Sunday, August 26, 2012

Innovations in Technology Culminating Assignment

I recently finished my second course in the Educational Technology program through Marian University. I've posted the video and written rationale that acted as the final assignment for the course. Innovations in Technology (EDT652) provided the research and talking points to many of the pedagogy perspectives I already had. So, while the video and rationale are really just a string of platitudes regarding authentic learning and technology integration, I am finding personal benefit. We all have great ideas about our various interests in life, but rarely are we afforded the opportunity to solidify them. 

Video Rationale: 

As the 21st Century Fluency Project puts it, quote, “today we face a new kind of student. Our schools weren’t designed for them. And our teacher weren’t trained to teach them.” The 21st Century Student is not confined to a desk, in a row, with a teacher up front.   The 21st Century Student requires a skill set that will prepare them to adapt to the evolving job market. 

Providing them with communication, collaboration, and innovation tools is the job of the 21st Century Teacher, who needs to facilitate meaningful learning experiences, allow students to teach each other, and invite collaboration with community field experts. Included in my video are images of community experts acting as co-teachers. Further, I work in images of students modeling communication, collaboration, and innovation, many of which are centered around technology, the professional language they have been bred to speak and will need to harness in the job market. 

This can be achieved by expanding the class period and learning space into communities that have a vested interest in student achievement. Chen writes in Education Nation that “the [traditional bell] schedule reinforces divisions between subjects...” (2010, p. 198) Teachers are constantly preaching that lessons need to create student engagement, yet we continue to confine our canvas to eight separate periods. Lessons, units, and assessments are stripped of authenticity when restricted to a single content area. To truly create engaging experiences, an authentic context will utilize interdisciplinary projects that allow kids to utilize course material in a real-world setting. Thus, in the video you will see students learning in authentic settings such as a laboratory with a professional as mentor and a community river. 

I conclude my video with a what I expect from the 21st Century Student upon graduation. The traditional model of teaching has done a disservice to students by providing them a curriculum void of real world skills. Those who can go onto college are not always prepared with a career pathway. Those who aren’t college bound for the most part aren’t armed with workforce skills up to par with the jobs that are available. These are not new ideas. Since 1920, the The National Association of State Directors of Career Technical Education Consortium (NASDCTEc) has worked to prepare students for an every changing workforce. There mission is to quote “help students discover their interests and their passions, and empowers them to choose the educational pathway that can lead to success in high school, college and career.” Therefore, my vision of a 21st Century Graduate is one that not only embodies the 21st century skill set, but has a number career pathways in which to utilize those skills. They have an idea of where they want to go and have been provided the tools necessary to get there. 

While the pedagogy and learning space might by new, the end product is not. Teachers have wanted college and career ready graduates since the beginning of the profession.  The 21st Century Fluency Project recognizes the pervasive “that’s the way we’ve always done it” mentality that will need to be overcome for us to prepare our students. Students will clammer for this change, but they will not instigate it. It is up to teachers, administrators, and communities to send prepared graduates into the evolving world. 

21st Century Fluency Project (2012). Understanding the digital generation keynote perspective. Retrieved from
Chen, Milton (2010). Education nation. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
National Association of State Directors of Career Technical Education Consortium (2012). Retrieved from

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Common Core Provides Unified Goals and Autonomy

In the August 17th edition of The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel's “Your Views,”  a well-intentioned reader, Mr. Dick Marx, opposed Wisconsin’s adoption of the Common Core State Standards as a measurement tool for student and teacher achievement. His article, titled “School Standards Initiative Could Be Another Mistake,” is a response to an earlier OpEd titled “All Kids Need a Great Education.” 
As a teacher and proponent of Common Core, I’d like to fill in some gaps for Mr. Marx because he voices common concerns from caring individuals who do not have an insider's vantage point on education. His concerns include the possibility that Common Core will handcuff local school districts to teach prescribed curriculum rather than mold a community; that they were not authored by “stakeholders” such as teachers, school boards, and parents; and that student and teacher performance alike would be assessed through a No Child Left Behind model of standardized testing. These are all valid concerns for a supporter of schools and the individuals affected by the state’s decision.

