A few weeks ago (June 28th, to be exact) I was involved in an #edchat where the topic was: What does a flipped classroom look like and is it a sustainable model for teaching and learning? One of the strands of discussion that took place inevitably centered around the use of technology, where Tom Whitby reminded us that:
Being a certified technology (the subject) teacher, I replied to both Tom and the person who re-tweeted his statement. I couldn’t find a screenshot of my exact statement, but I know it was something like “Ed tech isn’t a subject, but technology (former industrial arts) is. Let’s not confuse them.”
Certainly I could’ve been more eloquent in 140 characters… perhaps sending a follow-up tweet explaining why the different uses of the term were personal to me. It didn’t hit me until afterwards that some people might live in states/countries/provinces where there isn’t a mandatory “technology” class in their school. This post was meant to educate people about the different uses of the term so that you understand where I’m coming from.
Confusion: Technology Education
No longer called “shop” or “industrial arts”, New York State (and many others) revised their standards and renamed the program to “Technology” in the mid-1980s. Wood shop, metal shop, plastics, transportation, electronics, drafting, principles of engineering, problem solving, and even some farming courses in the rural districts fell beneath this umbrella. One year of technology is required in New York State by the time a student finishes the 8th grade. Most schools offer the course .5 year in 7th and .5 year in 8th grade, most often splitting the year with either Art or Family & Consumer Science (formerly known as home economics).
In a technology education course there aren’t any rules forcing the use of instructional technologies at all. I could teach (and did, years ago) a complete semester of technology never as much as touching a computer. Technology (in New York) is based on seven key ideas:
- Engineering Design
- Management of Technology
- Impacts of Technology
- History of Technology
- Tools, Resources, and Processes of Technology
- Computer Technology
- Technological Systems
The term “technology” in this sense is defined as “anything human-made that extends our ability to do something.” Hammers are technology, as are computers, ipods, doorbells, cow bells, underwear, and dynamite. Technology is very much a course here in NY, and it has little to do with what we think of as technology in everyday vernacular.
To make things a bit fuzzier, NY doesn’t currently have any standards for Ed Tech. Unlike most other states who have adopted the ISTE NETS standards, the only time many of us in NY hear the word “technology” is when referring to the course. My district has adopted the NETS standards, but I’m going to guess fewer than five percent of the staff are even aware of this. It isn’t state-tested, our teaching certificates don’t depend on it, it isn’t part of the observation process… and the implementation of educational technologies in the classroom doesn’t seem to be a priority for most administrators. I’d love to discuss the ed tech support system in place but it’s pretty complex. Suffice it to say many districts don’t have a single instructional technologist on staff and they contract all of their PD out to regional BOCES systems – which is good in some ways, but really limits teachers to the amount of support they have when they’re in the middle of class and something technical “just isn’t working”.
Local source of confusion: International Baccalaureate (IB) Technology
Our district is an IB district. Not just one building or two, but all of our middle school students are part of the program and any high school student who wishes to pursue their diploma is free to do so regardless of the building they are in. I’m not going to talk much about IB itself here – there are plenty of resources online – but I did want to point out how they refer to technology. IB Technology includes any subject or lesson based around their 5-step design cycle (Investigate, Plan, Design, Create, Evaluate). In my district this includes business courses, technology courses, f/c sciences, and middle school health. Even though the state of NY tenures us in our individual areas, IB puts us all under the same umbrella. This just adds one more level of confusion to the word – especially since all of these classes are referred to as “technology” when we’re discussing schedules with our students.
Global source of confusion: Instructional / Educational Technology
This, of course, needs no explanation. Generally referring to modern computer/media-based educational tools, this is what most of the people who read this post will think of when they think of technology. In some districts and states there are people referred to as “technology integrators” – they aren’t going to show you how to use a bandsaw as part of your unit on 18th century capitalism, but they are going to help with setting up a blog or showing how Twitter can be an amazing source of information.
Another source of confusion: Information Technology (IT)
I can’t tell you how many times a friend or colleague has called me excitedly about a job opening they found. ”Corning Incorporated is looking for a few IT people! You should apply!” Since I loved computer programming and networking, I’d actually be able to pull off one of these jobs if I had to. However, IT is much more of a technical subject than Ed Tech, IB Tech, or Tech Ed. <–and yes, I just differentiated between strands of technology by using the term “technical”.
IT is based more in the innerworkings of communication devices and systems. An IT person can probably program a router, diagnose dropped packets on a VoIP network, or set up a DMZ area to keep hackers out of your important data. They are the ones who deal with security, connectivity, and usability for the end-users.
