Category Archives: Theory
Listen carefully! We are a group of individuals that represent a large faction of educators. While we respect the way you have run the training methods of your organization in the past, it is time for a change. As such, we are holding your teachers’ learning hostage. Their learning is safe and unharmed at this time, however, if you would like to release their learning, you must meet our list of demands when it comes to how you provide training for adults. Failure to meet these demands will result in the wide-spread lack of professional growth and lack of improvement in pedagogical practice by your staff.
It doesn’t hurt to spend a little energy and effort promoting professional learning and getting teachers excited for it. Come up with a theme and make it feel like an exclusive “members-only” type event. While some of them may come because they “have to”, it helps start the training off with excitement and energy. One example would be to send out a video or graphic that highlights the training in a fun way. Here’s one that takes a “Point Break” theme to make learning about High Quality Assessments just a tad more exciting:
Building on the buzz and excitement from your promotion, take some time to create an atmosphere for your training event. This can be as simple as having some appropriately-themed music to adding some simple decorations around the tables. When someone walks into your room, they should be excited about being there, not dreading it. Know that many educators are entering your room with the expectation that this will just be another 6 hours of “sit n’ get”, which is why it’s important to create that exciting first impression when they walk in. Have fun activity for them that involves more than just making a name card like “tweet what your first job ever was” or “find a picture of what super hero best represents you”. This will give you as the trainer an opportunity to connect with the attendees as well as give you some material that you can use later.
Research shows that hunger affects the brain and cognitive development. While we know funding is always tight and food is the first thing to get cut, this is a list of demands. If you want your staff to learn, make sure they are not hungry. This doesn’t mean you have to provide a 5-course meal, it can be as simple as a basket of chocolate or some protein-heavy snack mix. Having protein in your diet not only creates better avenues for neurotransmitters to help with learning and retention, it increases happiness according to this study.
And this doesn’t mean have 10 minutes set aside for walking around and adding notes to those giant sticky chart papers on the walls. Take a moment and put yourself in the shoes of the attendee. Would you attend your own professional learning? “Fun” can sometimes be a negative word when it comes to learning and it shouldn’t be. Making learning fun, even for adults, will not only increase engagement in the learning, it will keep them coming back for more.
Having periods of movements or “brain breaks” throughout your training not only provide some much needed breaks from what is being input into the brain, research shows that movement facilitates brain plasticity (essentially the science of having the brain learn something new). Doing a brief improv activity or having your attendees move and stretch increases oxygen flow to the brain as well as this plasticity. A side-effect of doing a group improv activity is that it creates an environment of trust and risk-taking as well as collegiality between staff that might not normally be working along side one another.
How many times have we heard that adults shouldn’t lecture children all day? Do we think that what’s best with pedagogy wouldn’t also apply to what’s best with andragogy? Who’s doing the work and talking during professional learning? If it’s more the instructor than then the attendees, you need to rethink how you are engaging your adult learners. When outlining your day for professional learning, try and employ somewhat of a “chunk n’ chew” method to the day. Break the day up into 20-30 minute segments that involving both introduction of a new skill, but also time for attendees to try it out and discuss ideas for application.
Taking into account the demands for engagement, movement, and making things more student-led, you must create opportunities for staff to collaborate on an idea or solve a problem. Providing time for collaboration in your professional learning allows opportunities for staff to discuss best practices around a topic or share strategies around a particular pedagogical problem.
Learning new things and skills takes a lot of cognitive ability. Having a training where all you do is show a series of new tools or tricks can be overwhelming to the brain and makes it nearly impossible to internalize all of it. As mentioned in demand #6, creating “chunk n’ chew” learning opportunities throughout the training will give staff an opportunity to try out the new skill as well as plan for application. Taking time to plan for application of the skill when it is learned, has a greater chance to translate into actual practice in the classroom.
We try to differentiate for learners in our classrooms, why not do the same for staff? Every single person comes into a training session with a different set of prior skills, knowledge, and preferred learning methods. When planning your professional learning, you need to allow opportunities for both the struggling learners and the high-flyers to be successful. This can be as simple as sharing your outline for the day ahead of time on Google docs or a website so that some can go at their own pace, while others can revisit a newly learned strategy.
Our final demand is that you provide some time for staff to reflect on what they have learned. When planning the professional learning experience for your staff, make sure there is time to reflect throughout the day. This doesn’t mean just spend the last 5 minutes reflecting on something they learned that day, but rather actual pockets of time throughout the day where they can reflect in the medium of their choosing. After all, educational reformer John Dewey once said, “We do not learn from experience…we learn from reflecting on experience.”
We feel our list of demands are not unreasonable. Please secure these demands prior to your next professional learning event or your teachers’ learning will suffer the consequences.
The E.B.P.L. (Educators for Better Professional Learning)
I had a major problem in my last year as a first grade teacher. I had been teaching for several years and the students were so far ahead with two months to go that I had to figure out what to do with them. The year before, I decided to give them a head start on second grade curriculum thinking they would lose some during the summer break. I discovered that this was a major no-no and akin to taking a teacher’s personal parking space. Following a pretty good tongue-lashing by the second grade teachers, I was entering April with a choice, do I do it again? Or do I figure out something else to do for our final 2 months together?
One thing that always bothered me as a teacher was the curriculum. The school I was teaching at and the team I was teaching with would rarely stray from it. The Teacher’s Edition was like a Holy Bible for a newer teacher as it provided the scope, sequence and pacing of delivery of content. There was one MAJOR problem with this….it didn’t take into account the kids. I was forcing them to learn math through fake story problems involving trains moving in opposite directions and learn history of whatever the textbook or standard dictated and never any more than that.
