Sunday, January 29, 2012

Hybrid PD - Online Community Development Pt 2

Learning Pod at LWF 2012 Conference
I have just returned from a week in Scotland and London, some of it personal vacation and some of it professional growth on my part, as I attended the Learning without Frontiers conference in London.  That experience in itself was amazing - listening to so many great speakers (Noam Chomskey, Sir Ken Robinson, Conrad Wolfram, etc.).  I will be posting some reflections on those talks at a later time, after I have had some time to reflect and gather my thoughts on what they said.  Overall, my time in the UK last week was just an incredible experience on so many levels but as I am still suffering from jet lag, I think it best to hold off on sharing those experiences!

I did want to update on the hybrid PD I am working on - we are currently in our second online Unit and it is not going as well as I had hoped, as I still am struggling with participation from many folks in both cohorts.  As I posted in my Part 1 piece, I had made some executive decisions about 'forcing' the online community development by making everyone a subscriber to the discussion forum.  This forced them to get an email anytime someone posted to the forum as a way of reminding them to post.  At the last face-to-face, I gave both groups the option to choose to subscribe or be forced, and interestingly enough, one group chose to continue to be forced to receive postings and the other group chose not to, rather to make the decision to receive the email postings on their own. 

What are the results? The group who chose NOT to be forced is not participating. So now I am faced with a dilemma - do I go back in and force the issue? I think the biggest problem is that with their busy lives on top of planning, teaching, and grading, many of the participants literally forget that they have a commitment to the online components and the cohort work.  I have sent out reminder announcements, which definitely make participation spike, but it is frustrating on my end to have to be the policeman in a sense.  I think this is a tricky path online instructors walk - when do you 'lay down the law' and intercede, when what you really want to do is have participants become, in a sense, dependent on the support of the online community and want to participate on their own. 

L&L Article v34 n1 August 2007
Granted, my situation is slightly different than an online course where an actual grade is attached - in that case, there is a direct consequence for not participating and it is much more acceptable to lay down the law.  In my case, we are not grading their participation, though their participation is connected to a monetary stipend (which you would think would be an incentive, but apparently is not enough). It is interesting - the online community that has developed in both cohorts has begun to talk to each other rather than just responding to the prompts.  They are sharing ideas, they are asking each other questions - so in that regard, I am very excited about what is happening.  The problem being this involves only about half the participants - so how do I get the others to 'participate'?

I am going to send each 'non-participant' a personal email seeing if perhaps there are other issues at stake. I have already sent a class announcement gently cajoling those who have not been active to come join the fun, while at the same time reminding them of the expectations and requirements of being members of the cohort and grant (this is grant funded).  Even mentioning the district leader who is in charge of a veiled 'threat' you might say - participate or else! I also think, as I plan for the next Unit, that I will incorporate some online partner work, where they must accomplish something with someone else, which in a sense is forcing participation as well.  I think the dependency on others might bring in those non-participants.  I am also considering including some type of game, another strategy to get participants communicating and involved.  In a way, this is quite fun, as I am having to pull in many of the things I have learned and researched about online learning. Even going back to the L&L article I wrote years ago. Mostly though, right now, I am frustrated.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Medievil Math Problem

This will just be a short post today...just some thoughts on a multidisciplinary problem.

I am in Edinburgh, Scotland for the Learning without Frontiers conference in Olympia,UK next week and taking the opportunity to explore prior to the conference. Walked around the city today, which is so beautiful, especially the view from the castle. Just taking in the gorgeous scenery and getting a feel for the incredible history that is here. Quite amazing.

As I climbed the hill to the castle, I couldn't help but be awestruck as I looked up the cliff at the intricate stone wall, built right on the edge of these steep rocks. The natural question is, how the heck did they do this so many hundreds of years ago, especially without the convenience of the modern day construction tools? It's really just mind boggling to think of the sheer man power, time, and mathematics that went into constructing this castle. Yes, even on vacation, I have to think about the math!

So... For those math teachers out there, struggling to find some real world math problems to engage your students, head to the castles! A great interdisciplinary activity in fact....history, math, physics, english. How did they do it? How many years? How many stones and what tools did they use? Where did the tools and supplies come from? What were the reasons behind the design? If we were to build the castle today using modern tools, how long would it take? There are so many questions that could lead to not only learning in multiple content areas, but could also incorporate the use of technology in a variety of ways, such as research or virtual tours.

