Digital Sandbox

This Blog is designed to provide the reader with information on how to adopt technology into the classroom by relooking at traditional classroom tools and transitioning into new ways of teaching and learning. The Digital Sandbox explores the future of learning through the recreation of 21st Century learning environments.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Redefining Literacy in the Digital Age

To help students gain an edge on employability, schools will need to model, design, and simulate co-creative learning environments. These are the participatory learning environments that promote web-found knowledge that use information as a source for the expansion of knowledge. These are the new spaces of web found knowledge where digital media is remixed into text and visual compilations. These are also the virtual spaces that students need to efficiently navigate with skill sets that are appropriate to the environment.

To fulfill a deep learning experience students need skill sets to access information, know the media literacy language of the environment, apply ethics, and understand the knowledge competencies to navigate virtual spaces. To avoid a dysfunctional disconnect between educators and students, the education community must correct the current asymmetry in the classroom around media literacy. Moreover, cultural modes of communication are changing outside classroom walls, and to adequately prepare students to engage in meaningful dialogue across multiple media platforms, educators must become transliterate.

Transliteracy teaching is a way to support students in becoming critical consumers and conversers in a digital environment. "While multimedia experiences are becoming more important, classical, text-based instruction is still essential. Communication and coordination still occurs in written words, and a rich vocabulary and textual literacy hasn’t become obsolete. Indeed, as society navigates its way among these new modes of communication, it will need to draw on the insights of communication modes that have matured through centuries of use. If textual literacy isn’t fostered outside the classroom that’s simply more reason it should be given attention in the classroom. Educators must still realize, however, that students are not coming in with the textually literate foundation they once may have had."

These productions are created by individuals using open source software tools assisting them in media creation -- media reproduced in visual forms supported by text and sound. These are the collaborators who share knowledge through networks of individuals who believe ideas do not belong to one individual. These are the creators of curated knowledge who believe knowledge belongs to us as a culture. These are the innovators of a learning culture educators must embrace; a culture whose ideas are founded on digital media compilations shared on an open network for everyone to use.

Defining digital literacy is about understanding how to access information, and use digital tools to create new forms of media. The three domains of digital literacy include using digital tools to access information, use of digital media tools to create digital content, and the skills needed to produce multimedia compilations into consumable content. Digital literacy in this context requires three levels of skill development. The first domain is knowing how, when, and where to locate useful information on the Internet. The second domain is the development of understanding the use of digital tools as these tools are applied in the creation of content. The third domain of digital media literacy is in producing and sharing digital compilations into a medium for knowledge consumption. These mediums for knowledge consumption can take the form of an eBooks, online open source learning resources, or can be produced in a web based format. 

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

A Culture for Change and Instructional Improvement

The goal of every school must be to create and maintain a true culture for growth and instructional improvement. A culture of growth and instructional improvement has its foundations in a "culture for change." A definition for a culture of change permeates within an environment where individuals throughout the system contribute to a plan designed to improve student learning. The plan is flexible and has room to evolve, as determined by student needs. In order to meet the challenge of a culture for change, the teachers, administration and support staff must adapt decisions and behaviors with one question in mind: What will best fit the needs of students? This takes a commitment to all areas of school improvement, ranging from professional development and curriculum to discipline and agreed-upon values. It, most importantly, requires a plan, as well as a leader willing to take the first step towards developing a culture for change. People will be involved in the school’s progress at different levels and in different ways, but everyone will contribute to the process. A culture of changes will come to the school as learning goals are met by individuals, groups and by the system as whole. 

The plan, however, is useless unless all staff members believe it is important to support and to contribute to the changing culture.  A true culture for change allows its stakeholders to contribute to the process, as well as to the school’s vision. Essentially, the teachers “own” the culture of change, and therefore make a commitment to its every-changing improvement. The principal must make a conscience effort to foster this environment of ownership, pride and unity. In any school across America, one would find a staff comprised of individuals with different beliefs, values, education levels and talents. The individual teachers have developed their own classroom and teaching philosophies, whether on their own or through the help of another educator or mentor. In a culture where growth is continuous , the teachers support and compliment one another’s efforts –despite their diverse personal and professional philosophies. They overcome their differences through trust and communication, as well as through their unified commitment to their students. Throughout the school year, the teachers, together, will tackle common – and uncommon – student and curriculum issues.

