our discussion each night it will be time to bond.  Too often we forget to take the time to get to know each other.  Gone are the days where teachers lived in their little classroom never to mingle with the other teachers.  And so, for us, that may mean sitting together for dinner, it may be having a drink together, it may be doing some of the fun night-time rituals NT schools do in Grand Rapids like the Piano Bar Sing-a-long.  The most important thing is creating memories, outside of work, that will stay with us as we tackle the more difficult issues during the following weeks and months.

     Then, with this week of getting to know each other behind us, we will really be able to tackle culture during our 8 days of training.  Here is a brainstorming list of what I will have for them to work on:

          a. Specific ideas for Culture –  (Something every day)
  1.  Use a PBL approach to this with an Entry Event and agenda within ECHO  (a Moodle-like platform used by the NT schools) so they are seeing how to use a project briefcase.
  2.  We will use team building activities each morning and after lunch each day.
  3.  We need to set the Norms and the decision making process.
  4.  We need to discuss the Learning Outcomes, define them, and create a rubric for each.  We will use the 5 mentioned in the district strategic plan:  Collaboration, Communication, Critical Thinking, Digital Citizenship, and Work Ethic for our first year.
  5.  We need to weight the Learning Outcomes – Content 40 – 60% with the others adding up to 100%.
  6.  We need to discuss a 6th Grade Orientation.  Do we want to use MNTHS (Manor New Tech High School) students who graduated from our middle school?
  7.  We need to discuss how we will conduct Classroom Observations and what we will do during late start Mondays (our district has late start Mondays for PD).
  8. Have a "Day of Celebration" when we get to the end of the first 9-weeks (or other significant date).

          b. Specific ideas for PBL – (2nd week only?)
    1. Teachers will plan their first project.
    2. Teachers will plan a 2-week culture project (for the whole school to create the culture).
    3. We need to have a literacy component to the project briefcase.
    4. Have a critical friends day, in the middle of the second week of training, to see what they have planned for their first project. 
          c. Specific ideas for ECHO – (Something every day)
  1. Who will be the ECHO liaison? 
  2.  We will create a standard project briefcase that every teacher will use for the first two 9-weeks grading period (minimum)
  3.  We need to create a School Resource Library in ECHO
  4.  We need to have a Low Tech version of the Project Briefcase.  This could be a “White Binder” for each student with pre-set tabs where each of the sections will be electronically. 
  5.  We need to show them what is available in the NTN Resource Library also in ECHO.

     The culture we create will need to be refined and worked on throughout the school year and beyond.  Culture is not something you create and then "it's done!"   This up-front time without distractions will pay dividends as we move through the school year.  Wish us luck.