Curriculum – the secret to educational reform?

This Curriculum Matters’ blog post highlighting a new book called Tyranny of the Textbook:  An Insider Exposes How Educational Materials Undermine Reforms written by Beverlee Jobrack, retired editorial director for McGraw-Hill, raises some thought-provoking ideas.  Here are a couple of ideas shared via the post:

  • School and district committees for curriculum selection filled with teachers and others who lack the appropriate expertise, motivation, and time to make the best choices;
  • State textbook adoptions focused on whether curricular materials meet state standards, line by line, with little or no attention to whether they actually are of high quality and represent a coherent and well-designed instructional approach.

Some very generalized statements – just the type to spark controversy and discussion which usually seems to begin the change process.  Jobrack’s overarching message is “Quality curriculum taught by quality teachers has the most potential to improve student achievement.”

Have a look at the post.  It’s worth the read – especially with today’s priority to implement the Common Core State Standards.  As the Common Core State Standards initiative drives us to think about instructional shifts, let’s be sure to give curriculum the attention it deserves.


Readers of eSchool News Select Top Resources for 2012

This article highlights 50 technology programs and services that readers selected as winners for 2012.  You’ll see some familiar ones and several unique ones.  The resources are quite varied – ranging from LMS platforms to math curricula to assistive technologies to digital books – so it is worth a quick scroll through.  Two products on the list that we know quite well are BrainPOP and Safari Montage!

Promethean Planet – Best of 2011

I love the end of the year/new year “best of” features.  It’s nice to look back, review, recognize growth and progress, and spotlight the best of the best.  In 2011, Promethean Planet started with 26,000 resources and ended the year with over 50,000 interactive resources.  Also worth noting is the million member milestone achieved in July.  All good signs that the Planet is thriving as a useful, valuable community.  To see the top 10 most downloaded flipcharts and resource packs, click here.  You know these must be high-quality! 

And, not to be missed is the 2011 top 10 Edublog articles.  Here you’ll find tips and strategies pertaining to using iPads in the ActivClassroom, QR codes, comic strips, and more.  Take advantage of these great “summaries” to kick start new thinking in 2012!

Edutopia’s New Year’s Resolution: Think Differently

Happy New Year!  I can’t resist the opportunity to share a post from Edutopia’s eNewsletter.  First, I love the theme of the newsletter – “New Year’s Resolution:  Think Differently”.  Secondly, I appreciated the article “Discover Design Thinking” as it provides a nice overview of the design process and offers an application example.  I’ve blogged about design thinking in the past.  You can find posts here and here.  In this Edutopia article, the author, Betty Ray, Edutopia’s senior blog editor and community manager, also weaves in ideas for application in the classroom with students.  Design thinking is one of those inspiring and creative frameworks that sounds great in practice but can be challenging to implement.  This article is excellent in that it succinctly describes the process in action within the educational arena, with both teachers and students leading the way. 

Let’s start thinking differently now!  

December Power User Workshop Recap

On Monday, December 19th, 64 dedicated teachers spent their day at Waipahu High School learning more about the Promethean ActivClassroom. Teachers were treated to presentations created by IAAK specialists as well as teachers from various schools around the island.  The Power User Workshop offered teachers of all skill levels something of value – from learning the basics to discovering new ways to add interactivity and engagement to lessons.  Many thanks to our wonderful teacher presenters, Heather Byrne, Danice Mineshima, Ann Tanaka, Cindy Wong, Judy Tateyama, Liz Castillo, and Midori Burton, who graciously volunteered to share their expertise with others.

Click on the links below to explore the excellent resources shared during the workshop.

Meet Thomas Suarez, 12-year-old innovator, app designer, and teacher

This kid is great.  In this Manhattan Beach TEDX talk, he shares how his passion for games led him down a simple yet truly rewarding path… and, look here he is presenting among the greats about innovation and educational transformation.  In under five minutes, you’ll see how he moved from a consumer to researcher to producer to teacher to change agent.  And, what I love best, he’s still a kid – not a kid trying to be an adult.  Very cool… someone to follow for sure!  One of his best lines in his talk, “Students usually know a little bit more than teachers… with the technology.”  The audience got a kick of that statement.

