Won’t that technology be obsolete in 5 years?

In the college course that I teach on technology in education, we spend  the first two weeks learning Smart Notebook software. The previous instructor designed the course that way, and being a Smart Notebook devotee myself, I have followed that part of the outline, at least for the time being.

Although students may have been in classrooms where Smart Notebook was used by their teachers, students themselves have mastered PowerPoint. PowerPoint is safe and familiar. For most, Smart Notebook is a new software that does not respond like a Microsoft product. Many experience frustration as they work their way through the self-guided learning tasks, and if it wasn’t required for a college assignment, many would just give up and revert to PowerPoint, like many teachers before them have done.

In this atmosphere of early uncertainty and frustration using Notebook, one student mentioned how some teacher friends of his had told him that Smart Boards would be obsolete in a few years.

Of course!

Technology is like that! Are we still going to learn Smart Notebook in this course? Absolutely.

The Smart Board technology display is changing rapidly – the part that, when used with a projector, is often just used to show YouTube videos in many classes. Interestingly however, the newest school to open in our city this past September installed Smart Boards.

But the power is in the software — that’s the part that many of my colleagues have never taken the time to get to know, but these students will. Once they can fully create with Notebook and have unleashed its power in their lesson planning, then by all means they can revert to PowerPoint or projecting Word documents on the Smart Board, or whatever new display technology they might have. However, my experience is that for the majority of people, once they take the time to learn the power of Notebook, their view of it as a teaching tool changes.

There are other reasons that learning Smart Notebook still makes sense. In our part if the province, almost all classrooms have Smart Board hardware on the wall and Smart Notebook installed on at least the teacher computers. With oil dropping to $40 a barrel (or lower!) it is unlikely that Alberta teachers will be in line for any significant, system-wide technology replacements in the near future! And when these students graduate with their teaching degree in 2 years, their new classroom will likely still have a Smart Board, as will the classrooms that they do their pre-service teaching in over the next few months.

But mostly….technology changes. When I first started using Smart Notebook 10+ years ago, YouTube was just being invented. Showing a video on my new projector still required a lot of time and effort to capture it in a usable digital file. And it was years after that before we could access YouTube from a school computer.

When I did my teacher training in the early 1990s, the internet as we know it didn’t exist. In one of my mandatory university technology and teaching classes, we had to do a test to prove that we could thread a film projector and another to show that we could create a properly centered overhead transparency sheet. Most of my classmates never did use a film projector in their classrooms, but we all had binders full of overhead transparencies….until we got our Smart boards and projectors over 10 years later.

I did take another technology in education option course at university where I experienced frustration similar to that of my college students experiencing Smart Notebook software for the first time. It was the early days of personal computers and Microsoft Word was probably in its first version. Our prof made us type a document with proper word processor formatting – he was going to view the formatting trail, not just what it looked like when we printed! No more return at the end of every line and return twice to double space. No 5 spaces to tab. We had to do fancy things like bold some words….
It is laughable now, but it was an extremely frustrating endeavor, perhaps more so because it was the first time many of us had used a computer with a mouse! But that frustration of learning how to use a product to its fullest potential was a most valuable experience, as ever since then, I have been a proficient word processor. I’ve worked with many colleagues since who have struggled with Word, now the most basic of teaching tools, because they never really had to learn how to use it. I guess it shouldn’t be surprising that many of them don’t use Smart Notebook either!

Yes, Smart Notebook may become obsolete. Or it might be like Microsoft Word and the rest of its Office – virtually unrecognizable from its original version 20 some years later.
That’s the world of technology in education. Ever-changing, but never going away. So we will learn to use today’s most useful tools as they will lead to the tools of the future.


Trying Something New: Google Maps Games and More

Recently I attended a Google Education Summit hosted by the Ed Tech Team. It was two days of intensive, brain-busting, ed-tech heaven.  In addition to keynote addresses and app slams, there were eight sessions, each with over 5 options to choose from.  Although there were only about two people that I recognized from my own school division in attendance, a colleague from another school has suggested that I share some of the nuggets here in my ‘Trying Something New’ space.  So here you go, Sherry….

