The Eyebrow… and other things Teachers recognize.

I was presenting at a conference the other day.  Actually,  I’m being a tiny bit modest– I was delivering a keynote to about 300 post-secondary instructors.  I was honoured to have been invited, and chuffed that my talk went quite well. (At least, that’s how I feel until I see the video recording….)

I was speaking about the changes to our curriculum, and general changes in practice, and how, particularly, those changes are going to affect post secondary institutions welcoming our learners over the next few years. 17082_0615-7467jpg_35177553282_o.jpg

It is very different presenting to adults than to children– adults tend to be quiet… almost freakishly quiet. And sometimes it’s hard to read the crowd and know if you are hitting the right notes. But there are other universal truths about being a teacher that never leave you.

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My talk was to have taken 45 minutes, and while I had prepared and practiced and primped and tweaked my slides, I had not actually timed myself delivering the talk. My internal teacher clock that knows the imminent end of the 50 minute period is nigh still functions.  I looked at the clock on my second to last slide and I was bang on time.

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But the best universal teaching-truth came when a fellow approached me, and as I smiled in greeting, smiled back in a very particular fashion.  Even though this was a adult man, even, actually, an adult man approaching middle age, with school-aged kids of his own, he smiled at me in that way I recognized.  Teachers know it, whether it’s in a grocery store at the weekend, or on the sidewalk during summer vacation, days or years after having a student in one’s class. It’s the look on a child’s face that shines with the message “I know you, and I don’t know if you recognize me, but HERE I AM!!”. You will be forgiven if you can’t remember the name– although again, teachers have tricks for that too– but you always know that THAT grin and slightly abashed look is that of a former student.  And so, I knew this fully – formed human had at some point been a student of mine,  but I hadn’t quite placed him yet.  I said , “Hey!  How are You!?” and the abashed look grew into amazement and the grin to a wide smile of delight and he responded “You remember me!?”.  That’s when all the teacher tricks come out, and my memory for all my learners, which borders on the savant, is challenged.  The pieces fall into place, and I can remember the campus (Yes…) the building (Yes!) and that his first name begins with …. (YES!!) and I am secretly amazed and delighted, for I never knew this man as a child– he was one of the adult learners I had taught at University, probably 5 or 6 years earlier.  But here’s the thing.  As soon as he knew I legitimately recognized him, his response reminded me of a lesson I keep getting: Relationship is all. I may or may not have been his favourite prof, or taught his most or least favourite class, but what was important was that I care about my learners. That that relationship we form in the class extends forever and everywhere. And all learners, regardless of age or situation when I meet them, understand that they will live forever in my head.

I feel like my whole audience that day sort of understood that — even if they didn’t agree with what I had to say, my message was being delivered on behalf of my learners who would become their learners- that I insisted they care for them as I do, and relationship is the only way to do that.

I also was reminded that no matter how we grow, what we experience and how long we live, we are all secretly 10 years old at heart.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How to Conference

Actually, you know, I think a person could make money with this scheme:  Have a conference where all the workshops, sessions and keynotes are all about How to Run a Conference.  Plus, all things Meta are hot right now.

In any event.  Here are my reflections based on a couple of recent experiences.

Now first of all, full disclosure.  I am often a little resentful when I find myself in a situation where an outside expert has been engaged to provide service or information already curated by a local professional/member/citizen.  In other words, the idea that because someone is From Away, they are inherently better qualified to speak with expertise, regardless of the topic.  Now, of course, if I am the Out-of-Towner invited in to speak or present, I don’t regard myself (in the mirror) with such a jaundiced eye. Interesting how that works….speaking of metacognition…. but in the events I refer to today, I was in one case a local, and in the other case a visiter– a stranger, in fact, to the parts.

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Here is how the situations were similar:

Both events were one-day school district-wide professional development days.

Both events were run by pro-d committees/ local members

Both events included a keynote speaker and multiple break-out sessions

The break out sessions in both cases were of  varying lengths, and hosted by local teachers, out-of-town guests and community partners.

Attendance was similar at both events, as was the size and configuration of the host buildings.

And here is where the events were different….

