Sunday, December 31, 2017

#OneWord 2018 - DISRUPT


My #oneword for 2018 is DISRUPT.  Disrupt is often considered in negative terms, so let me further explain my #oneword choice.

As we close out 2017 and look ahead to 2018, I seriously considered using the same #oneword I used in 2016 and 2017; INNOVATE. (#OneWord2017 - Innovate) After all, in 2017, our state passed an “innovations” bill to encourage more dialog and planning to provide more innovative learning experiences for students.  Additionally, my district now has an innovations committee to rethink how students learn best.  These are wonderful opportunities, but, it’s time for a new #oneword to challenge me 2018.  Here are a few thoughts that support DISRUPT in positive terms:

1) In a 2013 Forbes article (Disruption vs. Innovation: What's The Difference?), the difference between innovation and disruption is outlined:
  • Disruptors are innovators, but not all innovators are disruptors -- in the same way that a square is a rectangle but not all rectangles are squares.
2) The 2013 TEDxChange event’s theme was “Positive Disruption.”
  • Disruption is usually unwelcome. It represents conflict, chaos, and potential danger. We discourage disruptive behavior in our homes and our societies, often favoring passivity and compliance instead.
  • But disruption can be a positive — sometimes vital — catalyst for change. It can challenge old assumptions, ignite conversations, activate authorities and expose new possibilities. Disruption can shed a unique light on difficult issues, giving a fresh urgency and perspective to the challenges of our global community.
  • To solve the most intractable challenges...we need positive disruption. It is the path to true progress.
3) Making ‘Disruption’ A Positive Word
  • Disruption is not only the point where something is interrupted, or broken, or changed.  It is also the point where something better is created, where something new improves what it breaks, and where the interruption is just the beginning point for what is to come. While breaking away from the status quo is important to a successful disruptor, their purpose in doing so is to improve, not cause chaos. This is why we should embrace, rather than fear, disruption.

Let’s create a culture together that values creativity and courage to think both “inside” and “outside” the box, and when necessary, "throw out" the box to reimagine education that is more engaging and empowering for students.  Let’s disrupt and reimagine education that works better to prepare students for THEIR future.

One of the great disruptors of all time, Albert Einstein, said: “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”  To solve our current problems, I have to continually remind myself to change my thinking. Therefore, disrupt will be my reminder in 2018 to listen, question, highlight the urgency, ignite conversations, challenge the status quo, and discover new possibilities.



Friday, December 22, 2017

Beliefs on How Students Learn Best in the Modern World

Prior to the Grand Forks Public Schools Innovations Committee’s first official meeting, a pre-survey was administered to committee members to gather their initial thoughts.  The first question was a critical starting point for our committee:

What do you believe and know about how students learn best in the modern world?

From the responses, I created a word cloud to visually depict the most frequently used descriptors of how students learn best.

As is evident from the word cloud, active, relevant, and hands-on were the most frequently used terms followed by engaged, choice, collaborative, real-world and problem-based.

Does “what we believe and know about how students learn best in the modern word” match the reality for students?  The overarching theme of the answers provided by the students serving on the committee was "except for a few isolated innovative examples, not really."  Don't get me wrong, Grand Forks Public Schools is outstanding, therefore not unique in trying to find our way to a more consistent approach to student-centered (active, relevant, hands-on) learning experiences.

How does the information of how students learn best inform the work of our committee?  Our first step should be to agree upon, as a district, how students learn best.  Take a look at these belief statements form Mount Vernon School and Peel District.  Does it seem both have a solid shared belief about learning?


We have a wonderful opportunity to: 1) “innovate INSIDE the box,” 2) think OUTSIDE the box, and potentially in some situations 3) THROW OUT the box, break free from the status quo and create something new and better.  I am looking forward to the discussions of the committee to envision an even better learning experience for our students.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Assessment: In the Real World

One of the goals of K-12 education is to prepare students for THEIR future, the next step, career, higher education, the real world.  Therefore, are we assessing students in ways that prepares them for the real world?  The real world, which we readily have access to information.  Or, are many of our assessments about memorization, content recall, and getting a “grade” as part of the game of school?


Real World Example
In my current position as director of technology and including all technology department staff,  if we were expected to do our job based only on the information we memorized and then recalled in order to solve problems, we would not be very effective.  The technology department’s success in solving problems is based on collaboration, information on the Internet, and inquiring with experts.
For example, I was recently trying to figure out a solution to a problem.  After many attempts and failure to figure it out, I called on a colleague to assist.  After working together to find a solution, we looked over our past notes and searched the Internet.  Still not resolving the issue, we reached out to an expert.  On two occasions, the technical expert, controlled my screen remotely to determine a solution.  Still not finding a solution, he accessed other technicians' notes in a wiki and had to inquire with another technician.  Finally, success! But, success was achieved based less on what I knew and more on my ability to be resourceful.  In the real world, resourcefulness equals success.  In school, it’s called cheating.

