The “Teacher in Space” – Still Touching the Future

Christa McAuliffe and The Space Shuttle Challenger

I’ve seen numerous “tweets” today, on the 30th anniversary of the event, from people sharing where they were when they witnessed or heard about the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. I was teaching 7th grade in Oakland, California, and our principal called my classroom to make me aware of what had happened since we weren’t watching live. We tuned in and watched the coverage for awhile and then discussed what had happened. The fact that Christa McAuliffe, the “Teacher in Space,” was a crew member added layers and significance to the discussion.

Twenty some years later my class had the privilege of having Grace Corrigan, Christa’s mom, visit our classroom. (the link takes you to a post about that day)grace4.jpg

We only had one day to prepare for her visit so we learned a bit about Christa and the history of the Challenger, including watching video of the tragic liftoff, but then spent the rest of our limited time writing questions to ask her. We were told Grace would love to answer questions so that’s what we focused on. What to ask and what not to ask  … what is appropriate and not. It was a more powerful learning experience than I expected and the students (4th graders) did a great job. Earlier in the year we had worked hard on speaking up and not showing nervousness, as much as possible anyhow, and that really paid off. You can read about the day we had – here and here

One of our major takeaway’s however was realizing how much we learned about incorporating technology just as part of how we learn and work. When my class first went 1:1 with laptops … it was all about the laptops and what they could do … they were a shiny, bright object students couldn’t stop staring at. But now, however, because they had easy access and used them routinely, the technology had become more like a pencil … just things we use when needed without thinking about them much. And that was true of the other technologies and applications we commonly used – video-conferencing, cameras, blogs, wikis. The shiny-ness and bright-ness hadn’t totally worn off, but now more often than not, partly because of ubiquitous use, they are just powerful tools we utilize in our learning.

As part of Grace’s visit students researched the questions they were writing and wrote them out on their laptops and our printer. We shared her visit live on Skype (audio only) with collaborators in Virginia and New York. We recorded and posted her visit as a podcast and video-cast (I recently changed internet providers and will have to re-post those at some point). Students took the photos that illustrate this post and the other posts I’ve linked to. And, as we often did, we blogged about the experience as part of a process of debriefing and archiving learning we were finding valuable. GraceCorBlogPost

 

We did all those things not so we could use the technologies, but because using the technologies helped us learn and made it possible to share and collaborate on our learning globally.

An incredible learning experience meant for 28 students broke through the walls of the classroom that day.

A great day and way to learn and share about history and science! (and so much more) Christa’s legacy and message continue to “touch the future.”

Learning is messy!

Use Powerful Tools Powerfully

Over the years I’ve had the pleasure to work, via various social networking sites, with Kathy Cassidy, a teacher “of six year olds,” in Saskatchewan, Canada, according to her class blog. We’ve even met face to face at conferences. My class (4th – 6th graders) shared blog posts and comments with her students a few times, and we Skyped at least once. Kathy recently shared a post on the Powerful Learning Practice blog about “Five Ways To Use Skype.” Some of the aspects of the post I want to highlight are that yes, ‘even’ 6 year olds can connect online in ways that provide powerful learning opportunities for them, and Kathy makes the point that, “If we are going to use technology, we need to use it well.” Check out her post, she shares some great ideas on connecting your students.

Reading Kathy’s post had me re-visiting a point that has been made by others (and me) over the years, but a point that needs repeating … repeatedly, because it is such a vital point to make.

There are very powerful learning tools available on the “inter webs,” and many are free to use … video conferencing tools like Skype, Google Hangouts … blogs, wikis, online photo and video archive sites (like Flickr), and many more. As Kathy and others point out there are powerful ways to use these tools that connect students, experts, facilitate collaboration globally, provide the ability to design, produce, edit and share content in any subject, and so much more (and yes, occasionally just to do something fun or cool!).

There are many of us that have been working very hard to spread the word about how these tools facilitate new, innovative and engaging approaches to learning. How they require teaching our students to be active learners instead of teaching them to be taught … sit quietly but attentively, raise your hand if you have a question, then wait for me (as the teacher) to decide this is an OK or appropriate time in my lesson to break from my cadence, my lesson, and answer your question or listen to your comment … now … or not.