Just some thoughts as I close the day here in Scotland and get ready for another adventure tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Follow-up On Planning For Hybrid PD (Part 2) - F2F Feedback

Just completed my second round of face-to-face workshops with my two cohorts I am doing my blended learning professional development with on Sketchpad and technology integration in mathematics. In my previous postings (Planning for Hybrid PD, Follow Up Day 1, follow Up Day 2, Online Community Part 1, Planning for Hybrid PD Part 2), I have been documenting this professional development experience, sharing my planning process as well as what has been happening in the face-to-face and online components as these groups move forward.  The ultimate goal by the end of this process is that these teachers have not only learned the software, but more importantly, have learned  to integrate Sketchpad into classroom instruction to help their students learn mathematics in an engaging way that improves student understanding and achievement in mathematics. 

This week we met face-to-face after teachers had a month+ online to try some activities on their own to help learn the software skills while also doing mathematics.  They are also focusing on Common Core standards and making the connection of those concepts and how Sketchpad can integrate both content and Standards of Mathematical Practice.  There is also an emphasis on pedagogical aspects of integrating the technology with students. This face-to-face meeting was to debrief the online experience and their first integration experience with their students, learn some more software skills and pedagogical strategies, and then prepare for the next online component.

The face-to-face meetings left me feeling very excited about this upcoming month online.  I think mostly because the debrief portion, where participants shared the experiences they had with students as they tried a Sketchpad activity, was powerful.  Some great ideas were shared about using the activities, students reactions, what students learned and said...I think everyone was surprised at their students' ability to engage in the mathematics and interact with the technology so easily,which was refreshing. 

We also debriefed on the online experience itself (responding to discussion forums, downloading activities, navigating the site, etc.), and which I found incredibly helpful because questions came up and were addressed right there and there were suggestions for doing things more efficiently.  It was so nice to see and hear everyone offering each other help and thoughts or commiserating with others.  I think the debrief alone let everyone know they were not alone and allowed me to reinforce the importance of the online discussion forum when we are not face-to-face.  There were still many who were uncomfortable in the online environment who I think now feel more confident in it's purpose.

The rest of our time together (which is only a total of 3 hours) we spent learning some skills of the software, but always in the context of learning math.  My goal is to model a lesson that is teaching content as well as skills (which is so great with Sketchpad lessons), while modeling pedagogical strategies as well. I am very deliberate and transparent in what I do as a means of giving them ideas and helping them consider options that will work well when they work on integrating the technology in their own classrooms.

By the end of our short time together, I felt that there was a lot more camaraderie than previously and most importantly, more confidence and excitement.  They are feeling more comfortable, have some new ideas, and also know that we have the next several weeks to practice and learn and continue to try things out.  Personally, I am absolutely loving the blended learning professional development because it is keeping me on my toes but allowing me to really understand my participants, be flexible and change both the online and face-to-face components to address issues as they arise.  I think leads to the participants feeling excited because there is so much less pressure on them to take what they are learning and be a pro at it right away - the blended learning is giving them bits at a time that they can then practice, try, get feedback on, and gain confidence.  And be ready to learn a bit more online and next face-to-face.

All in all - a very positive couple of days and I am hopeful that our next few weeks online are going to show a growth in the community support and learning from each other.  And that my more reluctant and fearful participants will now have more confidence to try things out.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Professional Development for Teachers - Engage, Collaborate, Support

I have been writing lately about my plans and experiences with hybrid/blended professional development, specifically with technology.  In my most recent post, I shared ideas for the next face-to-face meeting with my two cohorts.  Perhaps because this is foremost on my mind, I find that I am running across others' blogs and articles that are speaking of similar experiences or offering great advice about professional development and the need to rethink how and what we offer teachers in terms of professional development..  I wanted to share a couple that I have run across that I found very interesting.

Mark Brumley (@markbrumley) wrote a short blog post the other day called Educating Educators Part 1 that talks about the importance of generating excitement in teachers about new technology BEFORE bringing them into any training.  I liked his ideas about creating almost a PR campaign to get teachers excited and interested in the new technology so that they come to any professional development with a desire to learn.  I agree wholeheartedly, and feel it is one element that is often missing - a reason, a purpose, and a connection of the new technology (or new strategy) that cause a desire in teachers to learn.  How many times have you teachers out there attended a professional development experience without even knowing what it is about, or leaving a professional development experience without ever understanding how this new technology (or new anything) is going to be of benefit to you in your teaching situation? 

