The Reflective Educator

Education ∪ Math ∪ Technology

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Tag: professional development

How can social media facilitate transformation in education?

I believe that social media has the potential to facilitate a transformation in education in a way that no other communication tool before it has.

First, social media allows teachers to learn about ideas outside of their school or school district. Too often we are isolated within our classrooms, within our schools, and within our school districts, and we make assumptions about how certain educational practices should be done. When we see other schools doing things differently, it makes us wonder how we could change or improve our own practices. While other broadcast mediums (such as print and television) have this capability, social media allows us to both find out about an alternative practice and discuss the details of implementing this practice directly with whomever has created it.

Professional learning for teachers is also changing. Educators can now use social media to connect with ideas any time, any place. The #edchat discussion that happens weekly on Twitter is more similar to an Edcamp than it is to a traditional conference. An enormous percentage of what teachers learn comes from informal settings, and social media can extend the times and places where this informal learning can take place.

Just like their students, educators also need to feel like part of a community, and in some schools, they may be too different from their peers to form emotional attachments within their school. Social media allows these educators to find a peer group outside of their school with whom they can connect and form communities of care. Educators who feel like they are part of a community have greater morale, and are better able to cope with the stress their jobs entail.

I have also found that social media both exposes educators to the big ideas of education and the "what can I do on Monday" type of resource. It is important to have both – the first because the big ideas of education are what drive change, and the second because having resources available to use on a daily basis give you time to think about the big ideas.

Social media allows educators to, as a network, collaborate to solve problems that none of them could individually solve. I recently started a presentation on formative assessment. I seeded it with 20 examples of formative assessment, and then sent a link to my network of educators asking for more examples. The presentation is now up to 55 examples, and I could not have come up with all of those examples myself

There are also some problems (or maybe they are more accurately named opportunities?) with social media.

I have seen many examples (and participated in many examples) of miscommunication that occurs because of the general terseness of the medium, and sometimes because of a fundamental disagreement about what the language being used means. I had a half-an-hour-long argument with another educator which only ended when I realized that she was using a completely different definition of learning than me. It is important to take the time to clarify language, and where necessary, link to less concise explanations of what we mean. This is one reason why I think that every educator who participates in social media should have some web-space available to which they can link when necessary.

Social media also favors people who are already well-connected. I am able to use social media as an especially effective means of collaboration because I have many educators in my network already. For people who are just getting started with Twitter, they may see it as more of a means to follow people who broadcast, rather than as much of a tool for connecting with and discussing educational ideas with other educators. As someone who is well-connected, I do my best to share some of the good projects and ideas I see from people within my network, so that my network can be at least in part a shared resource.

It is also well-known that people tend to repeat opinions that are popular more than opinions held by a minority. We naturally have a desire to be part of a group, and one consequence is that we can sometimes fall into the trap of groupthink. This phenomena also happens at the school level! It is therefore important that every network should contain some dissenters, some people who are willing to go against the crowd. We also need to think about our reasons for believing something to be true – do we really believe it, do we have evidence to support our belief, or are we just following the crowd?

Social media by itself will not change education – that responsibility lies with the people who use it, but change starts with desire, and social media can provide information which may lead to a desire to change.

I did professional development all wrong

Last year, I presented a lot on the need to improve mathematics instruction. I had pictures, I had questions, I had effective arguments, and my audience was engaged. I could present like the best of them on some of the ways that we can improve mathematics instruction. What I did not have was effective teaching.

The role of someone involved in professional development for teachers is to help the audience, teachers, improve their practice. It may be that they take part of what you do and use it, and it may be that they attempt to copy your method exactly. The problem is that the typical presentation does little to improve someone’s practice. It may inspire them, it may anger them (I’ve done both), and it may provide some helpful tips, but effective change in practice does not come from someone presenting on their practice. The best you can hope for from a presentation is small, temporary, surface level changes.

Improving one’s practice requires thinking. It requires time spent looking at the context of one’s school, on the way that one approaches one’s own teaching, and on what other practices one can incorporate into one’s own pedagogy. It requires discussion so that the learner can take the ideas they are assimilating and seek clarification and direction.