This is why we do what we do…

There are special moments amidst the operational to-dos that crystallize why we do what we do…  this story comes from Moe, our District Manager on the Big Island.  It’s so touching, especially during this holiday season, that I had to share via the blog.  High school students who graduate from our after-school tutoring program, receive a free laptop.  It’s an incentive for them to complete the program and, more importantly, a tool they can use to produce, collaborate, and connect in the 21st century.  Here’s the story…

Moe writes, “We delivered our first nine laptops to grad students today and it went terrific.   A dad brought me outside to say that things haven’t been going so well for his family this year and we (IAAK) was able to give his kids a Christmas they really deserved.  It was quite an emotional moment for both of us.  Also, a student at Waiakea High will be getting her laptop tomorrow.  She will be moving back to the Marshall Islands and said she’s bringing the laptop as a present for her whole family.  Her mom and dad called saying how appreciative they were and asked me to come over for tea.  It’s days like these that keep us pushing to help as many families as we can.  Keep doing what you’re doing, great things are happening.”

It’s incredible to hear the impact our work is having on families – not just the kids we serve.   Thanks to the entire IAAK team for the dedication to serve children and their families and communities.  Thank you to Moe for reflecting and sharing this special moment with all of us.  Happy holidays!

Affordances of the IWB

Much of my work within the last few months has been dedicated to better understanding how the affordances of the interactive whiteboard can be leveraged to enhance teaching and learning in innovative ways.  So, really getting beyond the IWB as a fancy presentation tool and exploring ways the technology can support deep, rich collaboration and interaction.  Just to clarify – when I refer to “interaction”, I’m not just thinking about how a student interacts with the board or content at the board but rather interaction among students around content.  There is so much to discuss (and I will continue this thread in future blogs) but today I will share a research article that describes how IWBs can be used to orchestrate classroom dialogue.  After all, an active, noisy classroom filled with dialogue, argument and discussion support learning and engagement.

The article, “Using interactive whiteboards to orchestrate classroom dialogue”, written by Neil Mercer, Sara Hennessy, and Paul Warwick (faculty of Education at the University of Cambridge, UK) was published in Technology, Pedagogy, and Education in July 2010.  The study investigated how teachers could leverage the technical interactivity of the IWB to support dialogic interactivity.  “Dialogic pedagogy” is defined as “… [pedagogy] that actively builds on learners’ contributions, engages both teachers and students in generating and critically evaluating ideas, and encourages explicit reasoning and the joint construction of knowledge.”  Sounds very constructivist, right?  In the study, three teachers (elementary, middle, and secondary) with a level of expertise in IWB use and dialogic teaching participated in training, designed lessons, and then were observed in the classroom.

The authors highlight the technical interactivity of the IWB:

  • Drag and drop
  • Hide and reveal
  • Highlighting
  • Spotlighting
  • Animation (shapes can be rotated, flipped, etc.)
  • Annotation (text and graphical)
  • Storage of all material
  • Feedback
  • Automatic handwriting recognition and text formatting

The connection is then made between the technical interactivity and affordances for learning based on the teachers’ common belief that “…dialogue should make reasoning explicit and support the cumulative co-construction of knowledge and understanding.”  The study findings show that the IWB helped teachers carry out the following pedagogic intentions:

  • Scaffold learning
  • Support the temporal development of learning = reduce the cognitive load of students by focusing attention on key content
  • Involve pupils in the co-construction of knowledge
  • Encourage evaluation and synthesis
  • Develop a learning community
  • Develop pupil-pupil dialogue
  • Support provisionality of students’ evolving ideas
  • Guide lesson flow = pace
  • Develop pupil questioning

The teachers and researchers found that the IWB supported the widening conception of “dialogue” to include the use of “non-verbal dialogue” – the concept that new digital artifacts were created though annotation, drawing, manipulation, linking, sorting, etc. in conjunction with talk.  And, that these digital artifacts capture students’ developing understanding, becoming powerful assessment measures.  This quote captures it all, “Individual and collective thinking was embodied within a series of evolving digital representations that were purposefully manipulated, reformulated, annotated, saved and/or revisited so that meanings were created cumulatively over time through sustained, responsive dialogue.”  Powerful and inspiring findings that highlight the need to go beyond skills-training and pair instructional practice (in this case “dialogic pedagogy”) with the strategic use of the features and functions of the IWB.

