Friday, December 13, 2013

Technology and Pedagogy

Recently Jeff Howard tweeted a link to Sophia Mavridi's wonderful article "We need pedagogy, not just cool tools." which reminded me how easy it is to get so enamored with some new tech toy that I forget about the reasons why am using it.  Every piece of physical technology or digital tool that comes into my class has to fit into the intricate puzzle that is an 8th grade inquiry based social science class.  Strangely,  when learners are working well within the system that they and I have hammered out they know how to reshape the pieces just enough to make just about anything fit.

Take into account the number of new tools developed each month and attempting to learn them all as a class would be impossible. The more tools that are presented to learners the fewer they master as a group, however that can lead to a diverse cohort of cooperative skills that create a system of collaboration and team work that is more akin to many modern business models.  Wait, stop.  That might actually be a good thing.  Digital tools come, get altered, stale like bread, become redundant,  go out of fashion, get bought by that company I hate, raise their prices, and or disappear all together, sometimes in the course of a year.

An artist must have his measuring tools not in the hand, but in the eye. (Michelangelo)

These issues have created two models for technology integration in the Authentic Classroom which are often put to work simultaneously.  The Design First method asks learners to research, think, ideate, and create through a modeling process before that get any where near the computer. Ideas are drawn shared discussed and edited on paper or dry erase surfaces well before learners sit down at a computer to build there digital version.  Setting down with the model in hand makes digital work much more efficient.  The Tech Spec (technology specialty) method asks each learner to develop a finite tool kit of simple, yet creative, research input and product output tools that help them learn and demonstrate that learning.  All of our learners have Google Drive accounts which provide them with basic word process, database and presentation capabilities. In addition to the basic tools each learner is encouraged to develop skill in others that best fit the project or product that he or she is making. When a learner expresses interest in a new tool he or she is asked to experiment with it and to find tutorials and examples from others to ensure that is will meet their needs.  Then the learner must produce two or more projects with the tool before they can add another.

Digital tools are treated like any other tools that a creative person uses. The process is similar to the maker movement in engineering and electronics. It is that type of Making that we are working towards. Silvia Martinez and Gary Stager have created a fantastic look into modern engineering based Making in the classroom, but even that very science centered format transforms easily over to social science when learners are actively investigation history, anthropology, physiology and economics in order to build cultural and social reconstructions from historic evidence. Using technology to develop the research and to analyse information creates time for deeper though construction, Adding the technology to the end production  enables them to "make" there Ideas visible to the world.

Ultimately, the real test of any technological tool rests in four questions.  Does it enable better research and thinking?  Does it  enable my design idea to become real?  Is it usable, reliable, and if possible free?  Can I share it with others for collaboration and presentation?

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Authenticity in learning

About three years ago, I began seeing the words "authentic learning" more and more online and in professional development.  And like any other good teacher I nodded my head and said "Yes, yes we need more of that."  but quickly i realized that while the term was paraded around no one seemed to be able to readily be able to define it.  So like a good learner is set off to determine for myself exactly what authentic instruction was and what it should look like in my classroom.  What follows are the results  of that three year exploration into how the learners that have passed through my door have used, both successfully and unsuccessfully,  to guide me in the discovery that authentic is not about me its about them.

Authentic learning:  Any of a variety of processes or activities in which an individual becomes engaged in the gathering, processing, or application of knowledge to which  they are capable of  making a personal and lasting connection.

To be an authentic educator I had to do a couple of things:

Get off the Stage
I found myself after several years of teaching being the sage, extolling all of the knowledge  that I had assimilated down upon my students.  I thought that my passion for my interests would engage them. Although I might intrigue them for a moment they were not truly engaged.  So I began to guide them toward taking responsibility for their learning.

Become the learner
I needed to look at the kids that came into my room differently, so I stopped looking at them as students and started looking at them as learners.  In doing so I was forced to re-evaluate my position as well. A teacher passes information but if I was going to turn responsibility over to them then my role as teacher needed to shift as well.  How could I profess to be a life long learner if I called myself  "Teacher-Master of all I Survey"  Hence, my title became "lead learner"  which I share with my learners whenever the lead each other in learning teams.

This didn't take place over night and every year a new group of learners walks into my room and begins the process again.  Though hard work on all our parts, a lot of mistakes (mistakes are good), and learning each class grows more than they ever expect.  And I am always amazed.

Last year I presented at the NC CCSA conference to demonstrate the possibilities of Authentic learning in a middle school classroom.  From that effort I developed the Authentic Classroom  resource list on, and the original presentation.  With the publication of the new C3 and Next Generation standards for social studies and science authentic learning moves to the front of the learning stage and so this blog becomes the next piece of the authentic puzzle.