So what’s my point already? It’s the point Kathy made: “If we are going to use technology, we need to use it well.

Ever since personal computers and other technologies were introduced, their praises as learning tools have been sung from the highest rafters. Unfortunately, much more often than not, when technology has been purchased with improving education, improving student learning, improving student achievement or (yuck) improving student test scores as the goal … the technology or tool has been the focus with too little thought or professional development or teacher autonomy considered to actually use the technology in ways that empower students and/or their learning. The results therefore have been ugly and have lead to a backlash about the actual value of technology and connectedness as pathways to learning.

In addition, the tunnel-vision of test scores in language arts and math have turned too many computer labs and other technologies into drill and practice, test prep and “what apps can we get that will engage the students” dead ends. That use of technology as learning tool is like buying a Ferrari just to listen to the great stereo while its parked in the garage.

There is nothing wrong, especially as a way to gain experience with the technology, to do a video-conference or two that is mostly about saying hi to a class in another state or country and share some basic information. But if that’s all you do … then that’s probably not “using it well.” Collaboration, sharing and analyzing data, simultaneously performing an experiment or activity to see if location changes the results, read alouds between students, an international poetry festival between classes … that’s more like it. Students tend to be more engaged, spend more time editing, ask more clarifying questions … because these students from somewhere else, and maybe others, are going to see it … I want it to be good.

Blogging is awesome! Blogging is writing for sure. But its also posting photos, videos, podcasts, vid-casts … and because blogging is a two way street (because others can leave comments) its a conversation. Students can post any kind of writing you do in class, and yes, I’ve even had them post a written response about their reading. But also creative writing, science experiments, reports on any subject, short stories, long stories, explanations, diagrams and representations of math problems and concepts (that other students from around the world can see, discuss and argue about). But also photo essays, video clips of anything, pieces they write just because they want to (my new puppy, my birthday party, what happened when we got a flat tire, I was so scared when …) … and again, these pieces are published to the world … and the world responds, and that leads to more writing and thinking deeply about the response, and sharing ideas and realizing what is different about living in different parts of our city, state, country, world.

I could go on explaining the power of wikis, photo and video sharing sites and more. But that will just belabor things.

Too often we utilize technology and the web because they seem to be automatically engaging for students .. at least for awhile. If we aren’t learning as educators how and why to use these powerful learning tools and opportunities to enable our students to do important, meaningful work. If we allow ourselves to feel unprepared or stupid or phobic about using technology and perceive that our students know more about it, or worse, see it as a way to keep students busy in the computer lab while we grade papers or do other “teacher stuff.” (yeah I know that you probably don’t get enough prep time). Then we are leaving its promise and capacity as a learning facilitator, connector and collaboration tool on the cutting room floor. We might as well not bother with it.

So as Kathy said, “If we are going to use technology, we need to use it well.

Learning is messy!

Classroom Blogging Options Post by Wes Fryer

Get blogging with your students this year!

When I’m asked what is the “biggest-bang-for-the-buck” technology learning tool for classroom use I still say blogging (so much so I co-wrote a book on blogging – see sidebar). Blogs can be writing and conversation, which by itself is awesome, but blogs are also places to post and share photos, video clips, podcasts, collaborate globally and so much more. They are also a powerful home/school connection which seems to be on everyone’s radar these days. I strongly advise anyone that wants to provide their students with a powerful learning tool, that you consider setting up a class blog this school year.

Having said that, I wanted to share a post I only wish I had the time to research and write. Fortunately my friend Wes Fryer took the time to do just that … and he did an awesome job of it. He shares about the blog platforms available and their strengths and weaknesses based on his own experience blogging, but also his students’ blogging experiences.

Wes titled his post, “Classroom Blogging Options (August 2015)” – check it out yourself and share it with others to help promote classroom blogging!

Learning is messy!

 

 

Welcome to the new look!

I explained a few weeks ago that “Learning Is Messy” was getting a new look and address, and here it is. There still might be a few updates and changes to come as I learn more about what has been wrought here. The old site was getting a bit clunky and unwieldy – blog theme updates would often lead to unwanted changes in appearance and function, and I was not happy with how my hosting company handled things at times.

