Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Instruments as Technology - Teacher as Conductor

I recently watched a wonderful show on PBS about the 125 year history of the Boston Pops Orchestra. and it reminded me of the most important role of a teacher - to be the conductor of learning. The Pops latest conductor, Keith Lockhart (who had big shoes to fill - Fiedler, Williams), said he was intimidated but eager to take on the role. He believed that as a conductor he knew his role was "to inspire his musicians; they can't be coerced." He has faith in the musicians and it's his role to create the vision and the story, and let the musicians create the result.

A friend of mine who is a wonderfully creative, ambitious, and technology-savvy teacher recently proved what I mean about teacher as conductor. Her district was considering a one-to-one laptop solution and gave her 3 MacBooks and 3 iPod Touch's for one month near the end of the school year. The goal was to prove to the School Board that the addition of this technology would improve engagement and learning in her 5th grade class immediately and that they should invest their technology budget in this solution.

Putting the challenge in her hands was the genius of the superintendent. Lyssa KNOWS educational technology and has been desperate to get it into the hands of her underserved students. She immediately went to work teaching every student the basics of using the equipment, the accompanying software, and exposed them to many online tools and websites.

She DIDN'T create a complicated curriculum. Instead she set goals for a final product to have them demonstrate their knowledge in the most creative ways. And off they went!

In one month the 30 kids in her class explored and then almost mastered over ten different online tools and every application on the MacBook. They taught themselves! They did their research and then created wonderful representations of their learning in a variety of formats. There were no discipline problems, there was intense engagement, and many stayed after school to get to use the computers. (Remember, she had only 3 of each device).

After one month, Lyssa presented, with her kids, to the School Board to make the case for technology. She showed their work and their testimonials, and the students themselves spoke about the intense engagement they felt - that they were finally free to learn the way they were comfortable. There were tears on the faces of the adults in that room to see those kids so passionate.

Lyssa was truly a conductor in this situation. She determined a vision for her students' learning, gave them access to their 'instruments' and guided them to individual outcomes that, woven together, created a powerful learning symphony.

For the kids, their instruments are the technology, the music is their learning.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Merging Personal and Public Learning Environments: Why Not?

I've just returned from the ISTE Conference in Denver and had many take-aways, but a big one was about the merging of formal and non-formal learning environments. During a  keynote panel discussion, Karen Cator,  Director of the Office of Educational Technology for the US DOE,  challenged the audience (mostly teachers and technology coordinators) to start accepting that kids are learning as much or more out of school than in it. This happens because many schools do not allow or make available the tools students want to use to learn with depth and breadth.  And students don't separate their 'learning lives' into artificial subject areas and standards. They just go after the information they need to address their learning needs.

What can we learn from them? What would happen if all teachers could figure out a way to propose problems, challenges, quests, and journeys to kids, teach them some strategies, immerse them in a learning environment and let them go?

Take a look at this video about a girl's Personal Learning Environment. She is participating in a project that her (obviously flexible, net-savvy, and enlightened) teacher is doing on networked learning. She is using an application called Symbaloo and you need two hands to count the number of websites, resources, and tools she uses to do her work (in a 3-minute video).

Be sure to listen to the last minute. I love her quote: "We like learning this way because we have more's not that I don't have to do the work, I just get to choose how to do it." Freedom to learn the way they want...wouldn't we all prefer that? Been in a corporate or college class lately?