Technology as an Amplifier

In recent decades, there has existed in education the question, “Why technology?”

The question itself is a rather good one if posed with genuine inquiry that seeks to find and actualize the potential that exists when technology meets learning.

Yet there are times when the question is asked with a different spirit. The question is raised with a predetermined answer that believes there is very little to no value in utilizing technology in learning. That it is a distraction. A danger. A hindrance to the progress of developing the intellect of our students and society.

If you know of someone posing the question in this spirit, I hope you will invite them to view the video below.

Technology amplifies human potential. If you find yourself disagreeing, please watch the extraordinary students and staff below demonstrate otherwise.



The Stories of CCSD59

I’ve been doing a very bad job at a very important part of my job lately.

Our students, staff, and community continue to do amazing work, and I haven’t been sharing the incredible efforts they have been producing nearly enough. See the video above as an example of what our staff and students have been accomplishing.

This fall, our district began a new journey to leverage the promise of technology to amplify student learning. Every student in grades K-2 received a Nexus 7 tablet, and every student in grades 3-8 received both a Nexus 7 and a Chromebook. You can see our Innovative Learning Timeline to learn more about our journey.

And, it is a journey. It will take us a few years to get good at maximizing technology’s potential. But that’s what learning is all about.

This has been an incredible year, and we certainly still have much to learn. It is very difficult for me to properly say just how very proud I am of our students and our staff as they have worked through many challenges, experienced many triumphs, and continue to move forward to embrace the new learning landscape.

From being invited to create the videos below to use our district’s story as part of the opening program to introduce the President at the White House #FutureReady event, to sharing the great stories of our staff, I am incredibly honored to be part of the CCSD59 team.

I look forward to doing a better job at the important part of my job of sharing those stories with you all more as we continue on our journey.

The Space Between: Where our roles as teachers change lives and learning

It’s been difficult for me to stop thinking about this piece by Seymour Papert.

Specifically, I keep coming back to his three phases of intellectual development. He admittedly oversimplifies the development by containing it in three categories, but even in this somewhat rudimentary manifestation, it still gives us as much to think about as we can handle.

Papert calls phase one, “universally successful learning.” This is during the time before we enter formal institutions of learning, and Papert describes it this way. “All children show a passion for interactive exploration of their immediate world. The diversity of possible activity is great enough for different individuals to find their own styles.”

Watch a three year old wonder and make meaning of their world, and you’ll see the qualities of this phase clearly.

Papert calls phase three, “intellectually awake adults.” I really love that. Once again, this is in the space beyond the walls of our formal learning institutions and is replete with diversity of styles. It’s the way we as adults learn that which we desire to learn for a wide variety of reasons and purposes.

Phase two, then, is the space between. Papert’s description of the phase is a bit harrowing. “The second phase is the narrow and dangerous passage in which many factors conspire to undermine the continuation of phase one. School is often blamed for imposing on children a uniformity that suffocates those who have developed markedly different intellectual styles; much as it used to suffocate left-handed people by forcing them to ‘write properly’.”

While phase two is indeed narrow and dangerous, the duration of the phase stretching out often beyond 15 years makes it all the more so.

One of the greatest roles we play as teachers is to serve as the guide to move our students from phase one to phase three. Papert asserts not all adults will make it. That should haunt us.

I hope we do all we can to make the path between as wide, safe, and inspired as possible. Doing so will certainly change lives.

Thanks to Sean Lucas for the use of the Flickr image.

21st Century Leadership Academy

Quality leadership is an essential factor for making change in education. Just ask any classroom teacher who has had a particularly good, or bad, building principal, and they will tell you stories. Stories of triumph or tragedy, depending on which of the leaders they were paired with.

In Project RED’s study of nearly 1,000 schools involved in a major technology implementation, they state “the principal’s ability to lead change is critical.”

As Simon Sinek says, “There are leaders and there are those who lead.”

I’m very honored that I have the opportunity to work in a district where our entire administrative team is pushing and challenging each other to be the latter.

As part of that effort, this year we created the 21st Century Leadership Academy. Every member of our administrative team is taking part, and over the course of this year, each participant will engage in 63 hours of specific, focused professional development on becoming a 21st century leader. That’s a combined total of 2,520 professional development hours for our team.

There are plenty of conversations about the qualifier “21st century”, and wherever you stand on the convention, we find it a very useful way to add the necessary context to say that we want to do things different. We want to move from a traditional means of education to an environment where kids are empowered and given agency in their learning. We want to create a culture where we are preparing students to be successful for life.

We are fortunate to be partnering with Scott McLeod in our efforts, and Scott will join us for seven full day sessions this school year, and our team will then follow up with a two hour session in the weeks between full day sessions. Together, Scott and I will facilitate the conversations about what should change in education and how we as a district can move to an environment where student ownership is actualized and learning experiences are moved from low-level to high-level thinking.

On September 10, we held our first of the seven full day sessions. We spent the entire day digging into the why. We engaged in the thought experiment, “Because of digital technologies, our world today is more…” We talked about the implications for learning and schooling, and through the process, we came to a shared understanding of why we need to change education. Perhaps even, reinvent it, as Tony Wagner suggests. We created ownership through the process. Not buy in, but ownership.

Our team ended the day by joining a Google+ Community we set up for the group to continue the conversations and dialog until we meet again in October.

Think about the power of having the entire administrative team together to have these crucial conversations and wrestle with the concepts. We have a great deal of learning, and thinking, and challenging, and inspiring ahead. I’m incredibly excited for what that will mean for our students.

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