Wednesday, February 5, 2014

If You Had Asked Me About TCEA 2014

Carolyn Foote at TCEA14 (@technolibrary)
This is not a "bash the conference" post. It's not designed to be negative at all.  So as I progress please keep that in mind.

This is my 4th or 5th TCEA conference that I have attended and it has gotten B I G! This morning I arrived about 30 minutes later than usual and it felt like a SXSW morning. Parking garages were full and traffic was crazy. What the heck is going on with this conference?

That last question actually came to me a couple of days ago as I was looking at the session offerings for my one day I could be here. This is a tech conference and tech still dominates the sessions. However, there are more sessions with teachers presenting the use of technology in their classroom. And there are sessions with teachers talking about PBL. Lots of sessions with the letters PBL in them.  

So is this an education conference with a heavy emphasis on technology or is it a technology conference with a heavy emphasis on using technology in the classroom.  In keeping the phrase "technology is the invisible tool," I would say it is both and it is neither. The TCEA conference has become an educational conference, period.

Education Conferences need educators attending. (Well, duh). But I would extend that one step further - we need teachers to attend education conferences. This week we have 5 or 6 teachers from my school here at TCEA. They submitted session proposals and their proposals were accepted. Because we don't have to pay for transportation and lodging our district is able to pay for these teachers to attend. But what other "costs" are involved in this endeavor.

The cost of having a teacher out of the classroom is, almost, incalculable.  There are the hours spent planning for a substitute. There is the cost of paying a substitute. There are the headaches administrators and other teachers in the school have to endure because the regular teacher is out of the classroom.

Headaches? If you have to ask then you probably haven't been a teacher. Students act silly (at best) when their regular teacher isn't there. This ends up requiring hours by assistant principals and principals dealing with discipline issues. Then there are the subs who don't show up and teachers are covering other teacher's classes and losing their conference periods. I'll stop there but I could write a whole post about what happens when a teacher isn't in school.

I'd like to get back to my premise that we need teachers to attend the conference. I'm going to make another bold statement: teachers, in state-led assessment states, should NOT be allowed out of the classroom for the two months leading up to the assessment. I'm serious. I know that is not enforceable, but it's how I feel. If we are going to be serious about closing the education gaps then we need teachers in their classroom meeting their students' needs. (Excuse me while I get off my high horse...)

We need teachers in the classroom. We need teachers attending conferences like TCEA. So where do we go with this dichotomy? We need to change the dates of the conferences. No three or four day education conferences should occur between January 1st and the end of the school year! Now THAT is a bold statement. We need no excuses for teachers not being where they need to be.  (How'd that horse get underneath me again?)

Getting back to the TCEA conference - we need to move the dates that we are here in Austin filling our brains with all kinds of wonderful information.  And I would suggest either the early Fall or during the Summer. One problem with Summer is the TCEA - ISTE connection but that is an option. I think the Fall might work best, though.

Having an education conference in the Fall would allow teachers to take things, that they have learned, back to their classrooms.  It still doesn't solve the issue of teachers out of their classroom but it gives the teachers time to get their classroom back to normal and teach/reteach what was lost because of their absence.

The TCEA conference is a pretty darn good conference. We need to make it an event that ALL teachers can attend without push back from their school or district and we need to make it something that has a minimum impact on the teacher's wallet. It's too late to change the dates for 2015, but let's work on changing this for the 2016/2017 school year.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Tabs I Have Open 1-20-14

My Small List of Tabs
Each month I want to talk about "Tabs I have Open." So here is what I had open on January 20th 2014:

Starting in the middle I had BIE.org open. (Full disclosure, I am on the BIE National Faculty.) Their new website design really makes for a great place for every level of PBL instruction. Are you new to PBL and want to know more about what it is? Go to their Resources Tab. Want to see what services are available to you and your school or district? Go to the Services Tab and select either Teacher, School, or District.  Already a veteran PBL teacher then you've probably already been here. Take time to see how things have been rearranged to see your favorite spots such as the Project Search.

While there are over 15,000 people who are members of The Educator's PLN(the tab to the right of the BIE tab), the next site, Classroom 2.0, boasts nearly 80,000 members! (I'll say more about The Educator's PLN, below).  I would join Classroom 2.0 and get on their notifications for the Saturday Classroom 2.0 Sessions. There are great topics and interesting guest speakers. If you have a free Saturday morning and you have nothing to do - well, you now have something to do! Give yourself plenty of time to explore this site.

Need a "One Stop Shop" for learning, in general?  How about Edutopia?  There are tons of great videos to watch but, even better, is the impressive list of bloggers who write for them. Check out the Blog tab and you'll see headings from Administrators and Assessments to Game-Based Learning and PBL. I subscribe to many of the blogs so I never miss what gets posted.

My last tab belongs to Discovery Education. I was an early member of the Discovery Educator's Network (DEN) and, to be honest, I came back to check this out because I have several friends who are very active DEN members and I know they have incredible resources. Check this site out for great resources with STEM-related course and other awesome stuff.

