Saturday, December 8, 2012

#Edtech: The Current Contradiction in Education

For the past year and a half, I have been working on getting my Master's degree in Educational Leadership at Portland State University.  As part of my program, I had an excellent opportunity to attend the 2012 Oregon School Law conference in Eugene, Oregon this past week.  Often, I find myself blurring the lines between the teacher lens and the administrative lens. The keynote speaker was Dr. Rudy Crew who is the Chief Education Officer for the state of Oregon.  Listening to his speech, the teacher side of me felt a powerful emotional response.  It was easy to forget that this was an "administrative" conference with mostly people in leadership positions within their districts attending.  I think at its core--the teacher and administrative lens are intertwined.  At the end of the day, we are all educators who want what is best for children.  Where I feel some differences do exist is on attitudes and a general mistrust towards technology.  One of the things I was most excited about doing while attending this conference was getting the chance to "backchannel" on Twitter while the conference was live.  One of the coolest things about doing this was during a hosted lunch being asked to chat and reflect with people on certain discussion questions that were projected on a screen.  I thought to myself, "I have already been doing this all morning long by chatting with several connected educators."   I had done this by creating the hashtag #OSLC2012 on the eve of the conference and several connected educators found my hashtag.  In fact, the conversation started on the night before when I posted my first tweet:

Tom Whitby is someone I admire on Twitter.  He is the founder of #edchat and has an educational blog, My Island View.  I first learned who he was by participating in several #edchats.  One of the reasons I admire Tom so much is because he is the definition of a power user on Twitter: he has tweeted almost 44,000 times, follows almost 2,000 and has over 26,000 followers.  However, when a guy from way out in Oregon posts about back channeling at a conference he is quick to reply.  I cannot say this about all connected educators.  There are many exciting educational blogs and educational personalities on Twitter.  However, a criticism of mine would be that there are some educators who seem to have more interest in furthering their own image than in making connections with other educators, even if they share things in common.  This can be frustrating for someone who is trying to expand their #PLN.  Tom Whitby is the opposite of this.  Within our short conversation, I mentioned that one of the early break out sessions was on social networking.  His advice was sage like:

While sitting in on the breakout sessions at #OSLC2012, I noticed a terrific irony developing.  I saw a thoroughly impressive amount of technology in the hands of the attendees of this conference.  So much technology that it would make any classroom teacher jealous to be able to have that tech in a student's hands.  Laptops, tablets, smartphones, Android, iOS; this conference had it all. With this technology at the leader's fingertips, none of them seemed to be connected.  In fact, the tone of many of the sessions was one of fear and mistrust of students and teachers using some of the powerful tools available right now for learning purposes.

I heard actual comments from presenters stating:

"I hate social media, no student should ever have a Facebook"


"The thought of teachers having connections with students on social media makes me want to *insert gagging sound*"

There was very little pushback in reaction to these comments when they were made.  It was almost like all of these leaders sat typing away on their laptops, tablets and smart phones and nodded in agreement.  When a colleague of mine did voice his objection to some comments made with respect to using Facebook to connect with parents--the presenter didn't seem to understand his question and continued to advocate their viewpoint that it was dangerous and reckless to use social media as a professional.

Despite this, I found this conference to be particularly inspiring and informational regarding education in general.  It was not inspiring for someone who is a supporter of educational technology.  This is where the contradiction exists:

There is an enormous desire for new technology in education today, yet there is an equally enormous misconception among leaders that teachers and especially students will use that technology inappropriately. 

The paradigm that currently exists in many cases is that kids are going to use technology, and there is nothing that we can do about it.  It has moved beyond the culture of preventing access and has turned into a culture of, "well, then we just won't participate."  This paradigm needs to shift.  One of the few sessions that I felt was positive towards social media use was the first one that I attended.  This lawyer talked extensively about educating students about the dangers of social media and how to use it appropriately.  One of my colleagues (who I happened to meet for the first time at this conference through using #OSLC2012) eloquently pointed out:

"How can we educate students on using social media, if we don't model appropriate use with them?"

Well said, my friend.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Ideapaint: One Year Later pt 1

A little over a year ago, my classroom and I entered a contest for a classroom makeover from Ideapaint and we won.  We were the first winners of their 360 contest and my entire classroom was transformed into a writable surface.  Ideapaint is a fantastic company.  Great people, a great product and truly innovative.  If education were a game, Ideapaint is not trying to play it.  Ideapaint is trying to change the way the game is played.

