I want to use collaborative technology with students but… they can’t connect at home (part 1 of 4)

In my last post, I pointed to places within the Common Core (CCSS) that beg for teachers to design activities that integrate collaborative technology, especially using the Internet, into lessons for students as early as 6th grade.

I am acutely aware of the impediments to the kind of connected classrooms I imagine, and I’d encourage you, dear reader, to begin making plans to integrate technology instead of excuses as to why you can’t.  This is the first of four blog posts addressing a few of the most common reasons teachers cite as to why connected classrooms are a good idea in theory, but not something they can implement:

Impediment #1:

Some of my students don’t have access to the Internet at home, not even on a smart phone.

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Using the Internet with Students is Nonnegotiable with Common Core

Teachers and leaders who have been waiting for a compelling reason to integrate technology into their instruction need to wait no further: use of technology by students, including the Internet, is explicitly stated in the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).  While no one is arguing that students need to, for instance, be able to cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources (RL1, RI1), under the Common Core, few school-communities seem to be using the mandate in CCSS to push for technology integration.

Where is technology use in the standards?

The Common Core Learning Standards are not a salad bar, where educators pick and choose what is relevant to their communities; all are necessary; all are required.  And the Standards very clearly state that students need to be using technology purposefully, matching the right tool to the right task.

The short answer is everywhere, both as students receive texts (as readers) and as they produce texts (as writers).  And I’m not just talking about in an English class; to explain, let me cite the literacy standards for history/social studies, and the technical subjects for 6th -12th grade.

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Professional Collaboration in the 21st Century

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A very interesting professional collaboration is in the works.  While I’m not going to discuss the specifics of the work itself in this post, I am going to discuss the fascinating manner in which this work is occurring and the potential for this work to be a model for others who are also similarly aligned.

We let our avocation be our vocation.  

I get annoyed with colleagues who suggest my wee hour weekend tweets are evidence of a work-life imbalance.  When you do what you love for a living, you simply get paid a portion of the time you are doing the thing you love: you still do what you love 24/7.  Michael tweeted his close-reading work surrounding “Royals” Thursday evening; Kristen and I discussed the creation of a mini-unit Friday afternoon.  Kristen reached out both to me, her collaborator, and Michael, the originator of the material, with one fell swoop on Twitter Friday evening.  With this one sub-140 character action, a team had been assembled.

We use a variety of collaboration tools to suit the task at hand.

After browsing Michael’s work, I saw what Kristen did: that he had already done a lion’s share of writing text-dependent questions and finding entry points into the text that we might now build upon.  Because of our itinerant coaching assignments, Kristen and I don’t actually work face-to-face, elbow-to-elbow like we did on Friday more than once a month.  Not to be stymied by physical distance, I suggested we work in Google Docs too, and Kristen agreed.  We had connected to each other and to the material on Twitter, but recognizing that ongoing collaboration can be clunky in 140-character messages, had migrated to Google Docs, matching the right tool to the task at hand.

We literally speak the same language.

A strength of the Common Core is certainly this: that educators everywhere now speak the same language.  When Michael expressed a curiosity with what Kristen and I might be building on top of his work, I was able to communicate it to him clearly and succinctly.  It turns out he’s from Buffalo, an hour or two from us; but he could have been from California. I was able to get Michael up to speed in less than 140 characters, even, knowing that either he’d know what RL2, RL7, and RL9 were, or that he wouldn’t – but would recognize them as standards and go look them up.  Because of this common language, we could all access the same schema regarding expectations for students, and could move immediately into the work of building the unit, not the ceaseless talking about building the unit.

We value the collaboration of like-minded individuals.

None of this tech-enabled collaboration surprised me up until this point.  Of course Kristen was thinking about the mini-unit Friday evening, and of course she saw Michael’s tweet with fresh eyes after that conversation.  Of course she forwarded it to me and of course I browsed it, loved it, and then set up a Doc on which we can collaborate.

But I didn’t expect Michael to want to collaborate with us.

And in retrospect, I shouldn’t have been surprised.  I wonder how many other opportunities to collaborate in this manner – asynchronously, with someone from outside your district or organization, and using only collaborative technologies –  I’ve missed, simply because I didn’t know to look for them.

Conditions for Success

The work that is resulting — a mini-unit tailored to the needs of a specific subset of the student population — wouldn’t be possible without collaborating with others, using a variety of collaboration tools to fulfill various tasks,  speaking a common language surrounding goals and practice, and making one’s passion one’s life work. 

Facilitative Teaching and Learning

Underlying my pedadogy is a strong desire to get out of the way of my learners, be they students in my high school English classes or adults I coach or who participate in professional development courses I’ve designed.  I’ve found that being more facilitative than directive communicates both a clear investment in the continued growth of the learner and a belief that the learner is indeed capable of solving his or her own problems, the ultimate goal of any effective teacher.  What follows are four tips for getting out of the way of your learners.

Don’t answer their questions.

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50 States Campaign: an #edcampHOME slam update

Yesterday during #edcampHOME’s slam, I called out anyone from a bunch of states who have not yet hosted an edcamp, inviting them to help organize one, and promising them support along the way.  I also included the same call to action in yesterday’s post, and a comment from an edcamper in Tennessee got me thinking.

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Edcamps are intended to be grassroots, it is entirely possible that very successful edcamps are being planned without the Foundation’s knowledge.  Case in point: Tennessee.  It’s unlikely in this global, world, I figured, that I can’t find them even if the organizers haven’t solicited support.  Well…

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Chillin’ with my #edcampHOMIES

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At noon today, I was waiting in near breathless anticipation for #edcampHOME to begin.  That’s not hyperbole: I love learner-directed professional development. Like a kid on Christmas Eve, I couldn’t sleep last night.  I was literally jumping up and down with excitement this morning.

What is #edcampHOME?

I’m not going to try to explain what edcamp is as a movement in this post.  Lots of others have done it more eloquently and knowledgeably that I could.  See Kristen Swanson‘s blog, for instance. Or this post by David Thierault.  And I’m not going to explain how edcampHOME functions as compared to a traditional, in-person edcamp.  See the FAQs here.

But I absolutely will blow your mind by linking you to all of the learner-directed, tech-facilitated conversations that were happening this morning.  And I’ll wrap up with a suggestion that you help organize your own edcamp…

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Power to the Edge

Public charters that assume any part of the traditional educational system into their daily operations are a missed opportunity, and the educational approach is no exception.

Power to the Edge is a text that suggests pushing much of the traditional tasks of leader to the literal troops on the ground.  It is a 2003 Department of Defense (DoD) publication that is part of the Command and Control Research Program (CCRP) which seeks specifically to understand the security issues inherent in the Information Age and how the military can embrace emerging technologies to maintain safety and security.  In the Foreword, however, John Stenbit almost suggests it be given a discipline-specific close reading:

This book explores a leap now in progress, one that will transform not only the U.S. military but all human interactions and collaborative endeavors.  Power to the edge is a results of technological advances that will… free us from the need to know a lot in order to share a lot, unfetter us from the requirement to be synchronous in time and space, and remove the last remaining technical barriers to information sharing and collaboration.

We would be smart to consider these issues when reimagining public education.  An educational interpretation of the text is fruitful to explore.  In the Foreword, Stenbit describes the benefits of shifting from a smart smart push to a smart pull approach in information dissemination, a topic very relevant to educators seeking to shift the heavy lifting of learning from the teacher to the student, moving from an educational approach in which content is pushed to (at?) students by teachers to one in which relevant information is pulled to students based on their interests, understanding of content, and preferred delivery method.

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