Beth Holland

Food for thought…

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Are We Innovating, or Just Digitizing Traditional Teaching?

I didn’t write this blog title. The editor at Edutopia changed mine before publishing my latest article. Originally, I thought that I wanted to discuss the promise and the peril of blended learning. However, I am thankful that he had a better idea.

Admittedly, this post began as a rant against blended learning. Not the effective version as described by the tremendous educators in Bellevue, Nebraska whom I feature in this post, but the “I regularly put digital versions of analog assignments on ___ (insert platform name) and then collected them back” kind.

True blended learning affords students not only the opportunity to gain both content and instruction via online as well as traditional classroom means, but also an element of authority over this process. With students freed from the confines of the school day, the walls of the classroom, the sole expertise of the teacher, and the pace of the rest of the class, blended learning could fundamentally change the system and structure of school.

And yet, as illustrated by the varying perspectives of what constitutes blended learning lies the issue that I am really wrestling with: how to create a vision for innovation. For my dissertation, I am looking at how to scale up change, more specifically, how to help districts expand the pockets of innovative teaching within classrooms and buildings to the rest of their ecosystem. As I think more and more about this, the real challenge may lie in first helping districts to recognize innovation versus digitization.


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Reframing the Debate about Screen Time

In so many ways, I am tired of this debate. Screens aren’t going anywhere. If anything, they will only proliferate. In the past, I have really appreciated Lisa Guernsey’s approach.  She advocates that we have to consider the content, the context, and the child. I wrote a bit about this in a previous post; and if you have never watched her TEDxTalk, I would consider it a must-see and added it below.

However, Daniel Goleman and Peter Senge’s book, The Triple Focus, gave me a new lens through which to view the concept. You can read my new post – Reframing the Debate About Screen Time – on Edutopia. Instead of talking about the quantity of screen time, or even the quality, what if we instead look at how we can help our children and students develop the skills that they need to successfully navigate a world of increasingly ubiquitous technology.

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The Best App for Your Coursework Isn’t a Single App

Which app is best for coursework depends on the tasks students will perform and the skills you want them to develop.

A few years ago, I wrote about creating an edtech ecosystem. Each ecosystem contains different tools and apps, and deciding which is best depends on your devices and infrastructure as well as what best supports your students. Within this ecosystem concept, each piece of technology provides a different functionality. A given piece might allow teachers and students to transport information, create new learning artifacts, or communicate, collaborate, and share.As educators, we often seek out not only one ecosystem but also one app to solve all of our problems and meet all of our needs. For example, over the past several months, I have engaged in a number of conversations about technology with educators that began with an either/or question:

  • Should I use Google Drive, Google Sites, or Padlet?
  • Should I use OneNote or Google Classroom?
  • Should I use SeeSaw or Office365?

My reaction to each line of questioning is: What do you want your students to do?

Although I understand these teachers’ concerns that they not overwhelm their students (or their colleagues) with too many tools, that single solution does not really exist. Depending on the tasks that students may need to complete, and the skills that you may want them to gain, a variety of options may be required. Choosing the best options can seem daunting. To start figuring out which tools to bring into your ecosystem, consider these essential questions to guide your thinking.

>> Read the rest of this article on Edutopia.

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Take Note: How to Curate Learning Digitally

Note taking lies at the heart of curricula around the world. Beginning in elementary school, we teach students to “take notes” so that they can maintain a record of the content disseminated to them by the teacher. And yet, with mobile devices replacing paper notebooks, this process has become increasingly complex as students (and teachers) struggle to apply previous strategies to new tools.

In the past, I wrote about the 4Ss of Note Taking With Technology. Students should choose a system that:

  • Supports their learning needs
  • Allows them to save across devices
  • Possesses search capabilities
  • Can be shared

While I realize that younger students need scaffolding to learn any system, older students need to think beyond just transcribing information. In an age when simple facts can be Googled and students create with a combination of analog and digital tools, they need to think about note taking as an opportunity to curate and synthesize information so that they can make conclusions, build deeper understanding, and construct new knowledge. Whether students choose to handwrite, sketch, or type their notes, the challenge lies not in choosing, but in creating a system that allows them to ultimately curatesynthesize, and reflect on what they learn.

>> Read the rest of this article on Edutopia.

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Design Thinking and PBL

While project-based learning has existed for decades, design thinking has recently entered the education lexicon, even though its history can be traced back to Herbert A. Simon‘s 1969 book The Sciences of the Artificial. So why the resurgence of these ideas?

