Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Reflecting on Learning Management Systems and our first lil' #LMSchat

On Tues, Feb 26, a small bunch gathered on Twitter for an #lmschat about what we really *need* out of a learning management system (LMS).  Do we really need built-in forums and gadgets and widgets that are so popular in many formal LMSs?  What is the core functionality that we need in the classroom, and what is the overall purpose for a whole school?  It was an amazing conversation, and I look forward to learning more with these amazing educators!  (@tieandjeans, @reth1nk, @montysays, and my lurking colleague Santosh)

The single most important element we all agreed was needed for an LMS was:
clear, intuitive, and flexible communication with students.  

Ideally, it should facilitate communication with parents and with other teachers as well, and integrate fully as an "SIS" (which, I learned, means "Student Information System," including contacts, grades, attendance, everything!)  This makes a lot of sense to me, as my school currently runs multiple different platforms for different types of communication... an LMS for teacher/student communication, a portal for PR-ish parent communication, an attendance and narrative reporting / "transcript" system, and of course email.  Tying all of these together would support parents in tracking their child's progress, teachers in finding patterns in student skills and needs, and students in keeping/sharing/tracking all of their learning in one place.

*But* we voiced concern about having ONE single system for all of that locking teachers in to ONE way of supporting online learning and communication.  A difficult balance: streamlined but constrictive, or rigged together but free/open?

Which leads to our second big topic of conversation...
Should a tech-forward innovative teacher encourage the use of a simple LMS that will be successful for most teachers in the school, or create the best DIY LMS for his or her own classroom?

There was not a clear consensus here... My school has had great success with getting everyone on board with a very simple, straightforward, and not-very-exciting LMS, and the consistency between all teachers is great for our students.  And others have created truly innovative and amazing LMSs for themselves, and they are the only teachers in their buildings able to use those systems.  (@capohanka at St. Christopher's School is a great resource for a DIY wordpress-w-plugins LMS!) This is a truly unanswered question!  I believe that our boring LMS has been a "gateway-technology," and am anticipating more teachers being ready to move to more exciting options now that they've cut their teeth.

Finally, @reth1nk had a brilliant idea... Someone should make a portal that allows teachers to test a number of LMSs at once and track their personal pros/cons for each, without creating a new account on every single system!  #edtech, hop on that!

This doesn't begin to solve my own school's current dilemma of "what LMS update should we go for next?" but it's definitely some excellent food-for-thought in deciding how we should focus our exploration:
  • easy and highly flexible communication with/between students
  • intuitive for teachers to use and NOT restrictive in reaching out into other platforms
  • supports communication with our other systems, especially from ongoing feedback to summative narrative reports
We're currently looking at a whole range of pro LMSs (Moodle 2.0, Canvas, Edmodo, Haiku, Evernote, Schoology, OpenClass) and I'm also doing some investigating into how to pull off more DIY approaches, like continuing our use of Google Apps for Education and harnessing it all together using home-made and scavenged scripts.  Input and suggestions certainly appreciated! Wish us luck!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Does EdTech Know How To Support Innovative Teachers?

Edtech entrepreneurs are all passionate about improving education for children, but are they passionate about collaborating with others - also passionate about improving education - to actually identify what each party can bring to the table to make that improvement happen?  Do they know what good teaching looks like, and do they understand what good teachers are trying to do?

Last month, I attended EduCon, a hyper-progressive education conference where teachers from around North America (Hi, Canada!) discussed supporting the development of empathy skills in content-area classrooms, breaking down “bell schedules” to give kids more freedom to explore and create, designing learning spaces to increase student ownership and belonging, how to increase teacher collaboration and make it more meaningful, and many other transformative topics in education.  Every workshop, session, and informal conversation I participated in at this conference flew in the face of the #edtech idea that technology can replace the teacher, and that kids can and should get universally-consistent, individually-adaptive, direct-from-the-screen training in specific skills.  The teachers attending EduCon with me want to push their students forward and raise the level of discourse within their classrooms from simple content regurgitation to global problem-solving, sustainable community-building, and knowledge creation.

Too many new “innovative” education technologies are - instead of supporting teachers in raising the level of discourse - repackaging old teaching methods into online forms that do indeed bypass old lecture-driven teachers.  But those aren’t the teachers who are going to be at the front lines of looking for new technologies to support their students’ learning.  Entrepreneurs who want to really break open education and improve outcomes for kids are going to be entrepreneurs who understand how to support ground-breaking pedagogy.

As an edtech entrepreneur, you can give yourself the quick test after the jump to see how far along you are in understanding innovative pedagogy and "21st Century Skills" :

Preparing For The Future of Student Innovation

With input from a few of my colleagues, I composed the following "letter" for our heads-of-school regarding out recent "Adventure Days!" experiment.  I've semi-anonymized it, in case of privacy issues. All pics by one of our 8th graders.

Curriculum at our school has always been student-centered, and - as we mature and flourish as a community - our curriculum is moving even more towards developing skills in meta-cognition, problem-solving, and systems-thinking for our children.  In contemplating how to deepen our students’ design and innovation thinking, the middle school recently conducted its biggest experiment yet in open-ended student-innovation curriculum - "Adventure Days!"  Inspired by Matt Bebbington's and Josh Stumpenhorst's experiments with innovation days, we - the teachers - challenged the middle schoolers to take full ownership of their learning and growth for two school days.  The implementation process was carefully designed and scaffolded to support students in pursuing big, deep ideas and creating innovative, passionate projects.  From introduction, through proposals, to planning, and finally two full days of whole-middle-school implementation, the middle schoolers demonstrated their abilities to take their ideas and passions to the max.

