Thursday, February 24, 2011

Do they know how to be digital learners?

Where digital natives roam, paper and pencil have a place, too


Back in September, when Nancy Amling first opened the doors to her new technology-themed high school in Chelsea, parents asked her what supplies they should buy. “I told them, ‘You don’t need supplies! We have laptops,’” Amling said.

Over the next few weeks, she and her staff learned that paper and pens have their place. But aside from the notebooks students carry around, almost nothing is traditional about Amling’s school.

Located in the basement of the Bayard Rustin Education Complex, the Hudson High School of Learning Technologies [2] is part of the city’s massive investment in technology and online learning, known as the iZone pilot. The pilot is funded with a combination of Race to the Top money, private donations, and city tax dollars.

Hudson High School is a “blended” school, which means its teachers combine face-to-face instruction with online courses and homework assignments. Each student has a laptop and every teacher has a webpage where they can upload assignments for students to access later.

When I visited last week, students in a math class were progressing through a series of online word problems and drawing out graphs of the problems by hand. In a science class, groups of students were creating PowerPoint presentations about famous bacteria, such as the ones responsible for the bubonic plague, while the teacher floated from group-to-group.

Amling said one of the most surprising discoveries was finding how widely students’ Internet-savviness ranged. Of the 109 students in her freshman class, some showed up knowing how to design a web page, use Google Documents, and send emails with attachments. Others weren’t sure how to save a file to their laptop’s desktop.

“There is that expression: digital natives. But just because somebody knows how to send a text and get an email, doesn’t mean they know how to be digital learners,” Amling said.

Hudson High School is also textbook-less, a fact that has earned it considerable media [3] attention [4]. Instead of textbooks, students taking an Algebra class are enrolled in an online Algebra course. Through programs offered by Aventa and Compass, two companies that provide much of the city’s current online courseware, students can progress through a series of lessons at their own pace. The programs aren’t perfect, Amling said, and she hopes to eventually have her own teachers write online courses.

“What we find is the digital content is in its early stages right now,” Amling said. “Somebody once gave me the example of when they took radio shows and read them aloud on TV — in some way that’s what digital content looks like right now.”

Students mainly progress through the online courses at home, where the majority of them have Internet access. For the ones that have Internet but no laptops, the school has been able to give them take-home laptops that were donated. Amling said that some students’ parents had cable TV, but no Internet, and she’d been able to convince them to drop HBO in favor of getting their children online.

For all her enthusiasm about her school’s blended learning model, Amling said that if she had more money, she’d hire more teachers.

“Education is a combination of using the technology to support instruction, but it’s in the collaborative relationships where students are learning,” she said. “Because if that’s not where the important piece is, then why even have a school?”

Article printed from GothamSchools:

Monday, February 7, 2011

What can we do now?

With all of the limitations, or barriers, to provide the technologies we want it is easy to get frustrated as educators and administrators. But, there are things we can do NOW that can help. For what it’s worth, here’s what I think we need to do now:

#1: Create wireless space throughout our school campus so that students can use their own devices to access the Internet and open the door to digital possibilities. I know what you are thinking, what about requirements on regulating access for students? It can be done with the right policies, and good ole fashion staff responsibility and supervision. Let’s face it, we will never be able to keep up with the latest technology tools, nor will we have to. Why not let students bring their own in and use them to be actively engaged in their own learning, through devices they have on them 24/7? These devices might be smartphones that they are using their own 3/4g networks, or they might be an iTouch, iPad, other tablets, or netbooks that they bring in of their own that have wifi capabilities. The time is coming when everyone will have their own mobile device, so why are we fighting it? The time has come for us to give them the door to the world, allow for flexibility on their ‘transportation’ and then facilitate their voyage. We need to be open-minded and really, truly think through how we can make it happen. On all levels we need to start asking questions: Do we have wireless hotspots? How can we get more? Why can’t we allow students to access and use their phones, iPads, iTouchs, eReaders at school? What kind of policies can we encourage our board members to write to allow more connectivity? What can I do to get the ball rolling?

#2: We need to shift the importance from the tool to the purpose. From specific applications/software to teaching our students how to navigate in many digital applications. I want our students to leave being able to trouble-shoot and problem solve their way through many platforms, tools, and software applications. I also want them to know where to go if they can’t figure it out, to be self-motivated learners that turn to digital resources like youtube, Google, twitter and other digital networks to help themselves. So, yes I want them to be self-motivated to adapt from one application to another and to know when they need to turn to others for assistance. Imagine that, scholarly independence and adaptability. Yes, that is what I want. WE can do this, RIGHT NOW by exposing our students to many different tools, and allowing them to choose the one that best fits the task at hand. Give them the goal (to show evidence of learning) and let them run with it, using their chosen tool and project that can show their learning. We can facilitate student learning, without dictating the exact path.

#3: Provide many different learning opportunities, including access to quality online learning courses. This goes for student and staff learning as well. We need to get away from ’seat time’ and think more about ‘learning time’.

These are just three of the big priorities I see and by achieving these it will open doors for other changes to occur. In order for any of these to happen we need everyone working together: instructional administrators, IT managers, educators, support staff, parents, and students. The learning environment can truly be an open learning environment where we all take responsibility for our progress to reach our potential. Are you willing to work towards it? Are you willing to push towards it? Am I way out there with these? Let me know what you think… and add your priorities here.


Wednesday, February 2, 2011

A Vision???

It is widely accepted that for a school to be successful it needs a VISION. I do wonder how many leaders can actually explain what a vision is. How about these as explanations:

- A Vision is a disclosure of an unseen reality

- A Vision connects what can be to to what is

- A Vision is an invisible hand that guides what happens

Visions should always be an:

inscription - written
description - shows the next step
subscription - people have to buy into it
prescription - should be a solution

As leaders we are the keepers of the vision!
(See Jonathan Sprinkles for more on this)