School
A recent podcast Your Cheatin’ Tech by Modern Learners, Will Richardson and Bruce Dixon explore the question; Shouldn’t we be allowing students to use all available resources to demonstrate their learning, as we do in the real world?  We can no longer think of school as it was in the past; the teacher as the expert, imparts their knowledge to students, students are expected to recall that information on a test to demonstrate learning.  David Helfand, a Professor of Astronomy at Columbia University, underscores this thought:


Changing Assessment
Is it cheating if we allow student to use whatever tools or technology they need to answer assessment questions?  If being collaborative, reaching out to experts, and using available technologies is cheating, isn’t it time to rethink how we assess student learning?  Maybe we need to change the test or assessment to better reflect the real world.  After all, “content recall is not what success is about in the world” (Will Richardson).  Assessments need to be designed in such a way that students can’t just memorize the information in order to demonstrate their learning, but rather design a more authentic and interesting assessment of learning.  Educators should provide more opportunities to make the test something that students can’t cheat on and just memorize.  Make the assessment about demonstrating applicable knowledge through authentic and interesting work.

It’s time to change school to be an empowering and authentic learning experience that works better for our students in the real world.  The change starts with a philosophical discussion and change in how students are assessed.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Listening to our Students

In a recent Grand Forks Public Schools Educational Enhancement Team (EET) meeting, our high school student representatives were provided an opportunity to speak freely on the topic of innovative learning experiences. The students were intermixed into breakout groups with district teachers and administrators and representatives from the community and University of North Dakota.  The students provided examples and reflections on both innovative learning experiences and non-innovative experiences.  Here are some direct quotes from the students:

“Our core classes, more than not, provide less opportunities for authentic, creative, and applicable learning.”

“Learning is often not relevant”

“Memorizing facts and information for a test, that is usually quickly forgotten, is not learning.”

“Real life application is missing”

“Standards mean nothing to students”

“Teachers are stuck in their ways, not open to innovative thinking”

“We would appreciate more project-based learning”

“Too much focus is placed on tests and grades versus learning.”

“Students are more apt to learn if it is relevant and interesting.”

“We need more opportunities to be creative and solve problems.”

“Students should be allowed and equipped to ask the questions rather than the teachers asking the questions.”

“We want to find things out for ourselves instead of being fed the information.”

“We know how to play school.”

“Boredom in school is normal.”

“Students are more engaged when choice is part of our learning.”


The student quotes speak for themselves.  When the students talked about their most innovative learning experiences, they eagerly discussed all the details. Unfortunately, the student representatives attending the EET meeting only had a few exciting examples to share. While some of the quotes might be viewed as reflecting poorly on our schools and district, I think it’s safe to assume that our students’ learning experiences are relatively consistent with students across the country.  Here is a recent Gallup Poll on student engagement in grades 5-12:

Our students’ comments should not be followed up with excuses, but rather a renewed sense of opportunity to provide more engaging learning environments for our students.  Drawing on the underlying themes from the students, they desire more authentic and engaging learning experiences through choice and project-based learning. Why shouldn't our district be the one to lead the way on flattening the student engagement curve from grade 5 through 12?

The comments from our students will only be an indictment of our schools and district if we choose to ignore and keep the status quo.  Let the words of our students resonate as we strive for more innovative and engaging learning opportunities.

Friday, August 25, 2017

An Open Letter to the GFPS Technology Department Staff

An Open Letter to the GFPS Technology Department Staff:


Dear GFPS Technology Department,

As we prepare to welcome our teachers back next week and students the following week, I want to take a moment to underscore the important role you play in the success of teaching and learning, integrated with technology, in our district.  Listed below are a few key reminders.

1. Students - Number One Priority
We all have a position in the district because of the more than 7,200 GFPS students.  While technicians and curriculum technology partners serve in different capacities, our collective work as the GFPS Technology Department is ultimately about student learning, engagement, empowerment, and innovation.  Whether direct or indirect, never forget that your work creates opportunities for students to be more engaged and potentially leave school more curious than when they started.

2. Our Vision
The GFPS Technology Vision clearly answers the question, “what do we aspire to become?”  Always keep the overarching theme of the vision at the heart of your work:  The Grand Forks Public Schools believe technology is an integral component of learning and is necessary to learn effectively, live productively and participate globally in an increasingly digital world. Technology resources transform learning by allowing learners to create, publish, collaborate and communicate with others in a global environment. Technology helps learners gather and analyze information, solve problems and develop higher-level thinking skills through authentic real-world experiences.

3. Teachers - Professional Learning
While classroom teachers have the biggest direct impact on student learning, teachers need support to bring technology-based and personalized learning experiences to their students.  Due to the ever-changing landscape of technology in schools, providing professional learning opportunities for all educators and administrators will continue to be an instructional priority. Building capacity and providing pedagogical growth opportunities for educators to integrate technology with learning is extremely important.  I am confident we will always be poised to assist.