The out of town event provided and booked my hotel

The local event gave me a gift card as thank you

One event provided coffee-tea-fruit-pastries at coffee time, lunch was provided only the presenters, but was also open to support staff and organizers. As well, students of the school were tasked with checking on presenters and distributing water bottles.

One event provided lunch for all attendees, all together, with frequent reminders to only take one sandwich until everyone had a chance to eat, and them more frequent reminders for people to come and take all the leftover sandwiches.

At one event I was welcomed, given a package of information which included a claims form, a gift card, and attendance lists, with email addresses.  Two committee members jumped up to ask if they could show me my room, provided me with some paper I had forgotten to bring, asked if I needed anything else.

The other event…. “welcome” would be too strong a word to use.  A person, sitting at a table, clearly tasked with “helping” people, did notice me when I came in.  That is, she did look at me with a blank stare when I said who I was.  The blank stare continued when I said I was a presenter. A clarifying question replaced the blank stare: “Do you know where you are going?”.  Now it was my turn to assume the blank stare.  I had received an email some days before from the local secretary giving me a room number, so I proffered that tidbit.  “Ok”, said Blanky McWarmWelcome, “you should be good to go.”

Erm.

The offer of a map? Or someone to help carry my things? Possibly a hand out containing pertinent information, like the floor plan, the wifi access, washroom and lunch locations.

But no.

So, I stumble about the unfamiliar school until, quite by luck, I find the room….and also find a locked door.  Back to Helpy McUnHostess. She seems quite surprised that my door is locked, and quite perplexed as to how to deal with it.  A staff member from the site overhears the issue and finds yet another staff member to provide unlocking assistance.

I happen to notice a Wifi password posted on the wall as I pass and am able to figure out how to connect.

I eventually figure out where lunch is being offered by following the crowd.

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So, I’ll leave it with you, gentle reader. Think about similar situations you’ve been in, as visitor or as guest. Regardless of which set of events happened at which location, the basic fundamentals should have been similar.  Even the dictates of common courtesy should have laid some groundwork for protocol.

In lieu of a hint, let me say this…. our local event did have a few out-of-town presenters.  I am so proud of they way I know they were welcomed and treated. Were any of them to ask me, I would have said they might not care to visit the town I just did…..

The Secret Stand Up

In the ever-shifting culture of an organization, there are good ideas that fly, and good ideas that die, and sometimes there are just funny things that happen.  I have been out of town the past 2 Fridays, so I have missed an activity we started last year called “Friday Stand Up”.  It’s a brief staff meeting, in a sense, with a view to dispersing important or timely information regularly.  We still have formal Staff Meetings once a month, but the Friday Stand Ups give us an opportunity to more casually share what we are working on, to celebrate good news, and even to learn a little something. Incidentally, it’s called a Stand Up because it’s intended to be an informal, just gather around and share for a moment-situation, not a formal sit down and follow the agenda-deal. At times, though, it does not seem out of the realm of possibility that the Stand Up could refer to a comedy act.

Although all people present at the Stand Up can, and do,  share, it is run by various members of the Senior Admin team.  As it happened, there were two meetings/conferences running in Vancouver this week, and all of the team and most of the Coordinators were out of office.  I didn’t realize they were all away until I went over to our usual stand-up space and waited.  About a dozen or so colleagues had gathered by start time, and so I texted the member of the team I thought was still in the building.  Jokingly, I said in the text that he and I were the most senior people left in town, was he still going to come over for stand-up? His reply I shared with the large crowd: ” I am in Vancouver.  That means you are in charge.” And that was when the first cheer went up.  And then it got even better… as new people came into the room, cheers and applause exploded.  And each colleague had the same reaction: Confusion and Delight, in equal measure.

So I ran the meeting, after a fashion, and people contributed authentically, as they always do, and we shared our learning as we could. I made a connection between our impromptu stand-up and a little piece of learning that was shared earlier– it was around a community event where some of our First Nations elders were offering a drumming station. As the children took a seat and were given a drum,  the circle learned to beat the drum in time, and to sing or chant a name of one of the drummers.  As each child had a turn to have their name sung and drummed, you could see their pride and delight in being acknowledged in this ancient and authentic way.