One of my biggest passion areas is geography, so why not start there? I attended a great session on Google-Mappy-Goodness, so here are some of the highlights.

  1. https://smartypins.withgoogle.com/ – This is a most addicting geography game. It’s not the first or only one of its kind, but I do like that it gives hints after the ‘bonus’ time clock has elapsed. Basically you get about 1600km to start with; every kilometer that you are away from the target, you lose kilometers …at zero your game is over. On my iPad, I eventually realized that I could chose a favourite category, such as ‘Science and Geography’; this was helpful as I could avoid the ‘Entertainment’ category!  A significant downside to this site is that it is VERYsmartypinsAmerican based, although it does allow for kilometers. (Fortunately, I am able to do well at the game because I have traveled to Washington, DC several times and every 3rd or 4th question seems to be located in or near the American capitol.) In fact, although I have had a few Africa and Australia questions and handfuls of Europe questions, I have not encountered a single Canadian question.  I can’t seem to find anywhere to change the settings to amend this.   Addicting nonetheless.
  2. Another fun geography game is geoguessr.com  This is great game for critical thinking.  It gives you a google maps image of a town or country side and you have to guess where in the world it is. Sometimes I can’t even get on the right continent, but types of vehicles, houses, road conditions and of course vegetation and topography can all be clues. Now and then they will throw you the occasional road sign to use as a hint.  Now here is a great Canada option!  Once you are in the game you can substitute “Canada” for “world” in the url, and it will give you Canadian locations. The screen shot below shows your score at the end of the game and how far off you were for each guess.geoguessr
  3. Of course the most exciting aspect is learning again what new powers are in Google Maps.  Check out https://www.google.com/maps/d/u/0/   to get to Google’s My Maps.  From here you can create all sorts of wonderful layers of maps. You can turn the layers off and on. Like any good Google map, you can add place pins with biography notes, pictures (slide shows even!) and videos.  You can even draw an outline around a country, thus creating a polygon. You can then drag polygon to anywhere on the world map to compare its real size –try this with Greenland! Here is a link to the map that I am trying out as a new format for my class Current Events notes. If the link works, it should look like this image below. Each pin is customized and contains a summary for our Current Events notebooGoogle CE Mapks, as well as pictures and even video links.  At this point I’m still getting used to the building process, and haven’t tried using it live with my class instead of  my reliable Smart Notebook file format.  Hopefully soon.  There are way too many features to Google Maps and I am far too inexperienced to describe their use, but it is certainly worth watching some youtube explanations about!
  4. Of course, there is the new Google Earth that geo-types are buzzing about…..more to explore!

So, that’s my Geo -Learning from my Google Summit Experience.  Thanks @armstrongedtech

Risk-taking and resilience cycle: #IMMOOC week 2

I am doing my best to take part in #IMMOOC : a world-wide digital book study based on The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros. It is week 2.


This image is a summary of the 8 characteristics of an innovator that George Couros shares in his book. This week the book study community was challenged to reflect on how we embody the characteristics of an Innovator’s Mindset. While I’d like to think that I have little snippet’s of all of those characteristics, the ones that jump out for me recently are “risk-taker” and “resilient”.

While I do not consider myself wildly innovative, I would say that  I’ve become more of a risk-taker. And I think that in order to be a risk-taker, one must be resilient. In my experience, those risks, no matter how well-prepared you think you are, often lead to some degree of failure. If it wasn’t for the resilience, one would never rise again to take another risk!

I am most comfortable taking risks in the area of technology in the classroom. When I look back over my career and technology, the lure of the possibilities that a new technology could bring to student engagement or learning always seems to out-weigh the potential road-blocks or failures. So, again and again,  I’ve gone ahead and tried something new, usually prefaced with :”Ok, we’re trying something new and different today. We’re being pioneers. Hopefully this works.”