I’m an IB technology teacher of technology education who has a degree in (and an affinity for) educational technology and who has a bit of experience in the information technology world. Does that win me an iPad?
The battle of the long-named events was brewing long before people began arriving in Philadelphia for the 2011 edition of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) conference. At first glance one might think they would be complementary to one another – both were very education-based, both involved a lot of deep thinking, and both leveraged the enormous conference population to fill their seats. From my perspective, however, the two events were about as far apart as one could get.
I began my morning with a very large and inspired group of educators for EduBloggerCon. For those who don’t know, this is an unconference that takes place annually the day prior to the ISTE conference. By definition, the unconference model asks the participants to share their knowledge by offering ideas for sessions and then voting on what topic(s) they want to attend. The sessions are organized into blocks (1-hour long, in this case) and people scurry off to find a group with a topic that’s personally interesting or relevant to themselves. The goal of any unconference is for meaningful conversations to take place. Led and moderated by the attendees themselves, there are no “rock stars” in one of these settings as everyone has an equal opportunity to participate.
I was able to attend one session, which I plan to write a blog post about later. In that session there were maybe thirty people – perhaps twenty of whom spoke up and added their thoughts to the conversation. Everyone was engaged, people were forming personal relationships with others, and it didn’t feel as if someone was telling a story. We were creating one.
Unfortunately I couldn’t stay for the remainder of the EduBloggerCon sessions. TEDxPhiladelphiaED was taking place at 1:00PM and we were asked to be fed and at the event by noon. I went on an excursion with @MonicaAnnaBatac and @Brooker1015 to the Philly subway system for the ride across town. While down in the hottest, smelliest subway station I’d ever been in we ran across two other TEDxPhilly-goers in @khokanson and @MichaelBaker. We got to the building, through security and registration, and eventually to our seats.
To say I was surprised to find a LiveScribe pen in my attendee “gift bag” would be completely downplaying the excitement that I felt. A pen! A pen with a microphone! A pen with a microphone and a camera sensor that I can upload to my computer! Yes! #TEDxPhillyED was getting off to an amazing start.
…and then the presentations began. To say there was audio trouble is an understatement. From the beginning the headsets would cut out, some didn’t work at all, some mics were turned on while being hooked up, and audio from the computer/video equipment wasn’t configured to work with the rest of the system. The worst part of the audio problems was knowing that when I applied I specifically indicated that I would be willing to help with A/V if needed. Throughout the event I kept thinking there must’ve been some catastrophic malfunctions in the control room; near the end of the evening, though, someone mentioned in passing that they had nobody with soundboard experience working.
Sessions began to get extended due to the A/V issues. People got hungry. During the timed breaks there was some discussion happening in the atrium, but most of the conversation around the snack table was concerning the technical issues. I walked out into the foyer and was shown how to use my new LiveScribe pen – a little too commercial for TED in general, but at the same time it was a welcome 3-minute training for me. And all at once someone said “time to get back in there”, forcing the group of us to rush back to our seats in time for the next speaker.
Overall, I found the speakers to be absolutely incredible and engaging.
But something was missing: Participation.
One of the tenets of constructivism, which is the most basic building block of a solid 21st-century education system, is that the learners must construct their own knowledge. They need to be engaged, encouraged to offer ideas and to try things, and they should strive to obtain multiple perspectives on a topic. Very little of which happened at the TEDx event. EduBloggerCon, however, offered an environment that didn’t only allow for this to happen, but forced it to.
I felt like a student in a progressive, relaxed, knowledge-rich environment at EduBloggerCon. I saw the value not only in the content, but also in the stories of the people who were offering the content. There was debate, there were moments when emotions ran high, there were times when nobody knew what to say… but EduBloggerCon was about building relationships and opening our minds up for change.
I felt like a student in my grandmother’s one-room schoolhouse as I sat through the presentations at TEDxPhiladelphiaED. There were topics that didn’t really interest me – but there was no other alternative. I wanted to stand up and stretch every so often but I felt it would’ve been looked down upon. The organizers were in an auditorium full of educational technologists but never did ask if anyone knew how to run a sound board. The feeling was very formal… which I guess I should’ve expected.
I haven’t felt like a student in quite a while. Having both of those experiences in one day really turned me off to the lecture-style of teaching and has inspired me to put the extra time and effort in so that my students are never feeling like I did on Saturday afternoon. The sad thing is, I really would’ve liked to chat with all of the TEDx presenters. They were all such incredible speakers. But the format of this event put me in the “student” caste, while the presenters stood above us as the “rock stars”. I was able to speak briefly with a couple of them, but I found it to be more of the exception than the rule.