Becoming a Black Belt on the Common Core State Standards

The Common Core Institute’s Black Belt Certification Hawaii cohort has kicked off to an exciting and productive start!  The learning process has begun for principals, curriculum coordinators, and teachers from a handful of charter schools who will apply the new knowledge, skills, and tools to support this major change initiative in their schools.   Kevin Baird, Chairman of the Common Core Institute, is facilitating the blended learning course.  For more information about this unique model of professional development, read my earlier blog post

Through the course of two days, full of lecture, discussion, application activities, and reflection, these are my big take-aways:

  • The implementation of Common Core State Standards is a significant change initiative.  As such, leaders need to use an organizational change approach to ensure success.  Key to this approach is addressing:  1) belief and emotion, 2) priorities, 3) scaffolds to make change simple and manageable.  Leaders need to address the emotional element of change before tackling the operational element of change.  For some people, the level of change will be greater. 
  • The vision of Common Core State Standards is college and career readiness
  • Begin by focusing on the College and Career Readiness anchor standards and the mathematical practice standards.  These practices pertain to shifts in instruction.  Think of these practices as opening the door for teachers to be creative in unit and lesson planning.  Start by encouraging teachers to:  1) increase the level of rigor through complex texts (higher lexile levels), non-fiction, and text-dependent questioning, 2) engage students in the practice of using evidence to persuade, and 3) integrate multi-modal, diverse sources of information (video, audio, simulations, etc.). 
  • Supporting teachers in this change initiative is essential to success.  The support will need to be in the form of training (don’t assume teachers have the skills), tools (simple resources and scaffolds), and time (time to understand and digest the standards, time to develop new lessons, time to talk and collaborate with peers – within and across grade levels).  The “reality” hit when we were challenged to adapt an existing lesson to address the gap between a HCPS III benchmark and the Common Core Standard and integrate the “big concepts” like text complexity, non-fiction, etc.   For many in the room, it was hard… but fun.  Experiencing this process will help the Black Belts effectively support their teachers/peers at their schools. 
  • It is not possible to teach a standard.  Rather, you teach the skills embedded within the standard.  We deconstructed a standard, following the process of identifying the learning targets and corresponding skills (knowledge, reasoning, performance, product), and matching to assessment methods. 

It was evident when we did our summary/wrap up that we all had learned a lot!  And, the process is just beginning!   Stay tuned for more reflections on our Black Belt certification journey.  I’ll leave you with a statement Kevin repeated throughout our training – “Get rid of perfect.”   It’s such a powerful and empowering statement, freeing people to try, learn, and grow.


Supporting the home-school connection on Molokai at this week’s innovative ‘Ohana Night

Time and time again, we observe evidence of technology creating bridges, fostering equity in the classroom, and supporting collaborative learning, and providing enriching learning opportunities – regardless of how old, how skilled, or how knowledgeable the learners are.  This is the power of technology for learning.  On Monday, December 15th at Kualapu’u Elementary Public Conversion Charter School on the island of Molokai parents, children, teachers, and administrators learned side-by-side, discovering how a curricular resource like BrainPOP can foster meaningful dialogue and skill-building. 

Kualapu’u Elementary Public Conversion Charter School seeks to encourage bridging school with the home and supports the family as the child’s first teacher.  As such, the school often provides Parent Learning Opportunities (PLO).  This PLO, however, was unique in that it focused on technology – how a web-based curricular resource offers hands-on, engaging, and relevant learning opportunities for both parent and other family caregivers (yes, even tutu and aunties joined us) and child.  It’s All About Kids was proud to partner with the school to design, develop, and implement the PLO.

The goals of the evening were to:

  • Bridge school with the home and support the family as the child’s first educator;
  • Model and promote collaboration and sharing among parents/caregivers, students, and the school community so that the school can learn from the “home” and vice versa;
  • Build digital literacy awareness and skills to increase access and use of high-quality online resources, not to mention re-defining “screen time”;
  • Showcase how the computer with appropriate, educationally-sound resources can be a powerful tool for parent-child interaction and “family time”;
  • Have fun and learn!

The evening was a success…

  • All attendees shared positive feedback and requested more events like this parent engagement event.
  • Principal Trinidad showed her commitment to the vision by offering parents/caregivers access to school computers to use BrainPOP, if needed.
  • According to Principal Trinidad, “… since the workshop a parent told me that they used BrainPOP for their 8th grade child to understand linear equations.  Also, grade one teachers are immediately using and looking for topics to supplement math instruction.  The use of videos helps children understand concepts in simple form.”
  • The best quote of the evening?  A second grade students turned, smiled, and said, “This is fun!”
  • A dad shared, “Our kids can’t stop talking about BrainPOP!  What a great alternative to television and video games!  Excellent!”

Mahalo to the Kualapu’u School community for its good work and commitment.