Lately, I have heard teachers and school leaders express a common frustration: “We are _______ years into a _______ initiative, and nothing seems to have changed.” Despite redesigning learning spaces, adding technology, or even flipping instruction, they still struggle to innovate or positively change the classroom experience. Imagine innovation as a three-legged stool. Many schools have changed the environment leg, but not the other two legs: the behaviors and beliefs of the teachers, administrators, and students.

Consider this conundrum: much of what we know about teaching comes from 16+ years of observation as students. In no other profession do you spend that much time watching the previous generation before being told to change everything once you take control. Without the framework or scaffolding for that change, it’s truly unreasonable to tell educators, “OK, start innovating.”

If we look at the science of improvement, systematic change occurs between the contexts of justification (what we know) and discovery (the process of innovation). What if we view PBL and design thinking as possible bridges between those two contexts? What if these frameworks could serve as the justification for discovering new classroom practice?

>> Read the rest of this article on Edutopia.

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Back to the Future at MassCUE – From the Jetsons to Screen Time

Thanks to everyone who came to my sessions today at the MassCUE conference. Whether you are looking for more materials, or curious about what I talked about, keep reading.

The Future of Learning

I kicked off the morning with this session. Admittedly, I tried this topic at least year’s Leading Future Learning Conference but suffered a total failure. Despite both analog and digital time telling technology at my disposal, I was incapable of keeping track of 40 minutes and only got through half of the plan. Today, however, I had both technologies as well as an audience volunteer to help me out.

Over a year ago, I started working on this concept via an Edutopia post. However, I enjoyed taking the idea, fleshing it out a bit, and then building in a few hands-on challenges. Besides, as David Weinberger says in the title of his book, “The smartest person in the room is the room.

Book List from the Talk

During the conversation, I mentioned a few books and then said that I should provide a book list next time. Well, why wait. Here are all of the books that I remember mentioning.

The Power of Screentime

This afternoon, I had a fantastic conversation with a small group about finding the balance of screentime. Much like the first talk, I based this one off of a different Edutopia post. I truly enjoyed the insights and comments from the group.

Book List from the Talk

What’s Next?!

In the next few months, I will be presenting in a few locations and will try to share slides and info here. Most exciting, check out our upcoming EdTechTeacher events!

coming soon

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5 Ideas to Kickstart Your Summer Learning

Funny thing about this post… I wrote it MONTHS ago. However, Edutopia said that people were getting fried in May and decided to sit on it for a bit. I will say that this post was a bit of a team effort. Major thanks to Suzy Brooks, Jen Carey, and Sabba Quidwai for the suggestions and ideas.

Without further ado, here are 5 Ideas to Kickstart Your Summer Learning.

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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!


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“Fitting In” PBL

Regularly, teachers tell me that they don’t feel as though they have time for project-based learning (PBL). While they like the idea in theory, they can’t see a way to realistically “fit it in” with their curriculum given constraints of time, testing, standards, etc. A regular response to the concept of PBL is: “It sounds great, but. . . ” Too often, they see it as a manufactured experience that results in the construction of a massive project and requires enormous amounts of class time. However, I believe that this is often because the emphasis is on the final product rather than the instructional strategy.

The true focus of PBL is encouraging students to engage in inquiry, explore real-world contexts, and share their learning with others. In the examples below, every teacher achieves these goals while still meeting curriculum requirements and without sacrificing an abundance of class time. While PBL may seem daunting, these teachers prove that it is more attainable and manageable than initially perceived.

>> Read the rest of the article on Edutopia.

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4 Tips to Transform Your Learning Spaces (Behind the Scenes Info)

I just had another post published on Edutopia today. It’s a follow up to the one on 21st Century Libraries from a few weeks ago. The interesting thing about this one is how I wrote it. In many ways, I didn’t!

Thanks to some excellent connections, I actually crowdsourced this post. Here’s how it worked:

  1. Reach out to really incredible educators and ask for their help.
  2. Share a Google Doc with them and ask for them to just brainstorm as many ideas as they might possibly have.
  3. Organize said details by theme. I chose to use a crazy color coding scheme this time. You can view the doc if you want.
  4. Write a draft and then ask Jen Carey to rip it apart a few times.
  5. Submit!

I really can’t thank Elissa MalespinaJennifer LaGarde, and Laura Flemming enough for their contributions to this post.

Curious? Read the article on Edutopia!