I saw that same bashful delight reflected in my colleagues faces as they received applause and acknowledgment from their peers.

The more I learn about learners, the more I realize we all have the same basic needs…

Road trip! The C’s, philosophy, Harvard and me.

Hi Kids.  I had the opportunity to attend a conference in Toronto last week.  It was an Educational Technology “summit” (what ever those are when they’re at home) and it was designed to address EdTech in both the K-12 space as well as post secondary, so, given my day job and my other adventures, it was a great fit.  As I listened to a variety of speakers in both streams, from public and private enterprises, I could see a few themes emerging.  In my presentation (which, as a side note, I thought I would be doing in the K-12 stream as a small workshop turned out to be a presentation to the entire contingent, directly after the keynote….delivered from a professor….from Harvard Business school.  Yes, THAT Harvard.

So, here’s the thing– I was, admittedly, a touch, shall we say, wide-eyed? But then I reminded myself of 2 things.  I had been invited by the conference organizers (who don’t like losing money, so must have seen value in what I had to offer and then I did what I always do in these situations: said to myself “Remember who you are”. And as I launched into my talk it did all come together in a neat package, with connections to other speakers (I call them the Core Competencies, others referred to them as 21st Century skills, and still other “The C’s”– Creative Thinking, Critical thinking, Communication).

It was satisfying to feel we were following the same path, if in different ways.  For example, during my talk, I expressed how due to a variety of factors, financial and philosophical, we were not working in an 1:1 scenario.  I said this out loud and with anecdotal comments to back up the philosophy part, but I still said it knowing that the presentation directly following me was going to speak to their successful 1:1 Chromebook program. I also said to the audience, nay, beseech-ed them, to please stop referring to our learners as “digital natives”.  They did not come out with any more of an innate ability to compute than any other generation, and we are doing them a disservice by using a sexy term to excuse ourselves from teaching them.  This after the Day 1 keynote had particularly used this term several times, and on top of which I really liked her and didn’t want to disagree with her, and yet I did.  Respectfully, but I did.  It was worth it, too, for when I pleaded with the audience of EdTech teachers and leaders to please drop the term from their lexicon, I actually felt a ripple of energy move through the room, and heard a couple of affirmative claps and muffled “whoop whoop!”‘s.

So all this to say that as I take our learning out of our district, I find more similarities than differences, which is heartening, and I find that we are still, despite our path, trailblazers in many ways, but especially around  pedagogy– that is, our craft and practice.  Well done, my friends– you made me look good up there.

Here’s a “Storify” about my presentation: https://storify.com/LisaRead/the-edtech-summit-story

 

When Passions and #meatonastick Collide

So, here’s the thing about going to a conference.  It’s about the learning, sure, but also there are hotel soaps, door prizes and meals on the town with colleagues.  That’s the situation I found myself in the other night, sitting at a large table of colleagues that included senior admin, teachers and other coordinators.  I mention that specifically, because it was a rare opportunity to be immersed in an experience that we could all take back home and share– instead of going in one direction, up or down, this time it would spread organically and laterally.  At least that’s my hope. Because I learned an ancillary lesson at this event, which underscored the importance of having context.

Allow me, dear reader, to set the stage for you…. so, this large table of our contingent was situated in the middle of a Brazilian Steakhouse Restaurant. The concept is awesome– gorgeously roasted meats of all manner of mammals, ruminants and fowl appear on large skewers at table side, and diners enjoy as much variety and as many servings as they wish, indicating surfeit only when turning over the card on the table from Green to Red (or, The Quitter Side).  An unlikely place for a conflict over educational philosophy, no!? And, that’s the funny thing, there was no conflict, but there was passion, and isn’t it interesting that when taken out of context, that can look very different from what it really is.

And so. I was making a point. We had all been laughing and joking and enjoying the Meat-on-a-stick experience when I and a colleague sitting kitty-corner to me got into a deeper conversation. She made a kind of a self-deprecating comment about herself (well that’s redundant), and I was trying to make the point that she shouldn’t feel even remotely awkward about it, that she was advocating for her learners, and to me, that trumps everything.  After all, they are our whole reason for being. Now, because the atmosphere was light, and loud, and celebratory, I didn’t want her to think I did not take her comment with the utmost seriousness.