Sometimes a new tool works even better than expected (like Goosechase or QuizletLive) and the kids say things like, “Why can’t we do this all the time? How about tomorrow?” Sometimes there are glitches and unanticipated stumbling blocks (like Spiral.ac), but the response from students still might be, “Why can’t we do this all the time? How about tomorrow?”  Sometimes things go totally disastrous (like anything to do with Office 365) and students wait somewhat patiently while I trouble shoot, and the student  response is, “Why don’t you just give up.” And I might say, “This isn’t working today. Here is Plan B for today, we’ll try this another day!”

Thus goes the risk-taking and resilience cycle.


A Moment to Celebrate!

It’s official as of an hour ago when I completed the oral exit exam for my Masters of Education degree from Gonzaga University….I’m done! No more papers, no more presentations, no more weekend classes, no more full-time student/full-time teacher status. Just waiting for my ‘parchment’ in the mail.

I’m sitting with a bit of shock and disbelief that this two-year journey has ended. Although it has, of course, been lots of hard work, It has been a wonderful season of intensive learning…learning from my profs , learning from my colleagues, learning through reading, writing, and reflecting, learning through my action research project/capstone….

Learning with a cohort community has been a wonderfully powerful learning experience; we’ve not only learned with each other, but from each other. Even as the face of education may change in the future, I wish for all students and education professionals the opportunity to learn in community.

Visiting the Classroom of a Colleague: A worthwhile endeavor

A school goal for the staff at EBHS this year has been to spend time in the classrooms of our fellow teachers, somewhat in a “classroom walk through” type idea. The research-supported theory behind this goal is that we will become better teachers as we learn from each other, whether that be learning a new method, a review idea, a technology tip or how to interact with a student that we’ve had a hard time getting through to.

Some staff have taken advantage of this opportunity and have indeed learned lots from their colleagues. Unfortunately, I’ve been frustrated by the overall lack of desire of teachers in our school to participate in this opportunity. Sometimes I’ve been close to thinking that the goal was misguided or too ambitious for high school teachers who are used to just doing what they do.

Fortunately however, as I listened to colleagues in my Master’s class discuss their supervisory platforms there was a common theme: teachers sharing in each others’ classrooms was part of almost everyone’s ideal school operation and supervision vision.

So obviously, our school goal of teachers visiting each others classrooms is one that is still worthwhile pursuing.

My classmates’ commonalities of vision are all consistent with features of our own school goal – which my classmates have confirmed are worthwhile. Here are some of the elements that we believe will lead to an environment of teachers as learners:

  1. Open door policy. It’s much easier to slip into someone’s class for a few minutes as you are walking by if the door is open.
  2. Collaboration should be normal. It should be routine to walk into anyone’s classroom and have fun and collaborate.
  3. Teachers shouldn’t wonder or ask, why is this person in my room?  Checking out what students are doing in other courses should be a natural part of a school’s professional climate.  It is important to see a student who struggles in your subject area excel somewhere else.

My Masters classmates have described being in someone else’s classroom as their greatest learning opportunities, as their greatest PD. My own experience confirms this. Now if only…

Teachers in the Parking Lot

Photo by Alex92287 via Flickr Creative CommonsPhoto by Alex92287 via Flickr Creative Commons

The traditional school often functions as a collection of independent contractors united by a common parking lot.” —Eaker as cited in Schmoker (2006, p. 23)

So this has to start with a mildly embarrassing revelation that occurred late November in my Masters class on School Improvement while we were listening to a series of group presentations.  Each group of our Lethbridge classmates had chosen to present on a theme related to Alberta’s Inspiring Education.  The 2nd group made several references to literature by Schmoker, partly it seemed, because the name was fun to say.  I took some notes, but mostly connected to the fun they were having every time they pronounced the name.  But then another of the Lethbridge groups referenced Schmoker and this time I caught a great quote from page 23: “The traditional school often functions as a collection of independent contractors united  by a common PARKING LOT.”  I was a little confuddled that I had not heard of this educator and author who had made such an impact on so many of my classmates.  As it turns out, I purchased his textbook (Results Now) in September and have been hauling it around every weekend; as you may have guessed, I hadn’t cracked the spine.  Because I was intrigued by the parking lot quote, I did crack the book open and have been reading it even though no chapters have been assigned. (This is only problematic because I should be working on my final projects instead of reading.)