So change is good, now I just have to deal with the changes, which shouldn’t be too hard. I have to give credit to Jim Beeghley who orchestrated the move to a new host and implementing the new blog theme. He got everything up and running before “turning the keys” over to me. He’ll probably get a few more help requests from me … I kind of feel like I’ve gone from driving a pick-up truck with an automatic transmission to a race car with a manual 6 speed … so I’ll probably strip the gears a few times … but I’ll get there. That’s part of “messy learning” after all!

Lots going on as one of the 6 school districts I serve has already gotten back from summer, and others will be back in a few weeks. Again, welcome to the new look!

Learning is messy!

 

Now You Can Submit High Hopes For The World With Twitter!

NOTE: This post was originally posted on the High Hopes Project Blog:

When we launch our balloons to 100,000 feet (30,000+ meters) this spring, the world’s high hopes will go with them. Now we’ve made it even easier to submit a “High Hope” using Twitter. Just “Tweet” your “High Hope” for the world, include the hashtag #hhpstem – and we’ll get it and include it in a payload that will take it to near space and then release it to spread around the world. So your “High Hope” will really go high!

We suggest however that having your students write their “High Hopes” for their school, community and the world might need more than 140 characters so then, as we shared in our last post:

“When we first designed the “High Hopes Project” years ago, we went about making sure it stressed not just the powerful content writing experiences about the science and engineering, but the creative writing we knew it would motivate students to engage in. We’ll share more of those along the way, but having students brainstorm, discuss, and share what their “high hopes” are for their school, community and the world turned out to be gold. Most students (maybe adults too) just don’t think about what can and could be.

Originally we had our students write those three “hopes” … school, community … world. We posted general steps, but we have no strict rules about how you submit your “Hopes.” They can be just be one “hope” per student … a “class” hope that the class develops … it is up to you. “Hopes” could also be written as a poem or short story. Once done, you submit them here.”

Either way is fine, you decide. But you just might want to send your own “High Hope” to us quickly through Twitter … and now you can! Remember the hashtag #HHPSTEM  – you can even send more than one!

Learning is messy!

Nevada Tahoe Teacher STEM Institute

3 weeks ago we participated in the Nevada Tahoe Teacher STEM Institute. Over 50 K – 9 teachers from all over Nevada came to the Tahoe Environmental Research Center (TERC) at Sierra Nevada College in Incline Village, Lake Tahoe, for a week of STEM learning. The funding was based on a Math/ Science Partnership Grant we wrote and received through the Nevada Department of Education. The event was put on by the Nevada’s Northwest Regional Professional Development Program, Washoe County School District, TERC, along with help and support from others mentioned in this post. BELOW: We started off with a group photo.

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Sunday evening we started them off learning the science of tie-dye (covalent bonds and all) and made the case for STEM learning. We also set up a STEM notebook for each teacher as well as a digital notebook (blog).

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The next day started at 6:30 am for breakfast and a day of Project WET, GEMS (Great Explorations in Math and Science), background in the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), a trip on the TERC research vessel on Lake Tahoe, stream studies and training on and set-up of blogs, wikis and a Flickr photo account – all of which we added to all week.

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GEMS – Great Explorations in Math and Science

 

 

Out on the TERC research vessel

 

 

 

ABOVE: Field Lab Director Brant Allen explains the use of a Secchi disk in reporting out the clarity of the water in Lake Tahoe. The clarity has degraded from over 100 feet to about 70 feet since the 1960’s. BELOW: Secchi disk being lowered into the lake.

 

A couple of past visitors to the TERC research vessel you might recognize: DSC02702

 

 

 

 

BELOW: Stream monitoring and benthics.

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During following days all teachers learned geology, aquatic habitats, space science, ocean science, food webs, the ethics of teaching outdoors – and the middle and high school teachers also worked in the Soluble Reactive Phosphorous Lab solving a mystery about pollution sources ala CSI. The grant provided experts from GEMS, TERC the USGS and others to teach classes and lead labs.DSC02753 DSC02758

 

 

 

 

 

In the Soluble Reactive Phosphorous Lab

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BELOW:Food webs

 

 

 

 

Ladybugs!

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Participants loved the “Digital Sandbox”

DSC02766 Geoff Schladow – Director of the Tahoe Environmental Research Center explains the “State of the Lake.”