That’s kind of where it all went south.

I realized what had happened when I suddenly became aware of a hush falling over the table, my boss appearing at my shoulder, and HIS boss speaking my name in a kind of a shocked manner. Here’s what they saw/heard: I was leaned forward in my chair, making fervent eye contact (if that’s a thing) with my colleague, shaking my pointing finger at her (that wasn’t really well thought out) and remember how I said it was really loud in the restaurant? I was also SPEAKING REALLY LOUDLY. And I was saying: “I don’t care what you say to me, you are advocating for your learners and that’s all that matters.  My feelings are irrelevant, and I will always support you.”  And I meant it, and I meant it in only the best, most positive way, but somehow it didn’t look or sound like that to the rest of the table (and possibly restaurant, maybe even people on the street). My friend knew exactly what and how I meant it, and I think SHE was a little surprised by the attention our conversation attracted too.

But here is my point (not that I am an over-loud talk-too-much-er)– despite the fact that I should have modulated my voice and could probably have done without the finger pointing– people didn’t recognize what they were witnessing. They mistook my emotion for anger, our passionate conversation for conflict, and felt the need to intervene.  Part of the problem was that we were talking shop at a social event– but I felt I HAD to say what I did– it was imperative to me that I not let her own self-criticizing comment be allowed to slide by unaddressed. And it was imperative to me that she know I was in DEADLY EARNEST. I think I actually used those words (to preface the finger shaking). It was the Teachable Moment in a few ways.

So the upshot of all of this was that I had another opportunity to learn some things about myself, and I reflected why it was SO important to me that she knew I 100% supported her advocacy of her learners. I’m still mulling that over 3 days later.  So this event was on my mind this morning when asked for a reflection on the conference we attended.  I said: “I would like to share that the richest learning for me is always the loudest, most chaotic and sometimes includes arguments and yelling.  Sitting quietly and passively and absorbing knowledge never worked for me.  I need to wrestle it to the ground and see if it keeps fighting back. That’s how I know it’s good learning– it keeps kicking me in the butt.”.  And yeah, I felt a little butt-kicked, in that I was embarrassed, both by causing a scene, and by having it misconstrued. But in the same situation again, I’d probably react the same way– hopefully a little less yelly, and with my pointy fingers out of sight.  Screen Shot 2017-04-09 at 11.34.22 AM.jpg  But seriously, MEAT ON A STICK, people… that alone is worth yelling about.

Come stai, Cubetto?

I have a new best friend.  He’s a bit of a square, and for a quiet guy, sure understands a lot about communication.  I mean, he can’t even talk, but can teach any language!? It’s no wonder I adore him….

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Meet Cubetto, the Little Wooden Coding Robot from Primo Toys. I first learned about Cubetto from a colleague in Vancouver.  She had seen the kickstarter campaign and knew, as I did when she showed me the promotional video, that THIS was a great thing.

I have been using Cubetto in classrooms with his own story books and accessories, and it is obvious they were created by educators, or developers with a deep grounding in pedagogy. Additionally, there are rich resources, case studies and supporting documents freely available on the website. Even though it’s not implicitly stated, Cubetto (and his creators) understand that learning how to code is so much more than entering what appears to be gibberish onto the screen and hoping that something happens. What needs to comes first is computational thinking and logical processing. But wait…there’s more.  Coding, computational thinking and logic are not just the domain of computers and programmers. In fact, art, music, sports and other creative pursuits benefit or are enhanced by this approach.  The underpinnings of Design Thinking, a tool that results in the most creative of inventions, relies on a linear and iterative logical process.

But enough of that… what have I been doing with Cubetto? Well, the first thing I did was make a customized mat for him, squared off simple brown parcel paper with masking tape and adorned with words, art and images of Hul’qumi’num culture. Cubetto then visited a class learning Hul’quimi’num and practiced their language knowledge by directing Cubetto around the mat, from ’Uy’ skweyul to ’Uy’ snet.  I made a second mat that was laminated squares, but no images, with the thought that teachers or kids could tape words or photos, draw in the squares with dry erase or window markers, and create their own Cubetto adventure.