When situations or outcomes require changes, the staff – as well as their plan – must be flexible. Schools, and their staff members, must be willing to be progressive and anticipate needed changes. A culture of change is proactive in every aspect of school life, especially curriculum. A learning school strives to never be reactive and very much favors a site-based management plan.

For example, when we look at future growth models for education, what we want to obtain is the ability to stretch the learning curve every time the teacher sets foot into the classroom. In order to accomplish this task we must bring the fundamentals of professional pedagogy to the forefront of how instructional interaction supports leaning. To accomplish this task, teachers must know with crystal clarity, the effects they have on student learning through questioning, checking for student understanding, providing meaningful feedback and designing high engaging lessons; and definitely knowing and understanding the principles of constructivism through the Zone of Proximal Development.

The key to a successful learning experience is not at the standalone knowledge level which in many cases classrooms of today formulate through mastery of concepts and to a lesser degree on the idea of scaffolding for reasoning. To ensure that students are prepared for the 21st Century we must continue to revisit these practices and grow with experience. The professionalism is in the language, and in the language we define practice and in practice we experience tipping points of growth in pedagogy. The science is clear.

Nothing within these definitions of instructional practices should be mandated or insisted upon by a school or district through the art of standardization. Regulating schools under the art of standardization is a way to control how individuals behave, think, and act indirectly by standardizing the work they do. Those who practice the art of standardization rely on their ability to be direct supervisors, although in many schools this methodology is found to be a less effective way to educate students. This type of methodology has its basis from the old school of Fredric Taylor. If one applies Taylor's management theories, decisions about school effectiveness are based on standardizing all teaching, learning, curriculum, assessment, and management.

The art of standardization, or the "assembly line" approach, encourages the development of instructional expectations with measurable outcomes that are identified and tightly aligned to a set curriculum and to specific methods of teaching. Once instructional delivery systems are in place, teachers are closely supervised to ensure that the mandated curriculum and methods of teaching are being implemented. Students are tested to ensure that the approved outcomes are achieved. However, the "assembly line" theory works clumsily at best.

What we do know about the culture of instructional improvement is that there must be a focus on how to develop the teaching skills required to help all students meet more rigorous standards and master the curriculum. Unless school districts focus on instructional improvement student achievement is unlikely to improve more than marginally. To accomplish this task there must be a common professional language developed within each school that fosters a clear understanding of pedagogical practices that are understood by all practitioners.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Goal Setting: Investing in Human Intellectual Capital