Darren Cannell (@dcannell) put together a nice summary for developing a community of inquiry in an online environment, which fits nicely into what I am doing. His blog entry is entitled Using the Community of Inquiry in Online Learning Environments.  In particular, I found his description of the importance of  teacher presence on the the perceived learning and satisfaction of the online participants particularly relevant to my situation.  It is one of the things I struggle with in this blended environment I am trying to create, because on the one hand, I want the community of teachers to support each other and develop a bond without me, yet don't want them to flounder. It's a constant balance between encouraging engagement and motivation as well as fostering interdependence and knowledge development.
One very important part of professional development I think is lacking if we truly expect teachers to change their practice is this idea of a community of inquiry.  Collaboration among colleagues as well as support from administration ties into this as well. A benefit of the blended approach I am working with now is it's ability to foster this community of inquiry through long-term support, both from the teachers within the cohorts, but also the district leaders who are actively involved as well.  Teachers are being given the time to get to know each other, know the new technology slowly, try it out in their classrooms and get feedback and support from others going through the same experience.  Through the online components that occur between face-to-face meetings, they have time to share ideas, share experiences, and reflect on how this new technology and the strategies they are learning are impacting their teaching.  This sense of learning together and knowing that others are in the same situation and that there is support from others is important for teachers as they try to change their practice. Change only happens over time and with support.

This leads to the last blog post that I want to share today from Tom Whitby (@tomwhitby) entitled No Chicken or Egg Choice.  Whitby speaks directly to the need for creating relevant professional development that truly addresses specific needs and courses and is not just a mandate from on high.  I love the line 'experimentation needs to be encouraged' - something that is sorely lacking in many professional development experiences. Especially with new strategies and technologies, being able to experiment, make mistakes, and learn from those mistakes with the support and encouragement of colleagues and administrators - is the only way to truly reform instructional practice.

All of these blogs/articles may not seem connected, yet to me, they bring together some key points that need to be considered when thinking about teacher professional development. There must be engagement and purpose, there must be collaboration and a community of support and learning, and there must be relevancy to what teachers are actually teaching and experiencing in their school and classrooms.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Planning for Hybrid PD (part 2) - Develop Community and Supportive Environment

In my first posting, Planning for Hybrid PD - Comfort Level and Confidence First I shared my thoughts on how I planned to start a long-term hybrid Sketchpad professional development that is combining monthly face-to-face meetings with continued online learning and support. My first lesson was as follows:
Lesson One: Begin a professional development experience assessing the background skills of participants.Ensure they are given the necessary tools, starting points, and resources to feel comfortable with what they are going to be doing, see the purpose behind what they will be doing, and know where and how they can get continued support.
In my first face-to-face meetings, I did my best to follow Lesson One, assessing the needs, providing the necessary tools,etc. You can read more details about that in my reflection posts related to both the first and second face-to-face meetings (Day 1 and Day 2), as well as the first online unit. I am now planning for our second face-to-face meeting, taking into account the fact that participants have spent the last month learning online, which was a new experience for most.  Not only were they learning the software, but they were learning how to navigate the online course and components, interact asynchronously with others, and try Sketchpad with their students.

From my constant surveillance of and participation in the online course environment, I have gleaned that many participants are still uncomfortable with even the most basic skills of the software and also with participating in an online environment. They are indicating some frustration at learning on their own, and also a bit of trepidation about having to try an activity with their students.  There are also definite indications  several participants in the course are beginning to support each others efforts, offering help and ideas.This is what I think is a crucial component to foster in our next face-to-face - the idea that others in the course, whether face-to-face or online, are there to help, support, and provide guidance as they learn the software and how to integrate the software effectively into instruction.

My goal in the next face-to-face meeting is to provide time for everyone to share their online experience and frustrations, to share their experiences and student work from their first technology integration attempt, and to provide a collaborative environment for everyone to offer suggestions both on teaching strategies as well as online learning strategies.  I think spending the first part of our short face-to-face time together focusing on what worked, what didn't, and getting suggestions and ideas from peers,will allow for a deeper connection to form among participants that will carry over into the online environment. In addition, based on online discussion forum responses, I plan to model Sketchpad lessons both as a demonstration tool and as a pair-learning tool, again, to provide support in areas where concerns were expressed. This will communicate to participants that they are being listened to and allow for some personal interaction among participants as we continue to develop software and tech integration skills.