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Kindergarten/Grade 1 Class

What I LOVE about this picture is the learners are immersed in language right now– English, Hul’qui’menum and American Sign Language

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Close up of the Vocab- Mat

 

AND that’s not all… there are some neat fabric panels you can purchase that would lend themselves well to another Cubetto journey. Photo-2017-03-28-09-12-47_6410.JPG

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Oh the places you will go, Cubbetto….

My next mission is to have kids use Cubetto and another of my favourite tools, Book Creator, to create an eBook filled with Cubetto stories and adventures– even a “choose your own adventure”? The possibilities are endless…

I’ve also discovered a few accessories for Cubetto that change the possibilities for play and discovery.  See all attached photos for all the goods….

Options and Choice in a System

One of the BIG lessons I’ve learned in my position over the past 3 years is about Scale.  As in, “Will that *insert great idea* scale?” For example, as we began rolling out our iPad fleet, one of the common questions was around apps and control of.  For example, at home, Apple allows you to share apps among up to 5 devices.  So, you can extrapolate that to mean a $10 app only costs $2 per device. It looks like false economy, then, when we say we are going to handle all the apps on all the devices, because when we volume purchase more than 20, we get them at half price.  So, in the above example, the $10 app costs us $5 per device.  That’s when I bring scale into the conversation.  If you have 5 devices to manage, you can log in to each device and install that $2 app onto each one and be done in a matter of minutes. Now, multiply that process by 200.  Now 400. Now do you see what I mean about scale? And incidentally, the number of installers does not increase at the same rate.  We have one, maybe two, technicians we can put on any one job at any time.

We refine the process as we go, as much as possible, and always through the lens of what is best for the most people.  For example, we are on the brink of a major technology investment for teachers.  Finally, after years of really lean tech budgets while still leading the march towards smoother adaptation of all Ed Tech, we have the opportunity to start to replace some really old gear, and provide equipment where there has never been any.  So, here’s the thing.  First, we asked teachers what they did with the tech they could access, what would they like to do if they could access more/better tech, and in an ideal world, what would they want.  In analyzing the survey results, very obvious trends emerged. Here is where transparency is paramount.  Slightly shy of 300 responses were recorded, and there was one overwhelming choice on equipment, and an obvious trend in “What I would do if I COULD do” goals. Only 2 respondents wanted equipment different from the rest. So, when a 400+ teacher solution is provided, you can see that the Systems answer is one obvious one.  But… how does that make those 2 individuals feel? Stay tuned for Part 2 of “Choice in a System”.

The dope on Dopamine

We need to talk.  It’s about a drug you’ve been misusing.  It’s called dopamine, and it’s getting a lot of attention again suddenly, in part due to an inflammatory and completely overwrought interview featuring Simon Sinek.  Click for video (opens in a new window)   He goes on at great and pompous lengths proselytizing about the youth of today and how “screen time” is ruining their ability to think and learn, in part because they are addicted to the dopamine “hits” they receive via social media.

Ok… let’s just slow our roll here a little, and take a quick look at what dopamine is and does. Your brain creates dopamine as a method to deliver messages via the neural transmitters.  Too little dopamine released means your body may not adequately perform tasks the brain assigns.  Too much results in things like physical tics and schizophrenic thoughts. Here is a pretty readable but science-based Wikipedia article: Click for article, opens in a new window.  So, the first thing I want you to understand is that dopamine ITSELF while, yes, a drug by definition (a chemical), is not something that makes you feel one way or another, nor is it addictive.  It is the messenger of your brain, and it’s biological purpose is to ensure you do things that are good for you (exercise, eat healthily), that feel good (enjoy human contact, fall in love) and that are necessary to maintain a healthy life balance (satisfaction in completing a task, hyper-focus on challenging or creative projects).  Simon keeps making claims in his talk, and I have started to hear other “authorities” repeat (who have obviously not done their research) things like:  “every time a Facebook user receives a “Like”, they get a hit of dopamine”; “Gamers become addicted to internet gaming because every time they play, (you guessed it) they get a little hit of dopamine”. And etc….

