Several weeks ago a few colleagues and I, all members of the newly formed Learning Technology Council at CDNIS headed up to the American International School in Guangzhou for Jim and Kathi Lengel’s “Assessing the 1:1” workshop. The questions we aimed to answer in regards to our 1:1 program were, “What did we expect?”, “How can we tell?”, and “What will we do?”.
The weekend provided a great opportunity for us to reflect on where we are now, where we want to go, and once we think we’re there, how we will tell that we actually are there. The most exciting part of the weekend for me personally was the discussions we had about where we want to go. We have been a 1:1 school for several years and we consider ourselves to be at the ‘infusion’ stage. Based on that, we came up with five goals for our 1: 1 program (not necessarily in any order of importance):
1. Use technology to bridge the gap between the continuum of the 3 IB programmes (ie. PYP, MYP, DP).
2. Streamline active and ongoing communication between the school and parent community.
3. Student learning should be focused on ‘real world’ problems and the pursuit of tangible and realistic solutions.
4. More flexible usage of learning environments.
5. Student learning (curriculum) should drive the technology and the technology does not drive the student learning.
At the end of the workshop we were asked to create a presentation as if 5 years down the road we were showing our progress. This is what we came up with (sort of- ironically we had some technical issues along way but that is another story. This is a revised and much more coherent version of our final presentation):
The first two goals are pretty straightforward- we just need to agree on a platform and work to make it as user friendly as possible. The latter three though, are the kinds of ideas that I feel like I could spend my lifetime working on (and I probably will!). It is so exciting to be having these discussions, but in a traditional school with the constraints of time and space how do we actually implement these great ideas?
Student learning should be focused on ‘real world’ problems and the pursuit of tangible and realistic solutions. Often teachers and administrators say they’d love to get their students involved in more real-world problem solving but they just have to get through the content they need to cover. Why can’t we do both? I am sure that we can (and we do, in many cases), but it’s scary because it looks so different. It’s messy, and it may not always be easy to assess (definitely not as easy as giving a test and tallying up the points!). We need to start getting messy. There are many ways that students can demonstrate their learning, and it is almost a guarantee that if kids are working on solving ‘real-world’ problems they will be learning more than we may ever know. If it’s too difficult to implement throughout the year, why not start with one week, just one week, where the regular timetable is collapsed and kids look at big ideas as St. John’s School in Belgium recently did? This is a fantastic way of getting the school community to look at a different approach to teaching and learning.
Now about learning spaces. Do we really need classrooms with desks all pointing in one direction…at the teacher? The teacher-centered classroom is a thing of the past. Students learn through research, collaboration, and sharing. The next goal, more flexible usage of learning environments seems much more tangible, and to some extent many of our classrooms already are flexible learning spaces. I am very fortunate to be in a beautiful, large classroom with a balcony garden. As a Science and Math teacher, the garden plays an important role in student learning- if we’re not looking at dirt or moss or microscopic organisms under the microscope we’re out there measuring and counting. Students feel free to go in and out, collecting things from the garden when necessary or simply working out in the sunshine. In the classroom, when students are doing lab work they’re working in groups at large lab tables, if they are presenting or if I’m giving a short talk everyone gathers around the front of the classroom, sitting on the floor, or on the tables (of course there are chairs available too), but there is so much more that we could do in terms of creating flexible learning environments. We looked at some interesting models and I especially liked some ideas at this school in Texas. I love the idea of having multiple projectors, small groups, comfortable seating areas. One thought we had over the weekend conference was to engage students the design process by partnering them with teachers who are interested in designing 21st century learning spaces. The school would pick the winning proposal and actually build (or remodel) this learning space. I’m in!
Lastly, student learning (curriculum) should drive the technology and the technology does not drive the student learning. This goal stemmed from the thought that sometimes teachers feel like they have to include the use of technology in their teaching just because it’s there. They are thinking about what technology they need to use first, then creating assignments based on that rather than just letting the use of technology be naturally integrated. If we allow students the choice, they will naturally gravitate toward using technology, and they usually come up with incredibly creative uses.
As for how we will measure whether we have achieved these goals, we came up with a variety of strategies including surveys, anecdotal evidence, before and after photo walk throughs, and iPad checklist walk throughs. We who are in the 1:1 environment know it works. We see our kids engaged. They’re collaborating, they’re sharing, they’re learning. How to quantify this is not so straightforward but I think after a weekend of putting ideas together we’re on our way.