As it turns out, I can’t put the (text)book down because it feeds into the heart of my capstone research on teacher collaboration in schools, and perhaps more importantly, it directly addresses work our school has been trying to accomplish on reducing isolation and increasing collaboration through collegial classroom visits.  Case in point: the ‘parking lot’ chapter is entitled “Isolation: The Enemy of Improvement.”  This chapter discusses how teachers have come to appreciate and expect a buffer described as an “unexamined addiction to privacy and isolation.”

Schmoker quotes Arthur Wise on the topic of how other professionals work in teams: “In medical, legal, and architectural settings, services are provided by experienced and novice professionals working together to accomplish the goal—to heal the patient, win the lawsuit, plan the building.  The team delivers the services… the novices learn by doing, with feedback and correction” (2004, p.43).  This is far from the norm in education however—think independent contractors united by the common parking lot!  Schmoker’s 2005 research confirms that “teachers do not work in teams. They do not prepare lessons and assessments together, and they do not test and refine their lessons regularly on the basis of assessment results.” 

Over the past year or two at our high school, we have come to this same realization about the power of working together. We have been taking small steps toward creating an environment where working collaboratively, where learning from each other, where visiting colleague’s classrooms is a norm instead of an exception.  Unfortunately, there is an underlying fear of stepping on toes along the way, so the steps are always small ones.  Schmoker’s book serves as a confirmation of the direction that our school is heading, but also as an admonition to take that direction more seriously.  Last year, as a group of teachers and administrators planned a collegial classroom visit strategy, we decided that the best option was to make the visits ‘encouraged but not enforced’.  It shouldn’t be a surprise that in the first three months of the year, less than half of our staff have done even a 10 minute visit to another’s classroom.  We need to create an environment where observing and learning from our colleagues is the norm, not the exception—an environment where popping in to a different classroom to watch and learn from an interesting lesson is commonplace.  Ironically, at a recent staff meeting, one of the teachers who our planning committee assumed would be resistant to classroom visits confirmed their importance: “It would probably be a really good idea, but no one is going to take the time to just do it.  You need to tell me I have to go visit someone else’s class, then I’ll go and probably even see something new.”  While we can’t force teachers to be learners, we can make learning from each other and experimenting a comfortable norm.

Later in Schmoker’s book, (I skipped ahead while I was reading), he tells the anecdote of a group of teachers who were traveling home together in a van after a time-wasting professional development session. With that time together in the confines of the van, without other distractions, they drafted a school-wide reading program that resulted in significant gains in reading by the end of the school year.  I can concur that many times when I’ve traveled to professional development sessions, the best learning and planning comes from the discussion in the vehicle with my colleagues.  This confirms the power that can be unleashed when teachers have time/ take time/ make time to work together.

Perhaps on our next School Improvement day, the plan should be to put groups of teachers—those independent contractors– together in cars and have them spend the day doing laps around the parking lot!  Think of the learning and planning that could be accomplished!

P.S. Mr. Smeaton, if you teach EDLA 548 again, you should devise a plan to have students crack the text book….. it’s pretty good.

Alberta’s Inspiring Education: The Black Hole of ‘How’

Photo by Ute Kraus /CC -BY-2.5

Photo by Ute Kraus /CC -BY-2.5

Some of the educators that I work with have been teaching for multiple decades.  They have taught through ‘revolutionary’ educational developments such as the Open Area Classrooms of the 1970s, the introduction of Standardized Testing in Alberta in the 1980s and the Whole Language revolution of the 1990’s.  When the topic of Inspiring Education, Alberta’s revolutionary vision for education by the year 2030, is discussed, they are somewhat sceptical: “In five years, nothing will really have changed”; “I’ve seen ideas like this before, but what we’re doing now works best, so we’ll end up back where we started”…..