Lesson Two: Work on building a sense of community and support among participants, where they feel comfortable sharing their struggles, their experiences, their ideas and expertise. Providing a safe environment where it is okay to try new skills and strategies and knowing it is okay to fail or struggle and that others are going though similar experiences, gives teachers confidence to try to change and improve their own practices.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Wikipedia - Teachers need to reconsider

I am taking some vacation time to attend the annual conference of Learning Without Frontiers, as this is of great personal and professional interest to me. I am fascinated by the idea of global learning and exploring new ways of learning that use technology to connect. The conference is at the end of January in London, so I am excited on so many levels about the opportunity - professionally, having the ability to meet, see and listen to experts in the field and hopefully network, and personally, having the chance to go to the UK, a place I have never been.

To prepare and get familiar with the speakers and event, I have been checking out many of the previous recordings of presentations and talks, which are fascinating. I just watched Jimmy Wales, the cofounder of Wikipedia, and was totally convinced of the value of using Wikipedia with students, which changes a long held belief of mine that wikipedia information is suspect.

As a teacher, I distinctly remember being told every year by our technology director to NOT allow students to use Wikipedia as a source of information for their research, because of it's open-source nature. Since anyone can edit, the information was deemed unreliable for students to use. This idea was so embedded in the culture of the K-12 education that I was in for over 17 years, that it is still something I have a hard time getting past. Despite the fact that I use Wikipedia often to get information, in the back of my mind I always doubt it's veracity.

After listening to Jimmy Wales talk, I find myself reconsidering my beliefs about Wikipedia and in fact, find myself wanting to investigate more about Wikipedia and it's uses. Perhaps edit myself and become part of this community. I think schools and districts should reconsider their
take on the use of Wikipedia by students and actually promote students become 'editors' themselves, as it forces learning - in order to contribute valuable information to Wikipedia, it is necessary to research - a tool all students need.

I recommend you all watch the talk by Jimmy Wales, which you can access directly from YouTube or look at Jimmy Wales and other amazing talks directly from the Learning Without Frontiers website,

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Classroom Video for Professional Development

My recent posts have been reflections on my involvement in a blended/hybrid education technology professional development on the integration of The Geometer's Sketchpad into high school and middle school math.  This post reflects on the use of classroom video in the online component, and my thoughts on how schools/teachers could be using this tool to inform their own practice.

Part of the online component my participants are currently involved in includes videos of teachers using Sketchpad in the classroom.  The video they watch this week includes the teacher in the video's thought process, the students actually in the classroom, and reflection of what happened.  It is fascinating reading the discussion from my online participants on what they are seeing in the video and how they then connect what they are observing and hearing to themselves. Comments such as:
"I liked how the vocabulary was embedded in the lesson without focusing on it - it let students learn without feeling pressure"
"My strategies for using the software would be to explore the tools with my students and make a learning team" (similar to what was seen on the video with round table discussions"
"Computer use could be an obstacle but the teacher seemed to work just fine with the lab top in front of everyone.  You could also just use the lab top with whole-small-whole concept"
Teachers are clearly focusing on different aspects, but thinking of their students and also reflecting and commenting on how they personally would change or use the same ideas. Seeing someone else doing what they will eventually be doing themselves provides a chance to plan and anticipate.

Which has me thinking about the use of classroom video for professional development in general, not just online - why don't we use it more?

Naturally, it makes sense in an online environment to have classroom video, since the online environment includes links and resources that participants can access easily and asynchronously. But I think it's something we should be using more regularly, both informally and formally, in face-to-face teacher professional development.  Informally, it could be used as a personal reflection exercise for teachers, peer groups, or coaches/mentors. A teacher films themselves teaching and then either on their own or with a colleague or coach/mentor, looks at what happened and reflects on their own behaviors or student behaviors to inform their practice.

In more formal settings, such as department or district meetings, classroom video analysis is a great way to incorporate collaboration and reflection on instructional practice, whereby teachers are looking at different aspects of the classroom video, reflecting on what they are seeing and how it impacts student learning.The goal in either situation is to focus on specific aspects of the video, such as the questioning skills or wait time, or behaviors of students during group work, etc. This type of analysis and reflection can lead teachers to consider their own instructional practices, make connections between teacher behaviors and student behaviors, and hopefully, provide a way to help change and improve their own practice.

My suggestion for anyone trying to 'improve' teacher practice is to consider using classroom video as one avenue of learning and promoting change. There are resources out there or it's pretty easy to tape a classroom with the abundance of recording devices out there and it provides a valuable tool for reflecting, collaboration, and informing and improving instructional practice. 

To get you started, here is a quick video from YouTube with Melissa Burkhead using Sketchpad and a SmartBoard with her students. What can you learn?!