These sciency-sounding talks, filled with truthiness, serve a very damaging purpose: they offer an excuse to back away from something you fear, rather than understand it in your own terms.  Take a look at this scholarly article and you will find “proof” that online gaming is addictive, based on dopamine levels in the brains of gamers. Click for downloadable article .  Guess what? If you scanned the brains of people who are addicted to, say, quilting, or topiary or popping balloons you would see the exact same brain readings.  Humans are addictive creatures, some more than others, and to all and sundry types of things.  Even running or performing sports.

We need to stop this conversation on “How do we control and police these devices and keep children safe?” and instead start talking about “How do we raise children to be good human beings, to be healthy in mind and body and embrace the potential of the world THEY are growing up in.”

I don’t think it’s enough to say “I didn’t have a computer/cellphone/tablet  when I was a kid and I turned out great.” I also don’t think it’s helpful to create rules where cellphones are banned and screen time is limited to X number of minutes per day.  Instead, we have a burden of responsibility to understand and guide them to become good digital citizens as well as good human beings.

Here is one last article that does a good job of explaining dopamine’s role as the carrier pigeon of your feels:

Click! Read! Get informed!

Fear and Loading in IT

I was Out Of Town last week.  Part of my roll is to be “on loan” to ERAC– the organization in charge of digital data-base products and educational software.  They negotiate with vendors on behalf of the entire province, and so secure good prices, but at the cost of many member districts not realizing what has been purchased on their behalf.  My job (20% of it, any way) is to visit districts and share the products in the Digital Classroom, and support teachers using the resources.  It’s a bit like sales, except the customer has already bought the encyclopedia set, they just just need help getting it on the shelf.

There are a variety of things that I do in a presentation– I make connections to the renewed curriculum, offer suggestions about products that go beyond just research, and facilitate discussion around inventive ways teachers are using the products/conducting research.  Teacher conversations tend to be similar, everywhere I go.  For example, when I say “Oh I love Wikipedia, and encourage kids to use it.”, I am guaranteed of a particular set of responses and a lively debate. When I speak of the inherent problems with “just doing a Google” search, all heads nod in accord.

Another common issue I encounter is how the IT department is run, and the fundamental philosophy behind their Technology Plan.  In short, the biggest difference is not in software or hardware, operating systems or licensing.  The critical factor, in every case, is whether the Technology Department is run by Educators or Technologists. Does the Technology drive the Pedagogy?  If so, that is often from whence problems arise.

Let me invite you into a classroom I visited recently.  Please understand this is not offered as criticism, but rather to illustrate my point. As I entered the room, the first thing I noticed, printed in big, bold font on salmon coloured printer paper was not one, but two signs that said: “Please put away your Electronic Devices!” Yes, with the exclamation point as well. The next hot spot was a box full of calculators, that had each been mounted onto a big plank, a 1X4, approximately 12 inches long, countersunk to fit the device, and another sign above the box that said “These calculators must not leave this room!” (Again, the ‘!’ is not mine).  This was a math classroom.  And so I pondered the messages here…. the most obvious being that if the learners were encouraged to use their own electronic devices for, say, calculators, they would never need to borrow classroom supplies– they would know how to use their device, and always have it accessible wherever they were studying.  This is a hallmark of a Pedagogy-first tech plan– that the technology is where the learning takes place– anywhere, just in time.

