Beth Holland

Food for thought…


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Back to School Adventures

It’s Back-to-School season. Since my own start of school at the end of July – you can read about it in A Call to Action for the First Day of School – I have traveled back and forth to schools all over the place. The map below shows all of my August adventures and if you click on the picture it will open in Google Maps with more info.
Screen Shot 2015-08-21 at 10.59.56 AM

With all of the Back-to-School fun, I’ve written a handful of posts which I have not remembered to post here as well as participated in a number of Google Hangouts about a few of my favorite tools. You can view those on the EdTechTeacher Webinars page if you are interested. This afternoon, Sabba Quidwai, Jodie Deinhammer, and I will be talking iTunesU as well.

My classes start next week, but I will try to continue to post updates here. Good luck to all of my teacher friends – and those of you who have kids going back to school. Here’s to Surviving September!


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Around the East Coast in 30 Days

I started to write a post yesterday and then didn’t. No real excuses, just didn’t get there. However, this morning, Cathy Rubin (@cmrubinworld) gave me a shout-out in her Around the World in 30 Days post for June, so I figured out my angle.

June 1 – Asking Essential Questions

Ever since I heard Jay McTighe talk about the concept of Essential Questions and read his book, I’ve been inspired about what it takes to get people to engage in deep inquiry. Leveraging the power of Visible Thinking, I spent the morning of June 1st with the teachers from the Williston Scholars program at Williston Northampton School in MA wrestling with the question:

How can the Williston Scholars teachers design a curriculum that encourages deep inquiry and exploration across cohorts as well as creates experiences unique to the individual courses?

June 3-4 – Strategies, Literacy, & Fluency

From Williston, I traveled South to work with teachers in Charlotte, NC. This group was preparing to go 1:1 with iPads next year. With a team of 5th and 6th grade teachers, we tackled questions of strategies – how to address note taking and active reading with digital tools, literacy – how to build an understanding of media and address the impact of possessing a global library inside of a tablet, and fluency – how to develop a growth mindset such that learners become comfortable regardless of the interface of various apps and tools.

In many ways, it’s because of these early workshops that I wrote about empathy as a key trait for teacher leaders.

June 6-10 – iPads & Chromebooks in Atlanta

To kick off our EdTechTeacher Summer Workshop Series, I flew down to Atlanta, GA and set up at Woodward Academy for the week. What most impressed me about that week was the amazing educators who arrived with open minds and a thirst to learn, explore, and challenge their own ideas. We continued with those themes of empathy, strategy, fluency, and literacy with a constant objective of empowering students to construct understanding and create artifacts as evidence of their learning.

With the Google & Chromebook group, we also had a chance to explore the power of DocHub for active reading and collaborative note taking. I wrote this post about it for Free Technology for Teachers.

June 17-19 – Minnetonka Institute & Skokie, IL

When I submitted my problem of practice to Johns Hopkins for the EdD program, I talked about the need to provide high-quality, sustained, professional development to teachers as a means to create lasting change. These three days helped to shed significant light on the subject.

In Minnetonka, the district has made an investment in PD. They provide consistent, high-quality opportunities inside of their schools and also invite in neighboring districts. For their institute, teachers drove from as far away as 3.5 hours (I now know where Worthington, MN is located) to take part in 2 days of learning.

After leaving Minnesota, I flew down to Chicago to kick off my first full-year program with the K-6 teachers in Skokie, IL. I am a huge fan of these learning opportunities because there is no pressure to race through concepts and ideas. We can iterate over the course of the year and build on various concepts over time. It’s after participants can begin to see the power of leveraging all technologies (yes, even paper and pencil) that they realize the power of student-centric learning. However, it’s also this experience that led me to write about the need for A New Metric for Learning.

June 22-26 – Chromebooks & PBL

Last week, I continued summer workshops in Chicago. For the first few days, I worked with a number of teachers in a Chromebook Classroom workshop. These three days reinforced my believe that we really need to address the concepts of strategy, literacy, & fluency in professional development. More on this coming soon…

With my Project Based Learning workshop, I hit a few snags – namely a misunderstanding of the concept. More on this coming soon as well.

