2015 PBS LearningMedia Digital Innovator

2015 PBS LearningMedia Digital Innovator

Monday, January 28, 2013

Starting Fires

Remember Billy  Joel’s song “We Didn’t Start the Fire?” My seventh grade Social Studies teacher Mrs. Hadgis used it to teach the Cold War. I don’t think I exposed too much of my nerdy self at such a precarious age to my peers, but I distinctly remember cramming the lyrics down my mom's throat. Without so much as an eye roll  she would countlessly repeat the memories of her childhood as they applied. And after catching a glimpse of the video, I understood why she wanted to replace the avocado refrigerator! Accidentally and unconventionally I learned the social revolution of the 1950s, 60s and 70s. By design, Mrs. Hadgis created an intentional process for meaning making.  She did the culturally relevant: she met us on our pop music-loving playing field and designed an environment in which we could learn deeply without minding too badly. Csikszentmihalyi refers to this in Flow (1990), “As long as we respond predictably to what feels good and what feels bad, it is easy for others to exploit our preferences for their own ends.” This was my Blended Learning vision: exploit my student’s desire to use computers. My vision has evolved. Luckily for my students, I attempt to model my approach with the good heartedness of Mrs. Hadgis.

Every teacher does this: we all try to connect with students. I harshly argue that teachers who don’t are ineffective. Yet, reflecting on my first semester Blended Local and American History course, I don’t believe I have done it.  At first glance, I thought I accomplished the connection to student lives easily: students were engaging online. Students love to be online. Simple. Done. Box checked. However, the blended student does not seem to want online as much as they want a unique experience. And this is what I am beginning to understand: Mrs. Hadgis didn't choose a song because we liked music; she chose a particular song because it fit her purpose. The same is true for the design of my course. Learning online will never replace being online for students. However, I must thoughtfully design the experience so that students choose my class over YouTube

So, how am I going to do this? My most direct answer is: better in the second semester than in the first. My intentions moving into second semester are twofold: create an engaged learning environment and create a unique space to explore historical content. Not terribly different than last August, but I move forward with clearer intent. In August, I was motivated by hope: I have learned that hope doesn’t cut it. I must move with intent in my design if this is going to be successful.

First, I must reorganize my own online space. I need to make the visual design of my course more appealing. My blackboard course remains messy and cluttered. I must approach this with more consideration for student interaction. This will be tricky for me in an online space since I fail re-positioning my own household furniture. When building in the Medina Historical app, I tell my students they have seven seconds to convince a mobile app user they should continue reading and investigating the site. I need to hold myself to the same standard.

Secondly, I liberate myself from the chronological events of which Billy Joel sings. I intentionally approach second semester in a non-linear structure. I purposefully embrace the three dimensional thought process that is critical thinking. I am steadfast in my belief that each of us has some element of ADD in us and that isn’t always a sign of weakness. I thoughtfully allow my students’ minds to wander so that more informed opinions and conclusions of what has been and what should be can be cemented. My intention is to allow my students to stumble upon (pun intended) their own historical interests and investigate multiple concepts in the historical structure of our country. I release the timeline and embrace historical thinking skills.

Moving forward from a very rocky and precarious first semester, I reignite my energy for taking this journey. History can no longer be the boring class. In the second semester, students should begin to build their own fires. I know that I should probably take credit for starting the fires, or at least providing the match, but only one thing is for sure at this point: unintentionally my students are learning a thought process that will serve them well in the 21st Century workforce because I intentionally teach skills not content.

I also intentionally empower myself to ignore the fact that I am bumping up against a well established educational paradigm that at times vehemently resists a non-linear, organic approach to history, but I will hold off on lighting that match: too much kindling results in a quick burn.


Shannon Conley-Kurjian

Social Studies Teacher

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Is 1:1 the New One Size Fits All

“Is 1:1 the New One Size Fits All”  by Stacy Hawthorne was originally published on Getting Smart http://gettingsmart.com/cms/blog/2013/01/is-11-the-new-one-size-fits-all/.

Earlier this week I was having dinner with some fellow educational technologists. The conversation took the inevitable turn to discussing 1:1 philosophy. 1:1 is most typically defined as the ratio of one student to one device where that device is provided by the school. During our discussion, the question was posed as “1:1, Chromebooks or iPads?” While I am a fan of both Chromebooks and iPads, I was troubled by this conversation. Not, of course, because I am opposed to the student use of technology, but because I am starting to realize that 1:1 is a parallel philosophy to “one size fits all.”

Sure the reasons for adopting a 1:1 program are laudable. I understand that 1:1 levels the playing field for all students, that teachers appreciate 1:1 because every student has the same device, that maintenance and networking becomes easier when the device is standardized, and many other pros. People preferred the iPad because it was so much more than just a computer while others chose the Chromebook because they were easy to manage, were more affordable, and could virtually replace PCs. My internal conflict over 1:1 started to develop when I realized the technological needs of students are just as diverse as the students themselves, meaning that a school-wide 1:1 decision meant to benefit the students could be very limiting to some students.

I asked myself, “Would 1:1 would be right for my school district?” Our district recently implemented a blended learning program at our high school, funded in large part by a grant from eTech Ohio. This year we are offering three blended learning classes, Advanced Quantitative Analysis and Mathematical Modeling, Local and American History, and Composition and Rhetoric. Because of our grant, we have the funding to make our blended classes 1:1. The problem is that each of our classes has specialized needs when it comes to technology.

Our math class is focused heavily on statistics and uses statistical analysis software. This course was designed based a summer internship experience that our teacher, Christina Hamman, participated in at 3M. She wanted to be able to teach non-engineers and non-math majors some of the more practical business applications of mathematics that she saw utilized during her internship. The downside of this software is that it only operates on Windows-based machines. This meant that for students in her class they needed access to Windows machines, preferably laptops. So, we used some of our grant funds and bought a classroom set of laptop computers that students could both use in class and take home as needed. For this class, traditional laptops were the right answer to the 1:1 device question. Problem solved?

Definitely not! The students in Shannon Conley’s Local and American History class are capturing and digitizing the history of our town. This means that they spend a lot of time taking pictures, scanning historical records, recording videos, and interviewing local communities members to create content for their app discovermedina.org. It turns out that students do not like to lug around heavy laptops nor are these devices well suited for video capturing and editing. For these students, the iPad is exactly what they need. The iPad is perfect for original content creation, which is what these students are doing. But wait, we already bought laptops. If we were a traditional 1:1 school, these students would have to adapt to our one-size-fits-all decision. But that is only two classes; we have three in our blended program.

Stephani Itibrout’s Composition and Rhetoric students need a web-enabled device with word processing capabilities. The Windows-based laptops or the iPads could suffice, but neither was the perfect tool for the job. The Windows devices are slower to start up and again, are bigger and heavier than the modern student likes. The iPads are not the ideal device for composing long documents. For this class, it looks like the Chromebooks are the tool of choice. Sure, these students could make either the laptops or the iPads work, but why should they have to make do? Just like a carpenter chooses the right tool for the job, our students should have the opportunity to choose the right technology for their needs.

So, three different classes and we clearly need three different devices for our students. As I listened to the conversation this week it struck me how much we handcuff students and teachers when we tell them what technology they are required to use. If my district made a 1:1 decision we would clearly not be able to choose one device that is right for all students and all classes. 1:1 should not mean “one size fits all.”

If we are truly designing a student-centric learning environment and putting the students in the position to make meaningful decisions about their education, how can we justify deciding which device they are required to learn on?  When I look at my daily use of technology, there is no one device that could get me through the day. I’m not “one size fits all” and neither are my students.