As part of winning the contest, Ideapaint documented the makeover which you can watch below.  I watched the video today for the first time in months and it still gives me a sense of pride in what I do when I see it.

Since I have been using Ideapaint for a little over a year, I thought I'd reflect back on exactly what Ideapaint is and what it isn't.

1. Ideapaint is not a cool way to learn traditionally

If you are considering painting your classroom desks/tables with Ideapaint (and I strongly recommend you start there), I feel you are missing the idea if you have students only use the surface to take notes of your lectures. Can this be done? Yes. Does it make sense occasionally? Yes.  But, I feel you would be making a mistake by doing things this way all the time.  

One of my favorite sayings to my students is, "You have to find the right tool for the right job."

Ideapaint is a tool that is meant for collaboration and to think outside of the box.

If your tool is not restricted to the confines of a paper and pencil, why would you use pedagogy that only thinks inside that box?

2. Ideapaint is a great way to go paperless

Working together on "peer pressure" scenarios
Digitizing Notes
When you can write on the tables, get ready to digitize everything!  Notes on the board? Snap a picture.  A student wants to bring in their own device? Sure thing.  Brainstorms that want to be remembered? You bet.  I have found that using my smartphone to capture what I write on an Ideapaint surface has become invaluable.  I use Evernote to process much of these things (I'll post on them at a later date) but, it is essential to document what is written on the surface and it is easy to do. 

 I let students do this as well.  Each collaborative group in my class has access to an iPod touch that I provide them and I allow students to bring their own devices as well.  The management of all of these devices is a whole different beast, but I think you get the idea of the possibilities.  They really are endless.

3. Ideapaint is a great way to turn your classroom into a collaboration hub

Walk around activity
I mentioned it above, but what Ideapaint truly allows me to do in my classroom is getting students to collaborate, to manage projects, to move around the room and to learn by thinking through problems with other people.  A typical activity that I know many teachers do: The chart paper walk around. Students walk around the room and add to a chart that is taped to a wall.  Then, those charts are discussed as a group.  With Ideapaint, this can now be done just by writing on tables and walls.  Something about that is just fun.  I still hear comments one year later about how fun it is to write on a surface that in every other class you are not supposed to write on.  I think we often forget that if we truly want to create life long learners, then students need to like what they are being asked to do.  I have taken this collaboration to another level this year, by taking the original tables that were painted for winning the contest and creating "mobile stations" in several areas of the room.  Students will not typically be sitting at these stations, but have the opportunity to move to the bigger space as needed.  These areas are available to collaborate on projects and use mobile technology (1 Google Chromebook down, 11 more to go) at a moment's notice.  

Since, I was bringing more desks into my room, guess what?  I had more painting to do.  Good thing I had a few extra kits leftover and was able to finish that painting today.  In one week, my students will be able to write on them.  As the Depeche Mode song goes, "I just 
can't get enough."

Ready. Set. 

Freshly painted tables :)

What ways do you use Ideapaint in your classroom?  What ways can you think of to inspire students to collaborate with Ideapaint tables?  I'd love to hear your ideas as well.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Welcome to The Dumb Jock Myth

Planning how to introduce yourself to the blogging community is much harder than I ever anticipated.  My name is Adam Howell.  I am a middle school teacher.  I was born and raised and did my undergraduate work in Michigan and I moved to Oregon in 2008 for my first teaching position.  I am halfway through my fifth year of teaching and am currently working on my master's degree in Educational Leadership at Portland State University.  

Technology is a passion of mine.  I started using Twitter extensively as a way to connect with other educators in 2011.  It has allowed me to move beyond the walls of my classroom.  This is my next foray into the vast world of #edtech.  I hope to use this blog as a way for me to reflect on my own practice and to further make connections in my PLN.  Also, I hope to be able to shine a light on the things I am doing in my own practice.  Since there is one difference between myself and many of the other connected educators I have met in the past year and a half...

I teach Physical Education and Health.  

I believe passionately in the power of exercise and how that affects the brain in an incredible way.  Brain Rules by John Medina and Spark by John Ratey have defined how I look at my content area.  I hope to be able to share that passion with you through this blog.

I want to shatter the stereotype that anybody can teach "gym." I want to break the mold that most PE/Health teachers are jocks turned coaches who would rather be planning a practice, instead of making a difference with students.

I want to prove that the dumb jock is a myth.