 

 

 

 

 

We also got to visit the lake at sunset:

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Besides the more than 40 hours of training, participating teachers each received lessons, supplies and other resources to take back to their classrooms and students so they can use what they learned right away. In addition teachers will have monthly follow-up sessions to share their progress, ask questions, share resources they have developed and make connections through the classroom blogs, wikis and Flickr accounts they set-up. It was an intense and rewarding week of learning and sharing in one of the most beautiful locations on Earth!

FLICKR Set from the institute

NTTSI Wiki

Learning is messy!

Why should education leaders embrace digital technologies in their schools?

Why should education leaders embrace digital technologies in their schools? leadershipday2014_01-300x240

1) If you are in a state that adopted the “Common Core State Standards” (CCSS) you really don’t have a choice. There are many (yes many) English Language Arts standards alone that require students as young as kindergarten to use technology to read, produce and publish digital content and to collaborate in doing so. Just a few examples from the CCSS:

K – 12 – Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and to interact and collaborate with others.

K-12 – With guidance and support from adults, explore a variety of digital tools to produce and publish writing, including in collaboration with peers.

6th grade – (NOTE: by 6th grade the “… guidance and support from adults …” is gone. 6th graders are to master this standard on their own) Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing as well as to interact and collaborate with others; demonstrate sufficient command of keyboarding skills to type a minimum of three pages in a single sitting.

5th grade –  Analyze how visual and multimedia elements contribute to the meaning, tone, or beauty of a text (e.g., graphic novel, multimedia presentation of fiction, folktale, myth, poem).

I’m not sure how we get our students to the mastery of these standards, and many others without ubiquitous access to and utilization of the technologies required.

2) Collaboration – This was already stated in the standards above, but those were specifically language arts standards. Communication and collaboration are already key to being educated, but also in getting a job. Learning to collaborate with the student next to you in class or in your group is great, but technology makes it easy (yes, easy) to collaborate globally. Will it be “good enough” if students just learn to collaborate in class? Will that foster solid collaboration skills with today’s (and tomorrow’s) technologies? Not that getting a job is the only reason to learn solid collaboration skills, but getting a job without having those skills is not getting easier. Mastering all the ways collaboration is leveraged personally and using technology is vital.

3) Programming and design – 3D printing (did you know they are printing whole houses, food and blood vessels already?), also –  software development, engineering, graphics, architecture, transportation, art, medicine,  and much more all rely on programming and design skills … this is what is happening now in fields with good paying jobs.

4) Inventing (often referred to as “making” these days) – This is hands on and motivating and requires the skills developed through pedagogy that includes all of the above.

5) Problem solving – (See above)

So you think children are already mastering these skills and technologies on their own by using their smart phones and other technology 24/7? Ok, let’s see how that works out with your students.

I don’t pretend that I’ve included all the reasons that leaders should consider (please add your own in the comments). But these are not easy or cheap changes that have to happen. We’re not going to provide the technology and professional development and commitment to change on the cheap. Only real leadership will get us there.

Learning is messy!

Parent Won’t Allow 10 year old to Blog – Wants to Protect Their Child’s Intellectual Property Rights

A teacher that recently started a class blog in 4th grade (9 – 10 year olds) informed me that a parent had declined to sign the “permission slip” allowing their child to blog because, “They want to protect their child’s intellectual property rights.”

My first reaction was “… uh, OK … uh wait …  what!?”

As I thought about it I realized that perhaps I had missed being aware of  this issue and so I decided I should look into it further. (1) I wanted to know if it is a legitimate concern, and (2) if there was information I could find that would mitigate the parent’s apprehensiveness and allow the student to participate in a valuable learning experience – blogging (and other social networks). I also knew this could be an excuse the parent was using from fear of having their child’s work online – which is not uncommon. I should also mention that the student will blog and post work using a pseudonym, not their real name. I have had parents occasionally refuse initially to allow their child to blog or post anything online, but after meeting with them and explaining what we were up to and showing examples they’ve always given permission.

Before I go on please, please share any insights to this you may have in the comments. If this is a non-issue, I’d like to give the teacher involved either a heads-up or points to make to the parent.