Inspiring Education does, however, seem to be everywhere. The Superintendent of Schools referenced it in his opening day address in September, (yet fewer than half the teachers in the Division indicated that they had heard of it!) The principal of our school tells us that “it’s coming” at every staff meeting.  School leaders have been to seminars to discover exactly what it is.  Professional Development leaders and facilitators are referencing it in their learning days and discussions.  Professors in both of my Masters classes this semester have covered it as a significant part of their lesson agendas.

In our Masters class, the following statement was made regarding Inspiring Education:  “we have to believe the ‘why’ before we can figure out the ‘how’.”  In my opinion, the ‘why’ is the easy part.  It is not difficult to believe and even by inspired by the ‘why’ statements in the Inspiring Education document and website propaganda. Listening to the ‘why’, can even make an educator’s heart flutter with excitement. It is easy to see that the world is moving toward a knowledge-based economy with an accelerating rate of change; we don’t want to be left behind.  It is easy to see that as our population grows by 80 000 new people every year, it is becoming increasingly diverse, requiring more open-mindedness and cross-cultural awareness.  It is easy to see that world markets are increasingly eager to buy natural resources from sources that are developed in environmentally sustainable ways. It is easy to buy into the idea that keeping only the status quo of our current excellent education system will not propel us to be world leaders by 2030 in a rapidly globalizing world.  It is easy to believe that “Alberta’s place in the world will be determined by our ability to anticipate and navigate change” (p. 13).  And even though it is a criticism that hits close to the heart of educators, it is easy to accept that many Albertans do not “believe today’s children are learning in a manner that responds to current or emerging realities” (p.13).

So, when I hear all of the ‘why’s’, I am on board.  The future sounds exciting – inspiring even.  And then comes the ‘how’.  As it turns out, the ‘how’ is still a nebulous mystery. It is at this point that I am ready to climb under a rock, to return to my career as a restaurant server, to let someone else do it.  From 2007-2010, I persevered through the implementation of the vastly re-configured High School Social Studies curriculum implementation in Alberta. We took risks; we did some un-conventional things; we didn’t use a textbook. In the end, my colleagues and I produced some incredible lessons and resources, fully integrating ‘new’ SMART Notebook technology along the way.  But that change was so vast that all I can do is think back and shutter at how it sucked the life and soul out of me at the time.

Alas, when I peruse the Inspiring Education document and listen to administrators echo the sentiment that the ‘how’ hasn’t really been work out yet, my heart sinks.  People are describing the change with words like ‘radically different’, ‘profound’, and ‘complete transformation of the system’: on one hand this is exciting, but on the other hand, it once again sounds like a black hole of time and energy. In many ways, the seemingly open-endedness of the ‘how’, with catch phrases such as ‘learning anytime, any place”, does evoke a world of endless possibilities: a world where all of the “some day I’d like to try” dreams, could suddenly receive a “why don’t you go for it”, instead of a “here are the reasons we can’t”. As inspiring as this all seems, so much of me wants to just wait on the sidelines until someone else has done the ‘how’ work.  I want to tell my school leader to “Give me a call when you’ve got it worked out”. I want someone else to pour their heart and soul into brilliant planning and share it with me when they’ve figured out “how” to make it work.  That’s what I want.

As it turns out, I’ve already started wading in, deeper and deeper.  A committee here. A project, a conversation there. Those sidelines where part of me wants to be sitting—I can’t even see them any more. Black hole, here I come. Again.

Being a ‘connected teacher’ is not optional

 I’ve always been attracted to technology in education.  I’ve recently learned/ been reminded that technology in education, isn’t a frivolous add-on, but a government obligation!