However, many of Mr. Marx’s concerns can be alleviated with a bit of research, which will help calm instead of add to the “current anti-public education political environment” as he puts it.

Mr. Marx is concerned by the idea of Common Core dictating what and when local school districts teach material, labeling this a state take over of education. This is fallacy. Common Core, like other sets of standards in the past, is designed to create equality in education across districts. By providing teachers with a common vernacular and curriculum targets, students who migrate from school to school, community to community, can be sure they will receive an equal education and have a softened transition if they do move. Common Core, adopted by more and more states, expands this benefit across state lines.

Another significant misnomer many attach to Common Core- because its been true of past sets of standards- is that it was written by legislators, not educators. Wrong. The Common Core website specifically states it is a collaboration of teachers, administrators, and education organizations such as the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers among others. Further, they welcome feedback on the standards from anybody willing to review them via their website.

Finally, teachers should shout from the streets something many of us have come to realize: students taught through engaging, 21st century skill based teaching strategies score just as well, if not better, on standardized tests. Good teachers never teach to the test. Good teachers teach the child, adapting standards to fit the needs of their students, parents, and communities for the betterment of everyone involved. High test scores are an indirect result of these practices and standards because students are taught how to critically think, not test cram. Critical thinkers are well equipped to succeed on any assessment. Common Core provides the best set of standard based goals yet, and teachers are more often than not provided the autonomy to direct their students toward these goals as they see fit.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Moving from Guest Speakers Toward Team Teaching

I fully agree with the integration of team teaching, particularly with the aim of real-world context for 21st century learning. Bringing professionals into a classroom not just as presenters, but as teachers and mentors provides a level of engagement lost when kids see lessons as “school work” and not applicable to their future. 

My superintendent has worked tirelessly to market our school district to surrounding businesses. A benefit to his hard work has been a surprising interest in business collaboration with our classrooms. There are professionals who want to help us. We just need to open our doors to them.

I’ve had a few opportunities to bring professionals into my 7th grade language arts class. One notable experience came during a debate exercise for our social justice unit. A student enthusiastically shared that her dad is a lawyer. I was already planning to bring guest judges to determine debate winners. However, I was limiting this to our principal and colleagues with a free period. A few emails back and forth provided a great guest speaker. The student’s father spoke to how he uses debate tactics and then served as an insightful judge. 

A major benefit to this experience was motivation. When students heard a professional debater would hear their arguments, a high stakes mentality pushed the prep time into high gear. Motivation skyrocketed. 

Now, this experience was helpful, but I don’t necessarily consider it team teaching. Chen refers to his daughter’s experience with poet Grace Grafton, part of California Poets in Schools, actually guiding student poetry writing (2010, p. 260). This is a prime example of team teaching and motivates me to take the debate experience a step further this coming school year. I’d like to bring lawyers and other persuasive professionals into my classroom to sit with debate teams, acting as sounding boards for new ideas and improvements. As an English teacher, I certainly know the principles of persuasive speaking and writing and the elements of a debate. But a professional can bring an element of expertise I cannot. 

That professional insight is the opportunity afforded by team teaching.