So instead of spending the entire time I present talking, I give participants much more opportunity to talk. Instead of participants sitting around listening, I give them opportunities to do. The last few workshops I’ve done have been more about conversations. They’ve involved rich, mathematical problem solving activities. They’ve involved teachers having insights, and sharing those insights, often things that never would have occurred to me. I’ve learned much more from my workshop participants than when I was a presenter.

I spent an afternoon talking with my colleagues about computational thinking, how computational thinking really is mathematical thinking, and how if our students get opportunities to program, then they are doing mathematics. My colleagues were working on a particularly challenging problem, and one of them stopped and said, "Okay, I get it. Solving problems is hard. I can see why the kids struggle with this stuff." This kind of insight, not directly related to my objectives, was probably the most valuable insight to come out of that workshop. It never would have happened had I not given participants a chance to think and to do.

Edcamp weekend

I attended Edcamp Delta this past weekend. On the same weekend, Edcamp SD43 occurred in Port Coquitlam. Both Edcamp events had a fair number of people, which is a fairly impressive draw for a Saturday professional learning session that no one is forced to go to.

The sessions were heavily tweeted about. Here is the archive for the Edcamp SD43 hashtag. Here is the archive for the Edcamp Delta hashtag.

Every session felt really useful and/or interesting during the day. I spent the morning talking about technology in the primary grades, and on an educational panel talking about education in British Columbia. In the afternoon, I facilitated a session on "Improving Professional Development" which Brad and I continued during the last session time.

I’m excited to report that Edcamp is flourishing in BC.

Ineffective professional development

I tweeted out the following yesterday during the #edchat discussion. So far 72 people have retweeted it (4 more since I took that screen-shot).

Ineffective professional development

 

Every teacher is very likely to have been part of ineffective professional development at some point in their career, either as the organizer, the presenter, or the recipient of the professional development. Bad professional development, while fortunately not the norm, is very common.

I’ve been in professional development sessions were totally inappropriate for me as a math teacher, and sessions where I already knew everything that was being presented. I’ve presented sessions where I had participants literally falling asleep (although not recently!) and I’ve fallen asleep (nearly) in a presentation. I attended virtually the same algebra tiles session at least 3 times while working in NYC.

There are a few reasons I can think of why this happens.

  • The professional development content is inappropriate for teachers because it is not at related to their practice.
  • There is either expertise or a lack of expertise assumed of the participants by the presenter when presenting, which means the presentation is not developmentally appropriate.
  • The style of the professional development doesn’t meet the teachers’ learning needs.
  • The teachers have been coerced or forced into the professional development.
  • The presenter does not develop a positive relationship with the teachers.
  • There is little opportunity to interact with the material and discuss the ideas being presented.
  • There is little to no follow up after the session.
  • Much professional development lacks feedback for the teachers as to whether they have learned anything.
  • The teachers in the session have personal problems or concerns which interfere with their ability to learn during the professional development.

(Do these reasons remind you of the reasons why students sometimes struggle with school?)

What can we do to ensure that we develop and participate in meaningful professional development? What can we do to convert professional development into professional learning?

Observing other educators working

After school today we had our monthly Middle Years Program meeting.  One of the things we worked at this meeting was vertical planning, which is when a bunch of people teaching the same subject at different levels meet to attempt to ensure continuity within that subject.  They are themselves very useful meetings, and if you aren’t having them yet at your school, you should be.  One of the things that I brought up in this meeting is how much I’d like to be able to observe everyone else teaching.

I remember when I first started teaching I used to go an observe other teachers all the time.  I probably did 20 or 30 informal observations of my colleagues in my first 2 years teaching.  I found these sessions extremely useful as they allowed me a chance to see what other educators did.  Not everyone I observed was awesome, but to be honest, watching someone else make mistakes helps prevent you from making the same mistakes.  

I never really got the same opportunity in the last two schools I worked at, so I decided to bring up the topic of peer observation and see how it went. My colleagues, who are awesome, were totally into it. So I borrowed a copy of the master teacher schedule, which for some reason I just found out about today, and am going to plan some sessions asap.  I’m very excited.

Without being able to see what other educators DO, my own practice will stagnate.  I may be able to prop up my practice by experimenting with the usefulness of new technologies, but I’d really like to improve my own practice, both through observing other educators, and by having my own practice critiqued.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Reflection on adult learning session

This morning I was not able to attend a session on using iPod touches in the classroom because it was cancelled, and then I missed an opportunity to learn more about Smartboards because the session was full.  I was upset but sat down and looked through the program and tried to find an alternative.  Finally I settled on a session about learning about how adults learn differently than children.