What do you think? Content notwithstanding which style of teaching & learning do you prefer? Which event do you think was more meaningful and left a longer-lasting impression? Did anyone feel the same way I did?
June 30th, 2011 in
, Misc. Education
| tags: Collaboration
I love projects. I love the sight of freshly-hung drywall with hanging work lights and a haze of dust in the air. I love the sound of an engine firing for the first time in a decade. I love pickup trucks beside the road that “need TLC” or used tools “for parts or repair”. I even love walking through old buildings thinking about what updates and changes I’d make if they were mine.
One thing I love even more: getting something to the point of “near perfection.”
Because once I get something as close to perfect as possible I allow myself to move on to the next project. And as someone who loves projects, there’s nothing more satisfying than tackling something fresh and new without worrying about splitting time between multiple jobs.
As a project hoarder (I truly am…) I have enough stuff lined up in my head to keep me busy well past my death. But I’d be unhappy if I didn’t.
So here’s the problem: I’m looking for a job as a Director of Technology (preferably in a school district). I’ve interviewed multiple times in the last few years and have actually made it to the final round three different times. Out of those three times, more than once I’ve called the potential employer up and requested that my name be removed from consideration after being given a tour of the facilities. See, here in upstate NY almost every school district has had extensive infrastructure and technology upgrades in the last few years. You walk into pristine server rooms, every piece of cable is labeled, there’s a wireless infrastructure able to handle 1:1 programs, etc.
It’s all too perfect.
I want to make a difference. That’s what drove me into education in the first place, and that’s why I think I went into technology. I went to a fairly prestigious technical & engineering university as a freshman and was literally the first guy anyone called when they had computer problems. I never advertised or asked for money… just loved being the guy who would walk across campus with poledit.exe (one of my many tricks) on a floppy disk and would walk out of the person’s room with a handshake and sometimes a cold beverage (preferably a Coke Classic). I probably could’ve made some serious cash that year, but never felt compelled to charge. I decided that I enjoyed showing people how to fix things just as much as I liked fixing them myself, so I went into Technology Education (and later Educational Technology).
Now I’m not sure what to do about this. I continue to volunteer at local businesses, doing all sorts of cabling and server work and setting up off-site backups amongst other things; some the small bits and pieces that I love tinkering with. But I really want to be able to lead a school district somewhere. I don’t want to walk in and have my largest issue be changing the bulbs in a projector or deploying the newest version of Paint.net to the school. I want a job that doubles as a long-term project… not one that’s simply maintaining the status quo. In the meantime I tell people I’m waiting for the “perfect job” to come along – which hopefully includes a lot of imperfection.
Anybody else out there have this “problem”? Is this normal? Do schools that look perfect have hidden flaws buried within?
This is how I began my blogging hobby over a year ago. A specific topic, a specific date, and an open invitation to submit my ideas to the world. I’m very happy to participate in the Day of National Blogging for Real Education Reform.
I’m a systems thinker. I detail in my Bio the fact that I am passionate about the entire educational system, from the taxpayers to the students to the cafeteria workers to the plumbers. Many people are quick to place the blame of so-called “failing schools” on poor teachers, unfunded mandates, overpaid administrators, inadequate facilities, greedy teachers’ unions, community strife, MTV, and so on. From my point of view, however, anyone who blames the shortfalls of public education on just one or two factors is oversimplifying a very complex systemic breakdown.
The opposite is also true. Anybody who thinks real, meaningful change can occur system-wide by changing one piece of the puzzle is probably in for a rude awakening. For real, meaningful, lasting reform to take place in our educational system the stars have to align and multiple changes need to occur simultaneously. Any of these things by themselves will support a certain level of reform; the more that occur, the more effective the reform will be.
What I’m going to suggest today – my “recipe 4 reform” – will detail a few of the changes that I believe need to be made for effective pedagogical reform to occur.
We’ll begin by emptying the entire bag of traditional learning into a large mixing bowl. There’s nothing quite like the smell of century-old traditions and systems flowing out of its container and into the 21st century. Its probably a good idea to mix it up a little bit now, as there’s a significant chance it’ll be coming out lumped into strands once thought to make sense. Once its all in the bowl you’re ready for the next step.
Unfortunately our recipe doesn’t call for some of the stuff that has already been emptied into the bowl. Any small pieces of
bananas sages on the stages that you may find, please throw in the trash. Likewise, if you’re able to find any traces of boring professional development, flash-in-the-pan initiatives, or unmeaningful grading schemes please be sure to remove them and discard them. What we should be left with is a fine, powdery mix of everything that was good a century ago.