Chen, Milton (2010). Education nation. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Appleton eSchool Review

Appleton eSchool Overview
Appleton Area School District has provided their high school students the opportunity to complete credits online rather than in the classroom with Appleton eSchool. This completely online school allows students to complete credits for graduation whenever and wherever there is Internet access. The largest positive to this online model is the students’ ability to meet their own learning needs by setting the pace. Students, along with mentor and teacher guidance, pick the beginning and dates as well as the pace of assignment completion in between. Beginners are allowed to take one online credit at a time. Successful online students may take a maximum of two credits simultaneously.

eSchool Staff and Virtual Presence
The eSchool staff pertinent to a student is comprised of a teacher for each class and a personal mentor. The online teachers are district staff that teach the same or similar online course in a traditional classroom setting. Students are told that staff is most easily contacted via email and that all emails, phone calls, or request for live chat rooms by the end of the school day or within 48 hours for more extensive contact requests.
Each online student is paired with a mentor. This is an adult who has regular contact with the student and shares an enthusiasm for online learning, regularly a parent. A mentor is responsible for checking in with his/her student routinely, keeping them up-to-date on assignments and work schedule. This adult is provided a login to help monitor student progress. Teachers and mentors are in close contact.
Florida Virtual School and eDynamic Learning provide packaged course offerings nationally. Appleton eSchool offers some electives via these initiatives.
It makes a lot of sense to have content certified school district teachers also teach the online courses.  Since the premise of the eSchool is to have students complete the same high school courses at their own pace, this staff overlap creates continuity, ensuring online and traditional students are receiving equal education.
Mentors present a great way for home life to integrate into school life. Online learning is new to many students. Having a trusted adult nearby to either guide or learn along side is helpful for students in every setting.
The two exterior programs, Florida Virtual School and eDynamic Learning, expands students’ course options with minimal work from the district. This is an excellent example of teachers stealing from teachers for student success.

Curriculum and Course Offerings
A comprehensive list of course offerings allows students to take just about any class Appleton high schools offer online.
The curriculum for these online courses is slightly altered from the classroom setting. Students participate in discussion forums, but their grade and attendance is based on completing at least one assignment per week. Yet, teachers are given flexibility to use various assessment tools that mimic classrooms: quizzes, readings, discussions, tests, etc. The same final exam is given to online and classroom students, evening expectations for everyone.
Considering the aim of the eSchool is to allow students to finish high school at their own pace, it makes perfect sense that the same courses needed for graduation be offered online.
Pace Charts, a calendar to help students keep up with course work, is an excellent idea to strengthen class management. The mentor has a heavy hand in this area. More to come on these later. 
The school’s homepage displays the slogan, “Providing 21st Century Learning Since 2002.” 21st Century Skills, according to the Buck Institute for Education, are focused around collaboration, communication, and critical thinking (Chen, 2010, p. 76). The eSchool’s online format does incorporate technology into communication; however, I do not see any notable improvement in collaboration and critical thinking beyond what a traditional classroom environment would provide. This is in large part due to the traditional style of assessment utilized. The Policies and Procedures document names some popular used assessments: brochures, PowerPoint presentations, reports, oral quizzes, and worksheets to name a few (Appleton Area School District, 2011, p. 12). These are all very traditional assessments used in the common high school classroom. There does not appear to be movement toward 21st century assessments that create authentic experiences.

Student Activity Tracking and Learning Management (Pace Charts)
Teachers and mentors are required to send monthly progress reports to students. Teachers are also expected to grade assignments within two school days of submission.
Along with the use of mentors and requirements for prompt teacher responses, Pace Charts serve a major role for students to manage their learning. A Pace Chart is a calendar that sequences course work into manageable chunks. Students have a lot of say in how this schedule is put together as well as the start and end dates. This is a spectacular way for students to take ownership of their learning through time management. Further, it incorporates differentiation, as students are able to work at their own speed. It is encouraged to work ahead of pace whenever possible.
For students looking for a predetermined structure, Virtual High School (VHS) is offered. This avenue provides the same course work but with a fixed start and end date.                       

Website Navigation and Information Access
I found the website to be very user-friendly, particularly for someone perusing for basic information. I was able to find an FAQ that was helpful to both casual visitors and potential users, going in depth into the workings of the eSchool with well worded, short answers to helpful questions.
Putting myself in the shoes of a potential student or parent, course offerings would be near the top of my list for need-to-knows. This was not only touched on in the FAQ, but I quickly located the link on the main page. A comprehensive list of the course offerings is accessed easily. However, it seems some courses are clickable, leading to a course outline, while others aren’t. This seemed peculiar.
Overall, the website’s interface is capped at necessity. Everything a student, parent, or teacher may need is quickly found without added bells and whistles or technical components the majority of users wouldn’t need.