The next illustration is from our conversation near the end of my presentation.  I was suggesting the use of AirDrop ( a built-in IOs feature) and one of the teachers said she didn’t have AirDrop.  And, sure enough, even though it is a built-in feature, it was not on her device.  I knew, right then, that we were dealing with a Technology over Pedagogy Department.  AirDrop, along with Siri, and therefore a number of accessibility features, had been disabled by the tech department.  Now, the reasons for this are probably a bit more complex– for example, it’s the sort of thing the non-savvy tech user will ask for.  AirDrop, for example, can be obnoxious if being (mis)used by a whole classroom of kids to share… the modern day equivalent of passing notes. Likewise, getting Siri to read aloud can quickly become a distraction from the “real learning”.  Oh but wait… did I just drop some air quotes?  Yes, I did…. and that is the crux of my job- not to pop in and “do technology” (oh! there they are again!) but rather to facilitate the integration of technology into teacher practice. That includes examples and conversations about management and use, leveraging the “distracting” features for good. I can recall, way back, when I taught IT at Middle School and the bane of my (teacher) existence was a built-in app called “PhotoBooth” where “crazy” and “hilarious” special effects could be accessed by just a push of the button.  I could have gone into the network and disabled the app, but instead I thought up a number  of activities that would still teach what I wanted, while encouraging the students to see that those sorts of “consumable” apps had their place, but creativity was not so easily replicated.

This is where a tech department led by educators can be the richest scenario.  It is fraught with its own problems– fiscal responsibility, for example, is tough when you come at it from an “anything is possible” mindset. But what we have found, in our own Pedagogy is the Driver Tech Plan, is that the rich conversations and mutual understanding that are part every day business have created an atmosphere where the Technicians and the Teachers feel valued, challenged and ultimately empowered.

What rhymes with derpy?”

At a recent workshop on Communicating Student learning, our group conversation veered off into supportive technologies– specifically, iPads– and how they are changing teacher practice. Now, I know this is an absolute field of landmines I am about to stomp through, but you know I don’t do things by halves.  Ready?

The salient points of the conversation:

  • Siri (meaning, any speech-to-text situation) can be relied on not just to tell you how to spell a word, but she will actually type your entire essay, if you are willing to dictate it.
  • What does this mean? Can we envision a day when the struggling writers can be encouraged to tell their story, and allow “Siri” to read it aloud for them?
  • And once they dictate the story, they read it and edit it, right?
  • What does this mean? Are we going to stay stuck in the premise that the only way learning can be demonstrated is through text? Or do we allow technology to transform teaching and learning in such a way that all types of learners can share learning in all types way?
  • Oh but the learning pathways… OK, I’ve heard all the arguments for and against: cursive writing, spelling tests and keyboarding practice. I have very strong opinions on each of these, and my opinions are backed up by science and research. Your opposite and contrary opinions are just as valid, just as passionately held, and also backed up by scientific research.  You know what?  I just misspelled “opinion”, again, for probably the 10 000th time in my life.  I know it appeared on many spelling lists I memorized and was tested on. I’m not stupid– my IQ hovers in the high 120’s, I have two post secondary degrees, and I  write “oppinion”, or “recieved” or (ironically) “genious” with shocking frequency. And they sit there now, underlined in a mocking shade of red, reminding me why I happily stopped doing Friday spelling tests 15 years (or so…) ago. And reminding me that we don’t have to memorize things like that anymore… “Siri” will do it for us. It doesn’t mean that we stop providing all learners with opportunities to learn in the way that best meets their needs.
  • Facts can be looked up. Thinking cannot
  • What does this mean? It’s the difference between researching “When was the war of 1812 fought?” and considering the question “How would your life today be the same or different, better or worse, if the results of the war of 1812 had been different?”
  • We are purposefully moving our assessment practice away from arbitrary letter grades to formative, ongoing and reflective recording of student learning
  • What does this mean? We focus on what the learner can do, and is doing right now, in the moment, and how they feel about what they have done and need to do next; not what they did, a while ago, with this project we did in the past. Among other things…
  • “I don’t feel like I have to– or possibly can– know everything about all the subjects I teach”
  • What does this mean? Automatically transitioning your practice into an Inquiry model– as long as you don’t mind saying: “I don’t know that… how can we find out more?”
  • And finally, how would you answer this question by a student: “Can I use the word ‘derp’ in my poem?”
  • What did the teacher do? She said if the student could show her what it meant, perhaps.  Siri, what is the Definition of: Derp
  • I don’t know if they were writing Valentine’s Day poems, but I offer this:

You know what would be Heaven?

If we could stop by the 7-11

Because I can’t help feeling derpy

When we share a slurpee

You are welcome.  Thank you for reading, and if you would enjoy an article on other Internet-based words and phrases entering the lexicon, I leave you with this:

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