4. Customer Service
Sometimes it’s easy for us in the technology department to think of all problems as technical in nature.  In doing so, we forget that the technology is utilized for one simple reason: to impact teaching and learning. When technology breaks, it is no longer serving its purpose.  When we realize we are really supporting teaching and learning and not machines, hopefully we respond differently, deliver even better service, and feel a greater sense of satisfaction with the work we do.  You each have knowledge and skills others are reliant on, so always remember; "You are a genius and the world needs your contribution." (Angela Maiers)

In closing, know that I sincerely appreciate the amazing and challenging work you do every day.  As a team, I am confident we will continue to have a positive impact on Grand Forks Public Schools.

All the best for an amazing school year!
Joel


Saturday, December 31, 2016

#OneWord2017 - INNOVATE

As we close out 2016 and look ahead to 2017, people are making their new year’s resolutions.  Reading through my Twitter feed, many educators are embracing the “One Word” challenge by Jon Gordon (@JonGordon11 @getoneword #OneWord2017 #OneWord).  The question was also posed by my colleague Carla Haaven (@chaaven); “What will be your #oneword for 2017?”


As I pondered options for my “One Word” in  2017, I reflected back on my “One Word” for 2016:


In the book The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros, innovation is defined as “...a way of thinking that creates something new and better.”  It fits perfectly with my own personal philosophy of “there’s always better.”  Stating my one word at the onset of 2016, provided some focus and motivation in 2016 to; 1) initiate an administrative book study on The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros, 2) write a grant for 1:1 Chromebooks in grade 4 and professional learning with George Couros, 3) participate in a summer book study on The Innovator’s Mindset, 4) plan with my team a district-wide professional learning event called “Innovations in Learning” keynoted by George Couros, 5) lead and participate in #gfedchat topics on The Innovator's Mindset, 6) participate in #IMMOOC (Innovator’s Mindset Massive Open Online Course), 7) support coding/STEM opportunities for students, and 8) assist in the planning of a new and upcoming online learning opportunity for teachers called “Innovations in Learning.”


George Couros poses the challenging question; “How do we move from ‘pockets’ of innovation, to a ‘culture’ of innovation?”  While some progress has been made to address and answer this question, much more work needs to be done.  So, in the spirit of my ongoing quest for “new and better,” my #oneword for 2017 will again be INNOVATE.


After I decided on my #oneword for 2017, a strapped on my snowshoes and punched out the word INNOVATE in my backyard.



Happy New Year!  May our/your students be afforded many more innovative learning opportunities in 2017.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

All I Wanted for Christmas was an Atari

Sometime in 1980 or 1981, I asked for an Atari Game System for Christmas,  After all, EVERYONE else had one.  Beyond the expensive price tag, I specifically remember my Dad and Mom’s other rationale for not buying an Atari: “all you can do is play games.”  Their rationale didn’t sit well with me because all I wanted to do was play games.  A bit more background into my childhood of outside play, building, creating, experiential/hands-on learning, camping, and travel reinforces my parent’s concern about screen time and the sedentary nature of playing Atari.
I think it was in 1982, my Dad and Mom finally relented.  But, rather than going with the Atari, they purchased a Texas Instruments TI-99/4A home computer.  While not an Atari, I warmed up to the purchase after I learned it had game cartridge and joystick capabilities.  We hooked it up to our TV through the VHS antenna and played games.
Games such as Parsec, TI Invaders, and Tombstone City were added to our system, but in addition, a book titled Beginner’s Basic was purchased.  The book was a step-by-step hands-on approach to learning the fun and power of programming the TI BASIC language.  
Admittedly, my brother Tim and I still spent plenty of hours playing games but we also spent hours and days writing programs and code.  Some "ready-made" programs were keyed into the computer as one would read the lines of code from a book while the other would key in the entries.  We would run the programs and sometime they would work and sometimes they would not.  When the programs didn’t work, we had to figure out why. After changes were made, we would try it again. The program was then saved to a cassette tape in a portable cassette tape player/recorder.  Yes, files were saved to a cassette tape.  Needless to say, retrieving the files was not always successful.

Today, my brother and I are both in technology-related positions.  While we each took some unique paths to get to our current positions, I believe we benefitted greatly from some early coding experiences. Even more important, we were provided opportunities to learn problem-solving and critical thinking skills.

“Coding is more about the process of breaking down problems rather than coming up with complicated algorithms.” - Makinde Adeagbo

"Everybody in this country should learn how to program a computer...because it teaches you how to think." - Steve Jobs

It turns out, one of the best Christmas gifts I received was NOT receiving the Atari. I appreciate my Dad and Mom sticking to their principles to give some gifts associated with play, creativity, problem-solving, and critical thinking.  


What kinds of gifts are you giving for Christmas this year?  Have you considered some engaging gifts for kids associated with a STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) focus? How about Ozobots, Spheros, Little Bits, Snap Circuits, Makey Makey, Lego's, etc.? Give a gift that keeps on giving long after the gift becomes unusable, forgotten about or irrelevant.