            Appleton eSchool is a great opportunity for students frustrated with the pace of course work in a brick and mortar setting. Yet, the majority of what is offered does not extend learning beyond what could occur in a classroom. It simply provides a differentiated pace for those who need to speed up or slow down for success, expanding the “when” learning is happening. Also, the online component opens up the “where.” While this may help students succeed in the current academic high school model of course work, it does not provide much more 21st century skills than a classroom can. The online component can convert some of the students’ face-to-screen from entertainment to academics, but I doubt any new technology skills, with the exception of online professionalism, are built that social media couldn’t have provided otherwise.
            I recommend this school to any family with a high school student frustrated by the pace of the traditional classroom. I think any student needing things to speed up or slow down can greatly benefit from Appleton eSchool. However, if a family is looking for an academic setting that incorporates true 21st Century Skill based learning, rather than the same curriculum and assessment translated online, I suggest they look elsewhere.

Appleton Area School District (2011). Appleton eschool policies and procedures. Retrieved from
Appleton Area School District (2012). Appleton eschool. Retrieved from
Buck Institute for Technology (2012). Retrieved from
Chen, Milton (2010). Education nation. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
eDynamic Learning (n.d.). Retrieved from
Florida Virtual School (2012). Retrieved from

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Thinking Blocks

I’m a believer that the school day’s clock schedule is not an issue. Restructuring of the school year to 180 days divided into evenly distributed blocks (multiple breaks of a few weeks rather than a three month summer) has benefits. 

However, my focus is on the use of time within the current school day. I think it accurately mimics the workplace atmosphere regarding 9-5 jobs. That should remain. The comparison breaks down when we consider the work load and awkward divisions of time within those hours. No 9-5 employee is asked to segment their day into 8 pieces with very different tasks to be completed in each. 

To “go beyond the bell and get off the escalator,” block scheduling is an excellent remedy. Allowing for extended periods on a single task allows students to make those extra cognitive steps that a 50 minute period cuts short. Project Based Learning is afforded substantial opportunity to flourish with extended workshop periods. Students have fewer mental transitions in their brain per day, allowing longer strands of focus. 

Rather than a block schedule of meeting every other day for a 90 minute period, I prefer a school structure with increased interdisciplinary courses. For example, a social students/language arts class could meet as a block every day. Again, this gives students access to longer periods of thinking time to grow in a single area. 

An Allegory for Technology and Schools: Stuck on an Escalator

I see the escalator video as an allegory for the relationship between education and technology. The individuals’ actions in the video are a ridiculous reaction to a necessary problem. The man and woman are equipped with the proper tools for success; yet, they are unaware of how to meaningfully use these tools to reach an end they can visualize. They want to get off the escalator, the goal is set. They have working legs that will carry them to the goal. They don’t understand the in between. 

So goes the integration of technology into education. Many privileged schools are afforded modern technology. They understand the goal to be arming students with 21st century skills which are rooted in proficient use of technology. They have the tools to reach this goal, evidenced by the exponential growth of available internet capable devices in computer labs and students’ pockets. Unfortunately, too many schools are unaware of how to properly use technology to reach the goal of a 21st century skill set. Too many of us rely on doing the same, out-dated lessons but now online. Technology needs to fundamentally change the learning experience by expanding learning beyond the classroom. Kids catch on quickly that they are doing the same stale learning in a jazzed-up format. The glitz erodes quickly after.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Wikis Creating Wider Collaboration