In early days my attraction to technology involved taking many chances on a computer or internet based lesson, perhaps with an early web 2.0 application, only to have any myriad of roadblocks creep up: sometimes hardware based, occasionally planning based, often ‘connection-speed’ based.  Sometimes the idea was such a good one that I just had to go back to the planning board and try again; sometimes the idea wasn’t worth the rigmarole of overcoming the technology frustrations.  I continued to peck away at available new technology in the educational field. Our school board was very fortunate to have an early and intense introduction to SMART boards and SMART Notebook technology. (Thank-you, Dave B.)  I quickly became hooked; many would consider me a SMART Notebook junkie.  Admittedly, I couldn’t imagine teaching without my SMART board and SMART Notebook files.

Despite my attraction to technology, I remained skeptical of the value of social media in educational circles.  My connected colleagues like to tease me about my initial disgust and skepticism barely three years ago when they suggested that I should join Twitter.  My response, “I don’t care what Justin Bieber had for lunch.”  Fortunately, they persisted and I was quickly blown away by the connected universe of educators.  I quickly realized that this universe is a place where Professional Development happens weekly and even daily, instead of a few times a year. Once the skeptic, I was soon giving PD sessions on the value of Twitter for educators.  It is exciting to watch as fellow educators discover the universe of education available to them as educators.

Yet, for as many who are transformed in their own learning journey by being connected, there is a large body of educators who continued to feel that being connected is not something they are obligated to do:

“I’m not interested in technology.”

“It takes too much time.”

“Technology is just a crutch. Good teachers don’t need technology.”

“Kannekens, slow down. We can’t make people use technology.”

I’ve recently learned/ been reminded that the technology piece, isn’t a frivolous add-on, but a government obligation!

In my Gonzaga University Masters Class last weekend we did a thorough review of Alberta’s Teaching Quality Standard (TQS).  I always find that reading through the KSAs is a very sobering experience, even for an experienced teacher.  Yet there is one section that seemed to jump off the page during this particular investigation.  Here, in plain print, in an edict of the Alberta Government, is a requirement that many educators and educational leaders seem to overlook or at least downplay:

KSA 8 (3h): Teachers apply a variety of technologies to meet students’ learning needs. Teachers use teaching/learning resources such as the chalkboard, texts, computers and other auditory, print and visual media, and maintain an awareness of emerging technological resources. They keep abreast of advances in teaching/learning technologies and how they can be incorporated into instruction and learning. As new technologies prove useful and become available in schools, teachers develop their own and their students’ proficiencies in using the technologies purposefully, which may include content presentation, delivery and research applications, as well as word processing, information management and record keeping. Teachers use electronic networks and other telecommunication media to enhance their own knowledge and abilities, and to communicate more effectively with others.    (taken from http://education.alberta.ca/department/policy/standards/teachqual.aspx)

So as I reread the KSAs, I am reminded that my quest to help others become connected is not ‘off course’. After feeling that I just had to slowly encourage people to try new technologies or suggest once again that they become ‘connected’, I am bolstered with the TQS legislation that states teachers must “keep abreast of advances in teaching/learning technologies and how they can be incorporated into instruction and learning.”

Tom Whitby, a connected educator with over 40 years teaching experience, blogs about being connected as an educator.  Watch the video in his blog for his take on being connected.  Whitby agrees that on their own, teachers won’t choose things that are uncomfortable. Change, such as learning about and implementing the tools of modern technology, is uncomfortable for many.  It involves leaving the comfort zone, but teachers need to do this.  We are not teaching students for what we do today, but what they will be doing in their lifetime. Whitby goes as far as arguing that a teacher who is not connected (using digital devices to connect, create, collaborate) is an illiterate educator!

Our profession assumes that to be a teacher is to be literate, to know how to read and write. Will there come a day that digital connection and literacy is also considered an essential part of being a teacher, and not just an add-on?