Expensive Tests “givers” or Feedback on Understanding?

A lot of times we take technology and use it to do something old, just easier or fancier. This is probably not the best practice. Ok it is not good practice, yet I am sometimes guilty of it as well. Last week I was looking at the new ActivExpressions from Promethean. They are student response systems that have a QWERTY keyboard. I have never had a set of response systems in my classroom, but when I see them I usually try think of ways to use them. Why it has never occurred to me to ever want them is the way I have seen them used in the past. I knew of a local high school who used them for test. That was terrifying to me. I could not imagine taking a test on them, I would be that person to get one question off and completely bomb the test. When I see them used this way I often think it is just using technology to make something old flashy. That just bothers me sometimes.

Last week I heard a lot of teachers talk about using them in that way or using them during lectures. That just seemed like a lot of money to give a test, shoot Google forms can grade your test for you for free. When I have imagined having response systems in my class it was for formative assessment reasons, immediate feedback but feedback that can steer a lesson or result in questioning. The problem was I had never witnessed this device being used that way. Have you ever had a good idea but can’t exactly wrap your mind around it? That was where I kinda was. I guess if I had a set I could play and get it figured out, but I don’t.

So as I mentioned my last post I had the opportunity to attend the Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta and visit his math class. During his class he used the ActivExpressions in a way I had never even thought about, yet it was an example of what I was looking for.  He had stations set up around the room. Each one had a “theme,” the doors of death or the pounding basketballs and more. The students would go to each station, in whatever order, and send in the answer of the math problem when they finished. If the answer was wrong they would get a message and have to try again. After it was over he pulled up the answers and would touch an answer and get the person who sent it in to explain his/her reasoning.

This was such an exciting way to use the response systems and was a great example of how they are more than testing tools. Have you witnessed a class use them in a way that is different and encourages learning yet is a good formative assessment? I would love to hear more!

Innovation: Without It We Would Still Have Bag Phones

This afternoon there is this word that keeps popping up on twitter and Facebook. “Innovate” One was someone asking what was innovative and another saying we need to be innovative. The thing about innovation is that we always think about making “a new thing” but that is wrong what would be the definition of invention. If you have been to Epcot at WDW, they have the “Innoventions” pavilion. Not inventions, not innovations but innoventions. I always loved that part of the park bc it had cool things from “the future.” I remember it was the first time I saw a cell phone that was not a car phone! It’s a whole area devoted to making existing things better. Wikipedia says the definition of innovation is “to renew or change.” I love that. It’s not redo something. It is not create something different. It is to take something old and make it better or change it.

Last week I had the awesome opportunity to visit the Ron Clark Academy. (There will be more posts from last week, and more posts on things he was doing in his room – right now they are drafts I am picking through and cleaning up.) Watching his class, there was no doubt kids were learning, kids were growing, kids were excelling. Just different than what I am used to. I wasn’t even back to Birmingham and I was getting messages asking if the class was mostly rote memorization. That made me pause. At the first if the visit I was very uncomfortable because I was noticing the rote memorization but then as the class went on I was realizing they knew this stuff and even understood it. It was not here are steps of a problem or a vocabulary word, memorize it then regurgitate it. They took it and did some amazing problem solving with it. Give me a kid that can explain what a square root is then find it in his head and there is more than rote going on here.

Innovation is taking that old way and renewing it right? Some kids learn that way, some kids don’t. But if this helps kids move on the higher thinking, that is ok. So often we dismiss old teaching ways because it is the old way or that was what was used in 18 century learning. I really do not see a problem taking the old way and changing it to meet 21 century skill teaching/pedagogy.

One example is how flipped classrooms are getting a lot of flack. I will go ahead and say I am not a fan – a lot of my kids don’t have internet access and those who do I am sure don’t want to listen to lecture on their off time. But teachers are using class time to push higher level thinking, conversation and PBL but also reaching those who learn from watching/lecture (I’m one of those). Is it oh so wrong if learning and creating is taking place?
Also, I had a convo with a coworker today and we were discussing how not all direct instruction was bad if done correctly. She is so right, I get kinda tired of hearing kids need to be taught this one way that works on middle class white suburban America. We need to try all methods and see which way fits kids from our community. Once again, its ok to take something old and used but you MUST “renew” it. We need innovation. We need to “change” our teaching over the years. That is why it is so important to research different methods. But take that method and make it better. Innovate it.

I am sure if we all found the perfect teaching style, it would be time to innovate and change it, right?

The most important thing about innovation is that our kids are being innovative. They must be creating & thinking. No matter how we teach them, we need to make sure we are giving them what they need to become innovative people. We need them to take skills and adapt and change, no matter how we do this. Steve Jobs didn’t invent the phone, or even the cell phone, but he did innovate it. He made it better. Students who make our world better needs to be our ultimate goal.

Be Useful

So often I see others (and do this myself) get caught in the “If I had…” trap. If I had access to this technology… If I had this resources… You know what I am talking about. Lately in my mind I have thought “Oh if I could just have a class set of iPads or Amazon Fires, I could…” also I have become annoyed that most post/articles praising what schools are doing and I am noticing that the schools are usually upper middle class in districts that have an abundance of resources and think “Well duh if I had students from rich school and no digital divide I could…” (Which I have had countless hours of guilt for thinking that.)

So last week a friend of mine posted this video on Facebook. Seriously I found myself laughing and clapping (don’t make fun) as I watched this. Watch, it will be worth your time:

Theo Jansen just used plastic (PVC pipe) to create these amazing “creatures.” A robot with no technology, no iPad, nothing. The only thing new and revolutionary is this imagination. When people (um students) are creating, learning, imagining, they do not always need the newest and coolest gadgets.

Be useful. Use what you have.

Don’t Stop at Good Enough

Today I found a new awesome website. Well I didn’t find it, someone tweeted it. The site was Draw A Stick Man . This is a great site so much fun. You go to site and there is a space with the instruction “Draw a Stick Man”. So I did and went to click to close the site and uh oh I wasn’t finished. The site goes on to tell an amazing story and you have to draw pieces to the story.

The site could have ended with my fat headed stick girl (in heels) but it didn’t. The site didn’t end until I had killed the dragon and put out all the fire. Not what was expected. How many times as teacher do we just expect and only ask for the basic. We just have to teach the course of study standard right? Or do we take that standard and allow curiosity to take us to the dragon?

We need to push beyond good. We have the power as educators to nurture that questioning or want more beyond “good enough.”

**Ok so I just sat down to finish this blog post and checked my twitter stream first. Steve Jobs just died. Wow. My first real taste of technology was in computer lab in elementary school. We had a lab of Apple II computers. In 5th grade I was the lab aid. I got to spend an hour dusting the computers, preparing them for next classes, then eventually learning how it worked and it’s different parts. It was only part of 5th grade I remember in detail. What if Steve Jobs had stopped at that Apple II? What if Apple had never developed the Mac? What if Jobs had never come back to Apple? What if he had just pouted when “out of a job” and not help develop Pixar?

Our lives would have changed drastically right? We have to admit because of the ideas and questions from this guy our lives have in some way. We are that future you learned about at Epcot in the 80s.

Steve Jobs is why stopping at good is not good enough. Actually he is a perfect example why stopping at great is not good enough. Thanks Steve Jobs for creating computers cheap enough a rural small school in Alabama could afford a whole lab full. Thanks for not stopping at “good enough”