One successful example of technology integration in my classroom has been the use of blogs as a discussion tool for both traditional commenting and logging of free read books for student research. Having experienced the positives of expanding discussion beyond partners, small groups, and the classroom, this upcoming school year I’m excited to expand collaboration in the same manner with wikis.
            Blogs are great because students have a much wider audience to share opinions, ask questions, and offer critique. Discussion is an important aspect throughout the learning process, but discussion is meant to be a step toward creating a final product. To this point in my classroom, discussion has been wide, but the collaboration on final product has not. Students have been confined to using those wide reaching blog discussions to create an individual product. Wikis provide a great tool to bring width the product as well. I hope for students to collaborate on research, joint essays, and online anthologies, to name a few, in small groups, as a class, across all my sections, and possibly with other schools. 

Raise the Bar with High Tech

The Waldorf schools in California pride themselves on teaching students via “creative, hands-on tasks” with the now rare quality of zero technology integration. They suggest technology will “inhibit creative thinking, movement, human interaction, and attention spans” (Richtel, 2011).  However, a look at how Waldorf schools combine low or no-tech atmospheres with modern teaching strategies, it can be determined that their success is due to other variables than just the exclusion of technology.
            Waldorf schools are highly funded through tuition rates, allowing them to equip high quality teachers with engaging and successful teaching strategies. In Matt Richtel’s New York Times article highlighting these schools, parents of Waldorf students are said to believe great learning comes from a high level of engagement sparked by quality teachers (2011). Every student, teacher, and administrator echoes this generalization across the country. It is the lack of technology that separates Waldorf’s version from the national trend. Yet, considering some of Waldorf’s lessons outlined in Richtel’s article, there are plenty of similarities to other popular pedagogy trends that are more likely the causes of Waldorf’s high results. In one classroom students are said to be learning fractions in math using baking skills, a real world application the content. In another, students are learning math, coordination, and problem solving by a hands-on knitting lesson (2011). These are great teaching methods because they engage students in real world application of the skills by integrating textiles and baking, great examples of a teaching strategy picking up momentum the past decade, Project Based Learning (PBL).
            Pulled from the Buck Institute for Education’s (BIE) homepage, a leader in PBL, Project Based Learning is defined as: “students [going] through an extended process of inquiry in response to a complex question, problem, or challenge [with] rigorous projects [helping] students learn key academic content and practice 21st Century Skills such as collaboration, communication & critical thinking” (BIE, 2012). Note that technology is not mentioned in PBL’s definition. This format is precisely how Waldorf is described as succeeding. Technology is not a necessity for success, Waldorf and many successful, underfunded schools across the nation are testament to that. Nonetheless, technology integration with PBL provides a greater opportunity for real-world engagement than Waldorf is capable of simulating without modern tools.
            With the goal of preparing students for the real world they will navigate as adults in mind, integrating technology will only strengthen the skills students are building. Edutopia, a leader in education technology integration, argues “learning through projects while equipped with technology tools allows students to be intellectually challenged while providing them with a realistic snapshot of what the modern office looks like” (Edutopia Staff, 2008). When Waldorf teachers prepare Project Based Learning without technology, they limit the engaging outcomes possible for students to what can be physically recreated in a classroom (i.e. a baked pie cut into fractions or a ball of yarn turned into textiles). If Waldorf integrated technology that allowed these projects to blossom outside the classroom walls, perhaps by connecting with national culinary schools cross-country or selling student made textiles online, students’ understanding of the project’s context would grow, and every teacher in the nation knows a solid lesson displays a real world engagement that dodges the student question, “How will I ever use this?”
            Waldorf supporters back high quality teaching without technology and have found success through their methods. However, every supporter of education advocates for high quality teaching. Why not pair high quality teaching and the tools with which students will need to be literate to succeed in the 21st century economy?

Buck Institute for Technology (2012). Retrieved from
Edutopia Staff (2008). Why integrate technology into the curriculum?: the reasons are many. Edutopia. Retrieved from
Richtel, Matt (2011). A silicon valley school that doesn’t compute. The new york times. Retrieved from