I’m not privy to any specifics the parent had in mind here, but I’m guessing they are concerned that if their child grew up to be someone famous, or the writing or media pieces they post now might have value in the future (example what if Steven King or Steven Spielberg had had blogs when they were 10 (or younger) and their work (writings, videos, etc.) as a child were accessible through postings on the web? Is there some way that work would diminish the value of other work they produced now or in the future? Could someone market writings, videos, other media they produced and posted online somehow (legally) and make money? Are there other implications / rights that I’m not thinking of that could be an issue?

Of course I went right to my PLN in Twitter and asked for help thinking that I might find out that of course this is an issue …  you didn’t know!? Which was a real possibility.

  • Had a parent today not allow 10 yr. old to blog, wants to protect her child’s intellectual property rights. ? ?

 

  • And I soon received feedback:

 

  •  There are lots of misconceptions out there about IP rights. Was once told by a tchr the reason she never posted anything online >

 

 

 

 

 

  • I responded with:

 

  • Good point. Maybe we have to put copyright / creative commons language on student blogs? (or is it already there?)

 

 

I received many other great responses, mostly about setting the student’s privacy settings certain ways and other “work arounds” which were insightful in their own right, but I’m not looking for work arounds at this point. I just want to know if this is even a real issue. It would be best if this student could participate fully.

Again if you have any knowledge of the implications / law / or something I’m addressing here of on this topic, please leave a comment.

Learning is messy!

Update: Rethinking School District Social Media Policies for Teachers / Students

One of the challenges of my job as STEM Learning facilitator for 6 counties, has been that some of those counties (school districts here are by county, so every county is it’s own school district) have very restrictive online access policies … meaning they block almost anything even remotely social – blogs, wikis, photo archiving sites like Flickr and more. In one school district I was working with a group of teachers and pointed out that I’d found one of the above “not-blocked” – my mere mention of the fact was met with “SHHHH!” and,  “Don’t tell anyone! If they know its open they’ll block it!” But when I asked if that meant someone was using it they admitted that no they weren’t – for various reasons … none of them about educating children.

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I just want to point out that the “T” in STEM stands for technology, and the real power of that technology is learning to learn, sharing learning, collaboration and more. The standards even demand that students collaborate globally, and as I point out often, I don’t think they mean by sending letters back and forth.

Back in November I wrote a post about this issue and asked for feedback on:  “What would be the most useful thing we could do to encourage district leaders to rethink their social media policies for teachers/students?” I received some great feedback in the comments section from some really smart people – check them out in the comments on that post. During a Twitter chat I even got a response from Arne Duncan, the US Secretary of Education asking for the names of the districts that blocked these sites. Although I did collaborate with folks from the USDOE after that, it was agreed that having Secretary Duncan contact these school districts directly was probably not the best course of action.

Instead we ramped up our campaign of information – both gathering information about what led the opposition to access, and disseminating information about safety and the reality of the various laws on internet and information use and access that many were misinterpreting to mean if they gave access to anything social on the internet they’d lose their e-rate funding.

In December I was invited to present to one district’s EdTech committee. I used a 2-pronged approach. I showed them numerous examples of the powerful use of these technologies and applications as learning places. Collaborative projects, how blogging can be used to motivate writing, editing, communicating, collaborating and more – wikis, video-conferencing, Google Docs and more – I have many examples right from my own classroom, but also with the many teachers and students my classes collaborated with over the years.

Next I pointed out the realities from laws designed to keep students safe online (the ones that lead folks to believe they’ll lose their e-rate funding and be sued). I was able to use numerous sources to point out that the law, in a nutshell, states that you must basically show that you are trying hard to keep students safe, if something then goes wrong you are OK (slightly more complicated than that).

The good news is, that that school district has “green lighted” a pilot program of blogging in one of their elementary schools with 4th graders. Tomorrow I meet with the teachers at the school to get their blogs set up and a bit of training … then Tuesday I’m back all day to get each class started to blog and post a few times to get the process down as a first step. I noted last week while visiting the school that wikis are now unblocked and even Flickr (but almost no one uses them yet or even realizes that they are unblocked), so we have a foot in the door!

I’m not nervous at all to work with the teachers tomorrow, but I don’t get to work with students more than a handful of times a year anymore, and so I can tell I have that combination of being both excited and nervous about being in a classroom … like the first day of school feeling. I’ll keep you updated.

Learning is messy!