Monday, March 15, 2010

Go into the Light, Carol Ann...

As I continue to struggle with our current vision and model of school, I have recently had an opportunity to go to an enlightening and inspiring conference entitled, Michigan Association of Computer Users in Learning (MACUL.) The conference had numerous presenters that have revamped what they do in the classroom while using technology to make their life a great deal easier. Now, their lives were not easier at first, during the learning process, but now could not imagine their life without Google Apps.
The word on the street was that I might be so inspired after this conference, that I might expect staff to engage in various new experiences and use new tools and strategies in the classroom. Well, truth be told, I had those expectations before I went to the conference, but now I have a better idea of how to explore those topics without overwhelming the staff who are at different comfort levels of technology integration (hopefully.) I do not want any of our staff to "Be Left Behind." Google is going to revolutionize education, and we cannot ignore it or refuse the wealth of opportunities that comes along with it.
There are some myths that Jacobs (2010) states in the Curriculum 21 book:
Myth 1:"The old days are good enough--There are real dangers in glorifying the good old days and and clinging to our schools myths and stories. How can we grow the curriculum if schools are shackled by memories?"
Myth 2: "We are better off if we think alike -but don't think too much--Often times those who use the word elite use it in a pejorative sense when referring to a well educated person who has made a significant accomplishment." Society tends to give props to those people who have  "made it" by pulling themselves up by the boot straps and find them more highly regarded than those with higher education. I know there are times when I have met new people, I have felt a little embarrassed to say I have almost completed my doctoral degree or I won't even admit to it at all, which sounds so crazy as I sit here and type...
Myth 3: "Too much creativity is dangerous--and the arts are frills": Clearly the 21st century skills require learners to collaborate, create, use real-world tools, be personally and socially responsible, and be culturally and globally aware-we have to foster this kind of creative learning environment.
If technology is going to help us create our new vision of what schools look like (or don't look like in a virtual classroom) we have to embrace it.
Carol Ann's mom in Poltergeist said, "Go into the light, Carol Ann, it is OK, go into the light!" Carol Ann was afraid and didn't want to, but her she trusted her mom, and believed that her mom would not send her in the wrong direction or down the wrong path. Think of the light as the world of new technology. Although it can be scary, you have to go into the light if you are going to survive, but go there seeking support from those asking you to go there, and be brave, you will come out on the side and lead our kids down the path to the 21st century!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

To Do More with Less, or Do "Different" with Less, That is the Question.

In my last post, I stated that in light of the dismal financial future and the demands that are being placed on public educators, we will have to do more with less. This really struck a nerve with a colleague. So much so that we had a conversation about the statement and I shared the number of times I have heard "we have to do more with less" in various settings. The response to me was "maybe it is not doing more with less, but doing things differently." I think I am fully aware we have to do things differently, but what things? The problem is that no one really knows what those things are. When the future is filled with uncertainty, it is difficult for us to forge ahead when we do not know what the end result will look like. We struggle when we do not have an example of what it should like. When we have to create something from scratch, fear and anxiousness begin to set it. This happens only because we want to do things right...once again, what things are we talking about?
When I feel like I need guidance or inspiration I turn to my "teacher" books, a joke I share with my colleague mentioned above, as we tease each other and say we are "teacher geeks" because we seem to share the same interests in books that help us perfect our craft. So the book I just finished, Curriculum 21: Essential Education for a Changing World, Jacobs (2010) states that we need to create new versions of school as well as update the curriculum. In the description of updating the curriculum, it is vital to define essential curriculum. This definition should include removal and replacement of outdated material, skills, and ways we assess students. Rather than take on the huge challenge of upgrading all aspects of curriculum at once, it is recommended that schools take one piece at a time. Targeting one unit a semester can feel a lot less daunting than revamping everything you use to teach and assess at one fell swoop.
The author also describes that maybe we really need to redefine what it is we call school. The structures that we can begin to redefine would be scheduling (daily and yearly, even what it means K-12); the way students are grouped (age and grade); the way we configure staff; and how learning environments are used (physical and virtual.) These structures can also impact curriculum as we now know it.
If we have schedules, groupings, structural space, and a curriculum that still models the schools of the 1930s, we are overdue in taking on the challenge to make schools support what our students need to be able to know and do. Our students should not have to conform to what we so rigidly keep in place, because if we change it, we won't know what the end result might look like.
In the words of my fellow doctoral cohort member, We can't say that because we use an overhead instead of the chalkboard, or an LCD projector instead of an overhead, or a smartboard instead of an LCD projector that we are progressing and using 21st century tools, we are still doing the same thing just with new bells and whistles. This is not the "doing things differently" that we mean is it? Or is the "doing things differently" mean we have to "blow up" those traditional models and start from scratch, with the ultimate goal of creating the most engaging learning environment and curriculum that there is not any type of learner that cannot succeed and that any teacher would not love to teach everyday! Yes, I know maybe my head is in the clouds again, maybe it should be my dissertation topic...