Rounding out the Month

To end June, I’ll be kicking off an extended program with teachers in Westborough, MA as well as catching up on my homework. Keep an eye out on Edutopia (@Edutopia) as I have a new post running either today or tomorrow about The Art of Reflection.

July is going to get interesting as well!


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My Technology Workshops NOT about Technology

Are you a teacher? Do you know a teacher? Have you ever spoken to a teacher? If you can answer yes to any of these questions, please keep reading…

This summer, I’m teaching eight DIFFERENT workshops with EdTechTeacher in Atlanta, Chicago, and Boston. Some of them are very obviously technology based: The iPad Classroom, The Chromebook Classroom, iPads in the Elementary Classroom, and Google & Chromebooks in the Classroom. During these workshops, we will be hands-on with all sorts of devices, tools, apps, extensions, and other digital features. However, I have been doing considerable research for three of my other workshops that are more focused on process and pedagogy and less on the tools themselves.

Project-Based Learning, June 25-26 in Chicago

Project-Based Learning (PBL) encourages students to engage in inquiry, explore real-world contexts, and share their learning with others. Now, there is a huge difference between teachers asking students to complete projects (think exploding volcano, giant posters, and short videos) and incorporating PBL as an instructional strategy. Though many teachers may feel as though it’s difficult to fit in PBL given the constraints imposed by state curricular requirements, standardized tests, in these two days, we are going to prove otherwise.

Sure, we will use some digital technology. In fact, participants are encouraged to bring anything that their students may be able to access in the next school year. However, the focus will be more on the pedagogy and how to ignite student curiosity in order to encourage them to engage in deeper thinking about a particular subject. Don’t believe me? Sign up and come find out!

Digital Portfolios, July 9-10, in Boston

Digital portfolios have almost reached buzzword status. Students are using Google Sites, Blogger, Weebly, KidBlog, Evernote, and a whole host of other online sites to create these compilations of their work. However, in my workshops, we may spend the entire first day using paper.

Alvin Toffler, the futurist, wrote “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” If truly literate people will be those who can easily adapt and evolve as emerging technologies change the ways in which we communicate, create, and think, we need to provide students with an opportunity to keep track of not only what they learn but why and how.

I have a post about all of this coming out on Edutopia in June. In the meantime, here’s some of the background information that won’t be published and what we will be doing on Day 1 of this workshop. First, we are going to look at Understanding by Design by Wiggins & McTighe. Rather than focus on portfolios as the final step in a learning activity, we are going to examine curriculum with the idea of beginning every unit, project, and even school year with the concept of reflection in mind. Here’s what that may look like.

Original Learning Objective New Learning Objective
I want my students to demonstrate their understanding of the relationship between ecosystems, habitats, and animal traits. I want my students to document their discovery of the relationship between ecosystems, habitats, and animal traits.
I want my students to make  a personal connection to the characters in the book/story/novel. I want my students to share how and why they made connections to the characters in the book/story/novel.
I want my students to understand how US involvement in WWII set a precedent for responses to future conflict. I want my students to identify “lessons-learned” from WWII and explain how those lessons could be applicable to how they personally respond to future conflicts.

In all of our EdTechTeacher Summer Workshops, we stress the importance of beginning with clearly defined learning objectives. During this Digital Portfolios Workshop, we are going to do the same thing. Once we have identified our objectives, then we will explore what may be possible with regards to the actual digital component.

Reading, Writing, & Research, July 16-17 in Boston

There has been considerable research published in the last 18 months about the effectiveness of reading and writing with digital tools. As I’ve written on several occasions, I strongly disagree with much of this research as it focuses on the device rather than the process.

Whether your students have access to iPads, Chromebooks, laptops, or smart phones, digital tools can have an enormous impact on how students access and analyze content as well as how they then communicate their understanding through written text. Yes, we will explore a number of tools. However, our primary focus will be on how we teach reading, writing, and research strategies given the functional improvements afforded by technology – whether it be Google Docs or pen & paper. Seriously, come find out!