Much can be said about why goals are important. A goal can be directly associated with a growth mindset. A growth mindset is constructed around the idea of aspiration for accomplishment. That is why individually and collectively we have to understand the difference between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. Carol Dweck states that "Understanding the difference between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset is a key element in developing a culture of success."1  This means that individuals or organizations who do not have clearly articulated goals in front of them may limit their expectancy of achievement.  It also means that goal setting is a collaborative function that builds capacity  for developing a growth mindset. What may have been the missing link to the school improvement process for the past 20 years is that goal statements lacked capacity building. That is, most organizations do not have a common set of shared goals.
Those of us who have been involved in long range planning and design have emphasized the importance of goals as a process of organizational and individual improvement. Yet very few schools experience continuous sustained growth over the course of multiple years. The speculative reasons many long range improvement plans do not witness sustained levels of growth over time is complex and can be associated with numerous variables. These variables may include change of leadership, frequent changes in district, state, and federal policies coupled with lack of focus to goals through relative feedback. But what might be the most evident cause for lack of sustained growth in school improvement may be as simple providing reflective feedback. These ideas of reflective feedback are supported by Hatch, 2009; Newmann, King, & Youngs, 2000 as they define capacity more specifically as the “collective competency” or “investment” necessary for a school to improve in a meaningful way.
Investment may mean that schools who are wanting to sustain growth over a period of time will need to invest in reflective feedback. Reflective feedback could in fact be the sustaining factor in developing human intellectual capital as the primary resource in meeting long and short term goals. Michael Fullan calls this process of reflective feedback on goal accomplishments intellectual accountability.
Michael Fullan states that “intelligent accountability ...involves a set of policies and practices that actually increases individual, and especially collective, capacity to the transparent point that shared responsibility carries most of the freight of effective accountability; that makes internal and external accountability almost seamless; and that leaves external accountability to do its remaining, more-manageable task of necessary intervention”2 Everyone talks about accountability and everyone assumes that accountability measures are carried out intelligently. But this is not always so. Fullan's ideas on achieving intelligent accountability requires putting more emphasis on reflective positive feedback rather than judgments investing in strengthening the abilities of all involved to carry goals that are directly related to school improvement.
To achieve intellectual accountability  requires capacity building through leadership at the commencement of the school improvement process. Intellectual accountability can be developed once trust has been established between all stake holders. Once trust has been established between stakeholders is when growth mindsets will flourish by leadership refraining from making judgments on individuals. Growth mindsets for intellectual accountability ensures the transparency of data on the measures being carried out, on goal accomplishments, and intervening through corrective feedback where necessary.
Much can be said about  the development of intellectual accountability through a growth mindset process. Too many times when data is being used to reflect school goal accomplishments, judgments are being made on an individuals ability in fulfilling their responsibilities.  Rarely do you see a strategic plan that focuses on investing in people meeting  goals through peer responsibility. Embracing transparent data through intellectual accountability is a matter of internal accountability that relies on reflection of both practice and results.  Below is a six item list of Fullan’s thinking about intelligent accountability.
  1. It relies on incentives more than on punishment.
  2. It invests in capacity building so that people are able to meet the goals.
  3. It invests in collective (peer) responsibility -- what is called “internal accountability.”
  4. It intervenes initially in a nonjudgmental manner.
  5. It embraces transparent data about practice and results.
  6. It intervenes more decisively along the way when required.
In conclusion, what may have been the missing link to sustaining growth in public education  is the lack of capacity building in individual goal achievement. That is, most school developed strategic plans do not have a common set of shared goals. It is well known among collaborative planners that people are more willing to commit to goals they have helped establish. Additionally, they are more likely to stay committed to those goals if they receive timely and accurate feedback for their participation. The goals themselves are not reinforcing. Instead, motivation to achieve goals stems from learning what needs to be accomplished and developing specific strategies that give direction to future accomplishments.
(1) Carol Dweck, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (Broadway New York, Ballantine Books,2011)
(2) M. Fullan, All Systems Go (Thousand Oaks, CA.: Corwin Press; and Ontario Principals Council,2010).

Saturday, August 31, 2013

IT Student Support Team Plays an Important Role in 1:1

Dodge City Middle School will go to a 1:1 initiative starting in January. This 1:1 initiative changes the way students receive assignments, access information, create material for their classes. To help us get off to a good start our school established a student help desk made up of 10 eighth grade students who provide IT support for both students and teachers. The help desk is staffed for every period to respond to online work order request and student walk-ins. 

Mike King the school principal organized the IT Student Support Team. The IT Student Support Team is trained every other Tuesday by technology consultants Mr. Tom Barnes and Mrs. Gina Tyler on how to address student iPad issues. The IT Student help desk is located in the library and is overseen by Mrs. Schaffer the school's library media specialist. Training started in September and occurs every other Tuesday starting at 7:30 A.M and runs through advisory.

Responsibilities for the IT Student Support Team will be to troubleshoot problems, answer questions and refer more complicated problems to the district's IT Department through teachers. Additionally the student support team will develop a website that mirrors instructional technology applications for both students and teachers. The website will serve as a resource for our school, and that is accessed by students, parents and teachers. Plans for the website includes, help desk work orders, online questions generated by students and teachers, instructional videos explaining different applications that blend well with digital learning. 

Assignments for the construction of the website are sent by out by g-mail/work order form and Mrs. Herndon the 8th Grade connect teacher makes the assignments. Students receive their assignments, save their work in draft form for approval before posting digital content to the website. Students selected for the IT Student Support Team are required to sign a student pledge that holds them to high behavioral ethics and academic standards.