I ended up being glad I attended this session largely because I managed to find some relevance in it toward my expanded professional development role next year.  My reasoning for attending this session in the first place was that I could use some training in teaching adults.

Essentially what I learned that in terms of HOW you teach adults, pretty much the best practices that work with kids work with adults as well.  The presenter listed the top things that adults need to be able to learn properly, as she went through the list I recognized it as a list of things that work really well when teaching students. The big things on the list that I saw were that adult learners want to be comfortable when learning, may need learning accommodations, they have relevant outside experience, and that they need to be shown respect.

What I learned that was a reinforcement of something I knew, is that adults have much different motivation for being in your class or professional development session than do students.  For kids, they pretty much all have to be in your classroom for some reason and often lack much choice about which courses they take.  As a result, we spend a lot of time as educators trying to motivate students as to the relevance of our material.  While this is true to a lesser degree for adults, often even when they are forced into your session they have both extrinsic and intrinsic reasons for being in your class.

So the lesson is, focus on the way you teach, and not on the adult motivation to me, since you really lack control over motivation.  You can generally assume that the adults will participate and belong, as long as you focus on making the instruction appropriate.  You should differentiate your instruction, provide alternative assessments, be flexible, adjust your instruction for your differently abled learners, and all of the other things that we consider to be best practices in teaching.

Preliminary results for survey on technology training

A couple of days ago I posted a Google form asking one simple question.

Estimate how many hours of technology related training occur at your school each year.

After only 2 days up, I’ve received 30 responses, which seem to be from a wide variety of different schools, and almost all of which are from people I’ve never met before.  The preliminary results are posted below, as well excerpts from the comments added by the people completing the surveys.

Number of hours of training Number of respondents
Less than 5 hours 16
5 hours – 10 hours 5
10 hours – 20 hours 1
20 hours – 50 hours 4
More than 50 hours 3

 Some comments below:

  • Training is certainly being offered, but not on a terribly organised basis.  Our head of tech is simply, at present, trying to stimulate more interest.  Training sessions that are setup are poorly attended (3-5 people in general, I’d say).
  • We are fortunate to have a keen staff who want to be trained. We have a marvellous in-house trainer so…it works!
  • There are also other opportunities to receive training at a conference for my subject area, but frequently we are not given permission to attend these conferences due to funding issues or other issues deemed more important than my attendance at one of these conferences. This is called politics.
  • Technology is something [our] school districts love to talk about, but when it comes to spending the money to really get serious…well they would rather fund the football team.
  • Our technology expert was made available to us upon request in order to serve our needs with regard to technology.  This was very useful, as technology training on its own is, in my opinion, quite a waste of time. It’s great to know what’s available, but to spend PD hours en masse to learn about something which you are not immediately going to put into practice is like learning French and having no one to speak to in that language. pretty soon…who remembers?  I had specific questions about setting up projectors and Promethean Boards, and because I learned what I wanted to know, I now regularly use that technology.
  • All tech training is self-administered or self-taught among the 6 staff members at my small school.  Basically, it’s minimal if not non-existent.
  • There is usually 0 hours of organized group technology training at my school. If you need help with an issue, a technician is called in or one of the staff members who is considered a "technology expert" would help. You have to take the initiative to ask for help because it won’t be offered. It’s sad but true.
  • Technology training for teachers is costly in our state. Our national economy is so poor that we no longer have the support of the Feds. As a result I have bought pieces of equipment because I knew the district would not reimburse on  teaching items (overhead projectors and pushcart). I’m lucky to have a job!
  • Dozens of courses are available afterschool but taking classes [is] optional.
  • Mostly focuses on MS Office, electronic gradebook, electronic lesson planning.

What is abundantly clear is that most teachers surveyed are in a school where technology training is lacking.  A recent introductory session on one program used at school took an hour at my school.  I was surprised that more than half of respondents indicated they had such little official training at their school.  At my school we spent an entire PD day where we offered 10 different technology related workshops for teachers to choose from (as well as another 10 non-tech workshops).

Any comments?