Next, add to the bowl a container of web tools (in some markets this is sold as “web 2.0″). These come in many flavors – finding the right mixture is always the chef’s preference. Along those same lines we’re going to add a good amount of online social professional development (the type that’s flexible and comes in a variety of shapes and sizes). Grab your blender and mix that soupy mess all together, being sure to leave nothing untouched.
Let everything sit for a while; perhaps long enough for the teachers to embrace what has changed but not so long that the test scores drop. That would require a re-write of the recipe, which, like everything else, is nearly impossible to do with the current lame-duck congress.
Once this mixture starts to gel, it’ll want a box to constrain itself to. The most fun part of the solidification process, however, is what we don’t do. We aren’t going to actually put this slop into a mold. We’re going to put it in a plastic bag and allow all of the users to squeeze it into their own mold. It’s always more fun to see what others can do with something than it is to force them to do something in a specific manner.
Since the outcome is unique for everyone – students, teachers, administrators, etc – make sure to document the process and the product. Since the final test in this recipe lies in that documentation, make sure to share it digitally so that others can review it and make comments. This portfolio should follow the user from A-Z, K-12, or from newbie through competent so that at the end of the day everyone can prove what they’ve done and where they’ve been.
I know it’s contrived… and I had to eliminate a handful of ingredients in order to make it fit in the “blog” category and not in the “longer-than-the-dictionary” one. My point? Mix it up! Let’s make the changes that *everyone* agrees have to be made but everyone is too scared to implement.
This post began as a story about one school district, but it morphed into something completely different. Certainly not my best bit of writing, but wanted to get the thought out there and maybe get a few thoughts to help me figure things out.
Many communities in New York State have a huge problem with “brain drain”, which is a term used to describe the fact that many high school graduates go off to college and don’t return home. Whether it be the weather, the high taxes, the lack of jobs, or just the sense of adventure the majority of my friends have fit into this category and continue to do so as the state struggles to regain economic stability.
For some towns or cities, one potential answer to this problem is to put a lot of money into their educational system. The thinking is that if the schools are as good as they can be people will want to live in the area, businesses will come, and alumni will have better memories – possibly attracting them (or their money) back.
But the first step is always acknowledging problem, right?
My school district has failed to pass a major building project ever since I can remember – we’re the only school district in the county (or region, actually) in that situation. The administration spent many years and tens of thousands of dollars working with a non-partisan committee to come up with a “master plan” for the district – an idea that wouldn’t have added any money to the current tax rate and would’ve given the students completely renovated schools throughout the district. As it was put up for a vote in the community the things that we heard all the time were “the schools were fine when I was there” or “teachers need to stop whining and deal with what they’ve got”. The result of the vote was good – for the naysayers. And the Board of Education had to go back to the drawing board and try to figure out what to do with our aging and crumbling buildings.
And then it hit me: the problem is that we’re doing too good of a job for the community.
If we had a dropout rate of 20%, we were on the Schools in Need of Improvement (SINI) list, or we had trouble attracting good teachers to our district I think the community would’ve voted almost unanimously for the project. But we’re resourceful. We’ve managed to take some of the worst facilities in the state and still cultivate students who are ready for college and/or the workforce as good as (or better than) neighboring districts.
It seems that we the school district is at fault. Many people haven’t seen the needs for change here; they haven’t yet acknowledged the problem. The overall community is too proud for that.
But a few miles down the road is another school district – my alma mater, in fact. They’ve had more building projects in the last decade than my current district has had in the last forty years. Their community doesn’t argue about their facilities – when they are asked to vote for education, they do. And for good reason: they want their kids to be successful enough to get out of town. That’s right – they value their schools so much not because they want their kids to come back home after college but because they want them to be able to leave.
I'm outta here!
That district is in an area so financially-strapped anymore that people are leaving daily. Yet the schools have new music and technology facilities, freshly renovated science labs, all new energy-efficient windows, a new kitchen and cafeteria, and many other new areas. They’re talking about another $8M expenditure this next year because they “have extra money” floating around. The community has pride – don’t get me wrong – but they aren’t too proud to admit that they’re in trouble. They aren’t too proud to dig out their wallets and pay for an education for their community’s children. And they aren’t too proud to tell their children to RUN FOR THE HILLS when they get the opportunity.
So are good facilities mandatory for a quality education? Is it wrong for a community to support their schools just to encourage the kids to pack up and go? If we offer a quality education to all students – regardless of the economy of the community – does anything else really matter? Do the goals of retaining or retreating make a difference when it comes to supporting the schools?