As Sir Ken Robinson indicates in his discussions of education and preparing children for the future, we don’t know what new careers and opportunities their futures will bring.  Preparation for new careers in global economies, sustainable communities, and advancing technologies have been driving the development of new standards - “21st Century Skills” - intended to support students in developing the skills they’re projected to need in their adulthoods.  During Adventure Days!, our middle schoolers completed an amazing variety of projects and addressed an astonishing variety of those 21st Century Skills, preparing them for an innovative, entrepreneurial future.  Two 6th graders invented a retractable holder for their laptop styluses, and finished the days with plans for improvements.  An 8th grader picked up a guitar for the first time Thursday morning, and performed on stage in front of the whole middle school on Friday afternoon.  A 7th grader sketched, outlined, and fully painted a 1.5m x 2.5m mural to decorate the ms science room. Another 6th grader planned and taught a lesson to a group of prekindergarteners, including seeking advice from our own primary division counselor in understanding early childhood cognition and communication.  More projects will be highlighted in the Adventure Days! documentary currently still in editing by two 8th graders, itself an Adventure Days! project.  The skills they developed ranged from collaboration to scaling to public performance to simply increasing their confidence that they can capably and independently develop a new skill.

In reflecting on the experience after Adventure Days!, middle schoolers articulated the deep and meaningful learning they gained in this open innovation adventure.  Students gave feedback like suggesting to future participants "Be ready to improvise because you might make a mistake, be creative, and keep an open-minded" and "Don't be scared. If you think that what you want to accomplish is to out of the box then you’re wrong because anything can happen and all you need to do is dedicate yourself towards your work and plunge through things with a positive attitude."  Another suggested: "Focus solely on what you've always wanted to do, because this is your opportunity to open up. If your scared, still try it. If you’re nervous, still try it. If you excited, try it! Overall, think if you will be proud and excited about your project when you complete. If you don't feel like it will make a positive impact, maybe think of something different."

More after the jump.

Student Goal Setting and Reflections - #21stedchat Feb 17, 2013

Sunday evening's #21stedchat ended at 6pm PST, but I was almost 500 tweets behind on Twitterfall... There was such amazing depth to the discussion and such a wealth of resources being shared, I felt like I couldn't gloss over anything.  This chat is what finally convinced me to start a blog - to be able to organize my thoughts and my resources coming out of this chat and all the other amazing conversations I'm participating in this year, and keep it all somewhere organized.  

A few overarching themes rose out of the Goal Setting and Reflections #21stedchat:

(1) How / What kinds of goals we help kids set

Kids and teachers should collaborate on setting *learning* goals, not focused on "grades" or numbers.  It's important to have school-wide language and culture to support goals.  Besides reflecting upon goals, students should re-articulate their goals... goals change! Many schools use SMART goals as a framework.

(2) How/when we help them reflect

Reflection should be embedded in the learning process, and include examples of work ("data") and feedback about *how* the work shows progress.  Reflection requires (and gives) much more ownership than just setting goals.  Taking the time for embedded reflection is harder than just setting the goals... Google sites, blogs, and electronic portfolios are excellent ways for students to reflect.  Exit-tickets can give quick, solid reflection at the end of a class period.  "Learning is as much about the process as about the product."

(3) How formal conferences w parents play into student growth, esp student-led conferences

Student-led conferences are NOT yet ubiquitous.  See the amazing video of a 1st grader leading her conference.  Parents see their child through a different lens, and children have to reflect deeply to show their learning to their parents.

**We should start a resource of videos of our own student-led conferences!**

(4) How "grading," teacher and peer feedback, and in-class conferences can support student growth

Number and letter grades do NOT convey learning. Feedback - from teacher, peers, and self! - are all vital for understanding how work demonstrates learning. 1:1 conferences during classtime to discuss work, and "inter-rater reliability" on assessments are both key.  Teachers struggle with how to support students who aren't able to accurately assess their own learning... That "inter-rater reliability" piece can help!

(5) How student-directed learning can support deep thinking

Project-based learning gives kids truly informative data on their own learning. #geniushour, passion time, and "Google 20%" projects are making great headway in supporting student-driven learning.  Public publishing of work online increases student ownership, desire for excellence! ("Everyone is gonna see it!")

(6) Structures needed in the school day to support all of the above

Goal-setting and especially reflection take TIME!  If all classes are subject-specific and no "overarching" class (like advisor, homeroom, etc), then when can students look at themselves from an overarching perspective?  We need to model effective goal-setting and reflection, and incorporate it into our everyday, school-wide language.

After the jump, I'll pull out highlights from the conversations and resources around each of those overarching themes.  Tweets are in chronological order, which is really confusing since they "fall" in reverse chronological.  Resources are highlighted in yellow.  Be sure to check out the "other stuff" section at the bottom for the other resources that didn't fit into the themes... How To Teach Like a Pirate, supporting students who have a hard time collaborating, and more.