Differentiating with Technology, July 23-24 in Boston

I think we can all agree that students learn in different ways and at different speeds. When in the classroom, I had students who constantly needed a challenge as well as those who needed considerable support given their specific learning needs. From text-to-speech and speech-to-text to alternative assessments, we are going to take a deep dive into the concept of Universal Design for Learning in order to develop tools and strategies that both support and enrich.

This will be the third year time that I have taught this workshop and every year it evolves to address new capabilities as well as meet the needs of my participants. I think differentiating for students is a challenge for all teachers and this workshop is a great place to start.

Come Play!

I work with an amazing set of instructors. We have workshops in 5 cities this summer on a whole host of topics. Again, if you are a teacher, know a teacher, or just want to learn for yourself (you don’t have to be a teacher), please pass the word along and come play!

ETTSummer


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The Backstory of “Fitting in PBL”

This year, Greg Kulowiec and I added a Project Based Learning (PBL) module to our EdTechTeacher T21 Online Courses. While reading through the discussions, I found two recurring themes of interest:

  1. There was still a lot of confusion about the difference between Project Based Learning and having students complete projects. I like to think of it this way: The former is an instructional strategy that encourages students to engage in inquiry and engage in a real-world context. The latter is a form of assessment that typically does not appear in paragraph form.
  2. I got a ton of “Yeah but…” comments. As in “Yeah. I agree, but I don’t have time.”or “Yeah. Sounds great, but I have to get through my curriculum.”

With those two things in mind, I went on a quest to find great examples from excellent teachers who ARE fitting PBL into their curriculum. I can’t thank Meghan Zigmond, Kyle Pearce, Jodie Deinhammer, and Christine Boyer enough for their help with this post.

>> Read “Fitting In” PBL on Edutopia

Shameless Plug!

I am super excited to be teaching a Project Based Learning  workshop June 25-26 in Chicago. Come play with me!

ETTSummer


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Supporting Struggling Readers with Technology

I apologize. This post was inspired by Twitter conversation with a thoughtful high school educator. I remember that much. However, I don’t remember who I was talking to when I engaged in the conversation. If you read this, please refresh my memory. I apologize – particularly since I promised that I would share this post as soon as I wrote it.

Anyways, from what I remember of the conversation, it went something like this:

  • Thoughtful Educator – “What is the impact of digital texts for struggling readers at the high school level?”
  • Me – “I think that there is tremendous power in providing digital texts as an option. For some students, it allows them greater access to content in that they can focus on comprehension vs decoding. I’ll write more…”

Well, I did keep my promise to write more!

The Value of Reading Digitally

I submitted this post to the wonderful educators with Diversa in Brazil. It has been published in English and Portuguese.

Over the past few months, in a number of different contexts, an interesting question has presented itself. When teaching about the power of text-to-speech, several teachers have asked whether or not it could have a long-term, detrimental impact. These thoughtful educators question if being able to hear words could actually decrease literacy skills and remove the need for students to learn to read.

However, a 2013 report indicates that eReaders are More Effective than Paper for Some with Dyslexia. Researchers found that the “use of the device significantly improved speed and comprehension, when compared with traditional presentations on paper for specific subsets of these individuals,” particularly those who struggled with decoding specific sounds and identifying high-frequency, commonly used words – aka. sight words. Furthermore, in a recent EdSurge article, Valerie Chernek (@valeriechernek) wrote that “For students with dyslexia, the multi-modal sensory experience of seeing and hearing text read aloud may be a smart way to reconnect their minds to decode more words and comprehend information.”

While the two statements above refer specifically to students with dyslexia, let’s consider the impact of providing a multi-modal reading experience to all students. If we approach the process of reading with “Universal Design for Learning” as an instructional blueprint, then all students could benefit from accessibility features and not just those who may have a language-based or print-based learning disorder.

Scenario #1  – Touch & Know

One of the great features of using Text-to-Speech is the power of being able to touch any word and have it read out loud. Consider the student who struggles to identify specific words and yet can synthesize the content. If the learning objective is comprehension of the material, and not decoding of the text, then this feature provides an additional pathway to access the material.

Scenario #2 – Multi-Sensory Supports

With a number of screen readers, such as the Speak Screen that is native to iOS8, Easy Text to Speech for Android, as well as ChromeVox in the Chrome browser, not only is text read back to students, but the words are highlighted as they are read. This can support eye tracking as well as guide students in order to facilitate the process of comprehension by allowing them to hear words that they otherwise may not be able to decipher.