To get teachers prepared to use the devices in class, the district has established an every other Tuesday training session through Southwest Plains Regional Service Center. This plan allows our teacher teams to experience first a instructional app and then use the technology that supports explicit instruction. The district distributed to teachers iPads one year prior to using them in the classroom accompanied by every other Tuesday one hour in-services. Additional in-services are offered after school for power users to learn how to create digital content through the use of iTunes U, and iBooks through iAuthor. Teachers also learn how to develop video productions and podcast using both garage band and iMovie. 

To protect the schools iPad investments our school requires parents to attend a Digital Parent Night to sign a "user agreement form, that states that students will abide by district policy while the iPads, are in their possession.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Infusing 21st Century Skills Into Authentic Learning

Due to the advancement of new technologies 21st Century educators will soon be exploring ways to personalize education that promote student center learning formats. These new personal learning environments are not necessarily about the incorporation of technology into a daily lesson but more about teaching students how to collaborate, aggregate and create content into repositories of knowledge. To integrate technology means that teachers must have a deep understanding on how accessing information and creating content is inclusive with digital tools.

This leads us to the essential question, "How well do you have to understand the technology to use it in your classroom?"  To answer the question, it is not about understanding how to use a computer, it is about understanding how to access information, and use digital tools to create new forms of digital content. As educators, we desire to personalize education for a new generation in a global world - teaching students 21st century skills to empower them in their learning is the paramount task for great educators.

A misconception of 21st Century skills is the incorporation of technology into learning, but 21st Century skills is much more than just technology. 21st Century skills is about learning material in a new manner that incorporates collaboration, creativity, innovation in creating new knowledge and understanding of material. The incorporation of technology is an important piece of this learning, but is much more than a stand-alone issue. 

To successfully transition to a 1:1 iPad or any 1:1 technology program, a school district must take into account several items: hardware, network, training, applications, functions, support, and professional development planning over time. But most importantly can teachers become designers of learning. Will they be able to facilitate the learning process in order for students to create content through deep learning experiences. This in essence becomes the shift in instructional thinking as teachers begin to recognize that they are no longer the holders of content but the designers of learning.  The digital tools then become the constructive elements of content by the students as teachers become designers and facilitators of the learning process.

Teachers who are designers of learning realign their teaching strategies that are constructed on the use of multiple disciplines as they apply specific design features for a unit. These are the design features that focus on framing multiple standards to the rigor and relevance of complex task. They are teachers who can create lessons and units of study into a workable model. They have the acquired skill sets on how to specify the elements of rigor and secondly apply learning relevance that hover around the central theme of a unit or an essential question. They know how to construct these units as a mainframe of each daily lesson as it relates to the context for developing real world authentic task.

It should be noted that the skill sets to specifying elements of rigor provide higher levels of understanding and specifying elements of relevance provides evidence of real life applications. Teachers who think of the end product of a lesson as an element of learning design are  in the quest for an authentic task. They understand that the world of work provides many contexts for authentic tasks. Their goal in lesson design is to require students to solve a real-world problems. 

According to Melinda Kolk, "The creation of an authentic task is a bridge between the content learned in the classroom and why this knowledge is important in the world outside of it. The authentic, or real-world, nature of the task frames student work in a relevant and interesting way. Much of what we ask students to complete in the classroom is contrived. Life in the real world doesn't usually ask you to choose from provided options A, B, C, or D. An authentic task can help teachers make classroom work relevant to students by asking them to make these real-world decisions." To accomplish this task teachers must become the designers of learning as they facilitate the digital tools that allow students to create their own deep learning experiences.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Augmented Reality - ePubGeneration

Through innovative programming, Aurasma has developed a user interface constructed around “auras,” which are object “markers” used to trigger digital content like the Mark Twain image posted on this page. Developers of "auras" can use various multimedia information sources like videos, images or sound files to render content to mobile devices in and around a school campus . Augmented reality applications for mobile devices like Aurasma are destined to provide new avenues for ways to share digital content in these new learning environments. Augmented Reality - ePubGeneration