An extra tab I had up is The Educator's PLN. This Ning site has been around for a long time and therefore has some great educators who have some vast experience and knowledge.  I joined it in August of 2010 and, to be honest, lost it off of my radar screen. I, just recently, went back over to check it out and discovered that there are still some things you can check out over there (although there really isn't much new activity on there any more). One thing I like is that people use this site as a place to meet up with friends to discuss specific topics.

Looking below my address window you'll see that I have Dropbox, Symbaloo, Livebinders, Diigo, and Edmodo ready for quick access. These are all life savers for various reasons. And,if there are any of those that you haven't looked at before, then get hot! They are all websites that have been around for YEARS and there are great educators using each of them for their own reasons. I would select one of them and make it your own. I dabble in each of them and, because of that, none of them are things I use frequently.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Am I Ready to Scrap Three Letters - P, B, & L ?

Let's face it. PBL is now THE buzz-word in education. But anyone who has "taught with PBL as their primary mode of instruction" (sticking finger down throat) realizes that this thing we call PBL is just GOOD TEACHING PRACTICES. PERIOD. Or is it ???

I was in grad school in 1992 and was being told that we needed to get students to think critically. We needed to have them working in cooperative learning groups.  And, we need to have our students writing in all subject areas (communication).  Let me see: collaboration, critical thinking, and communication. 21st Century competencies that the education department of Old Dominion University was pushing over 20 years ago!

Every teacher needs to allow their students to work collaboratively. We all need to push our students to think more critically about the world around them. And, through daily reflection, our students can respond orally or in writing. How hard is it to do this? Not very. How hard is it to do this well? That is the million dollar question and the question many school districts are asking before they hire people to come in and conduct professional development.

We can call this process anything we want to call it. And you can keep the three letters and call it PBL. But whether you use PBL, PrBL, IBL, or Good Teaching, matters not if there isn't any learning going on in the classroom.

Some other things to think about when you are reflecting on your own teaching practice: Are you providing an opportunity for curiosity and wonder in your classroom? Is there inquiry? Students are naturally curious. How about creativity? Do they have an opportunity to show their natural creative processes? Don't tell them that being curious and creative is for a time outside of the classroom.

Do you have a daily routine in your classroom? You might be the type of person who likes to script out every minute of the day. You might be the type of person who likes to script a certain flow (from entry to exit) to the class period. But every day, the students know the expectations and, every day, there are set procedures that must be followed - from when they walk into your room until they leave for their next class or for the day.

If you provide a daily routine and, within that routine, your students are allowed to be curious or to wonder, then you are doing good things. If you provide an opportunity for students to communicate with each other and/or with you, then you are doing good things. If you allow students to work collaboratively then you are doing good things. And if you are asking your students to think critically, then you are also doing good things.

Congratulations. You are doing good things and you (probably) have created a culture of learning in your classroom.  But how does that relate back to PBL?  I like to look at what BIE calls the 8 Essential Elements for Project-Based Learning. (As I select direct wording from the BIE article I will use quotation marks.)

I will make a broad assumption that you are using content that is derived from certain standards. That is the first essential element (EE).  The 2nd EE is developing a Need to Know about a topic. If you encourage wonder and curiosity and you set expectations for thinking critically, then your students will have questions about any new topic you bring up. If you are transparent with learning then you will want them to create a list of things they will need to know to learn about a topic and you have the 2nd EE.

Teachers who encourage critical thinking will often allow risk taking. Students will feel safe as they explore without fear of being wrong. These same teachers can quickly learn to craft questions that are "provocative, open-ended, complex, and linked" to what needs to be learned. Having a Driving Question is the next EE and it is designed to give students a "sense of purpose and challenge."

The next EE is to give students "voice and choice" in completing the task at hand.  Students will be more connected to the work if they get a chance to decide how they will learn and what they will do to demonstrate they have learned.  Having students doing multiple expressions of learning can be difficult to manage and can look chaotic to the uninitiated, but this element can give teachers the biggest bang for the buck. Are you truly providing this opportunity to your students?

The 5th and 6th EE's are to incorporate 21st Century Skills, which have already been mentioned, and to provide opportunity to foster Inquiry and Innovation. You already do that because you have curious, wondering students who are allowed to be creative. It is starting to look like you might be doing this PBL thing.

Allowing for Feedback and Revision (#7) and Publicly Presented Products (#8) are the two EE's that separate PBL from just "Good Teaching." There are a lot of teachers doing good teaching, but they don't always allow time for students to reflect on their work, assess their work, and then, revise their work. The feedback loop is critical in the design world and it is critical in real life too. Students need that opportunity to fix what isn't working.

Finally, it really does make a difference to student buy in when they have to present their work to an outside audience.  Don't treat this step lightly. Have someone or a group of people ready to be an audience and to ask questions. The students will proudly present their findings and they will up their game so that they don't under perform.

No, I'm not ready to get rid of the letters PBL because it is just good teaching practices and nothing special. PBL is good teaching practices and much, much, more. It is a way to help students own their learning. If you are at that level, then you are doing GREAT teaching practices and not just good ones.