Scenario #3 – Enrichment

While we often think about using text-to-speech to support struggling readers, what about those who are working to synthesize and analyze texts that are either above reading level or beyond their language skills. By encouraging students to take advantage of the technology, they can engage with content that challenges them and pushes them to make deeper connections.

I think that it’s important to remember that the value of digital reading is in the Accessibility Features, meaning the tools that allow students greater access to the content and the learning experience. These tools do not replace the need to read, but add functionality to the process. While this in no way undermines the value of close reading, it does provide supporting tools to allow students to more independently engage in reading as well as have multiple pathways to accessing the content.

Want to learn more? Shameless Self-Promotion!

I will be leading workshops this summer in Atlanta, Boston, & Chicago with EdTechTeacher. Come work with me!

ETTSummer


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What are the Biggest Mistakes that Teachers Make with Technology?

As part of this month’s Top 12 Global Teacher Bloggers series, hosted by CM Rubin World, I’ve been asked to identify some of the biggest mistakes that I see teachers making with technology. In thinking about how to respond to the query, I kept circling back to the concept of word choice. When teachers describe their efforts with technology, they often struggle with the words they use to define their endeavors.

Word Choice Issue #1 – Integrate

Image Credit: Greg Kulowiec

Credit: Greg Kulowiec
Is your tech IN your school or ON it?

Oftentimes, the teachers in my workshops feel enormous pressure to integrate technology; they see it as a looming weight. Given their limited time to address content and curricular standards, they worry about how to “fit it in.”

However, we don’t hold trainings specific to pencil integration, nor do we ask teachers to specify plans to incorporate pencils into each lesson. Rather than being told to integrate technology, teachers need to have it presented as a way to enhance or support teaching and learning.

Word Choice Issue #2 – “Technology” Projects

Many teachers tell me that they feel forced to create “technology projects” that lie outside the scope of their curriculum, just so that they can check off a box for “integration.” The power of digital tools is in how they give students voice & choice. Rather than assign a technology-based product and stress over how to “fit it in,” give students an objective (i.e. show your problem solving, demonstrate your understanding, communicate your opinion) and then encourage them to use any tools – analog and/or digital – which enable them to be creative.

Shawn McCusker, Social Studies teacher in Libertyville, IL, gives his students a Choice Board for each project. As a result, they can create on paper or possibly even with video, like this student:

Word Choice Issue #3 – “What?” vs “What If…?”

Teachers often ask me, “What do I do with this app/tool/device?” or “What app/tool/device should I use?” They begin the conversation focused on the technology and not the learning.

The more interesting question is What If?

  • What if my students could explain their problem solving?
  • What if my students could collaborate to visually demonstrate the vocabulary?
  • What if my students could curate their learning into a multi-media journal?
  • What if my students could share their learning with a wider, more authentic audience?

When we start to ask “What if?”, we remove the limitations to our thinking. From there, we might see how to leverage all of the available technologies to best support teaching and learning.

Other words that I like to emphasize when approaching professional development in technology are play, explore, improve, and try. When the intent is improving teaching and learning, teachers rarely make mistakes.

The other bloggers in this series also posted excellent responses to this question. Read the entire post at CM Rubin World.


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Organizing Research with Diigo Outliners

For the past few years, I’ve been heavily reliant on Diigo – a social bookmarking tool. For the most part, I’ve just used it to save and tag bookmarks. However, in the past few months, I’ve begun to take advantage of the annotation features as well. While this system is great because I can search my notes and links, I still found it a bit cumbersome to then do anything with all of that content.

However, a few months ago, Diigo introduced Outliners and everything changed!

Now, not only can I save research but I can organize it in outline form as well! This is a complete game changer for teaching research skills. To learn more, check out the article that I wrote for Free Technology for Teachers.

Shameless Self Promotion

With EdTechTeacher, I’m teaching a two-day workshop, July 16-17, in Boston this summer on Reading, Writing, & Research. I can promise you that we will look at using Diigo to support these processes. Registration is open!