So with almost all the first grade content covered and a couple months of school left, I decided to consult the most important people in the school about what to do with the time….the students. I asked them what they wanted to learn about for the remainder of our time together. I had hoped for maybe one or two ideas but instead I got 22 different ideas for 22 different kids. It makes sense when you think about it. They each are unique and have different passions, so why wouldn’t they come up with things they are interested in? The choices ranged from tornadoes to the actress Rachel Weisz (yes, a little boy named Sean was obsessed with her).
After gathering their list of ideas I presented them with a challenge – tie in all the core areas of curriculum – writing, science, reading, math and social studies into their passion and present a final project the represents all of these areas. While the school day was still fairly structured with centers and finishing up the final pieces of first grade curriculum, I started giving them an hour or more each day to work on their “passion project”.
I didn’t know it at the time, but this is exactly the way companies like Google work with their 20% time. It’s also the basis behind the concept of “Genius hour” in schools. Spend the majority of your time working on the “work” but then carve out pockets of time to explore your passions and inner genius. I’ve also heard it referred to as “Interest-based Learning.” Whatever you want to call it, I stumbled into it my last year of teaching and immediately had regret. Not regret for doing it, but regret for not doing it sooner.
The classroom bubbled with energy whenever the students had time to work on their projects. With only 4 computers in the room (do you remember Compaq computers?), they had limited research time and time to create. I ended up locating the one COW (Computers on Wheels) at the time which was full of a dozen pearl-white Apple iBooks (image left). I told the rest of the school that I would be the computer “farmer” in charge of the COW until the end of the year as my kids were using it heavily to wrap up their projects.
The amount of creativity energy flowing out of room 52 that year was breath-taking. During the last week of school, each of the students presented their passion project. I invited their parents in to see the final outcomes. Mary’s project on horses involved a history of horse migration to North America, an original poem on horses, and even math story problems on horses (“If two horses leave a barn at the same time heading in opposite directions…”). Every student rose to the challenge and while it was hard for some to tie in the core content areas (Rachel Weisz was particularly challenging), they each accomplished the goals on the rubric.
So how do we make the time in schools for students to follow their inner-genius or passion? Some schools create Genius Hour time one day a week or one class period a week. Others, like one of our elementary campuses, creates something called “Enrichment Clusters” (based on the work of Joseph Renzulli) where not only do the students get to explore their passions, but the teachers get to teach their passions as well. Courses range from coding to yoga to golf in these clusters where students learn and ultimately present their project at the end of a 9-week time period.
As the students in my class wrapped up their projects that year, I felt extremely rewarded for making the choice I had for our time together those final weeks.They had the time to explore their inner-genius and had rewarded me by showing their learning. Thusly, I wanted to reward them for taking on this idea with such fervor. I tried to find some sort of trinket or object for each of them associated with their project. The boy who’s passion was Harry Potter got a stuff-three headed dog named Fluffy. The girl who was passionate about surfing got a charm bracelet full of different surf boards.
Oh, and in case you are wondering what happened with the student who created the Rachel Weisz project, I decided to reach out to the actress’ handlers but didn’t get a response. I ended up asking Sean to present on the last day just in case she decided to send a note or something. On the last day of school, his reward arrived:
It’s amazing what students can accomplish if you give them some voice and some choice. As a teacher, we need to figure out how to make this time for our students. We all have an inner-genius, we just need the time to explore it.
Every year I embark on an expedition to either look brilliant or embarrass myself. (Let’s be honest, that’s more like every day in my life) Since 2013 I’ve set out to make a series of predictions, mostly in the Ed Tech world, that are bold. Now, let’s look at the definition of “bold” below before we get started.
While all of these certainly can be applied, I’m going to focus on the final definition and say that some of these predictions stretch the usual limits of conventional thought or action. Last year for example, I predicted that schools would start to implement self-driving buses. As crazy as this may sound, about a month after the prediction, a company in Perth, Australia, began to pilot the self-driving bus in their community. It’s only a matter of time before schools use them right?
You get the idea. Some of these are crazy, others actually just make sense, and some I just wish would happen. So, with that in mind and stressing that this is a “no judgement” zone, let’s proceed:
A Dual-Language school will open with coding as the second language
The immersive dual-language movement has been going on for decades. Why not treat coding as a foreign language? If we really believe that we are preparing kids for a global society, then why not teach them a language many of them will find useful later in life? This does not mean that learning an actual foreign language is any less important, it’s just that we should probably start to value coding and programming on that same level in schools. One sign that this would become a reality would be if a school district actually gave a language credit to those learning to program and code. Talk about taking “hour of code” to the next level!
The POTUS will use SnapChat to give the State of the Union
I’m not even touching the political side of this, but instead, let’s focus on the medium to which our future president will use to communicate the State of the Union with the masses. I get the feeling that Twitter will not be enough for him in the future. I mean, either they’ll have to change their limit of 140 characters (not likely) or he’ll choose a different way of communicating. Enter SnapChat! What a great way to make a bold statement and then have it disappear (sort of) just a few seconds later. Does this sound all that crazy considering where we are today with social media, politics and the recent election?
The Learning “Movement” will take center stage at this year’s iPadpalooza
Every year, iPadpalooza tries to center our attention around a certain theme. Last year we let the “Learning be with us” via a Star Wars-focused theme centered around looking into the future. This year, we take the PokemonGo phenomenon and flip it on its head with our “Learning on the GO” theme. I mean, what good is it to have all of these mobile devices in schools when kids are forced to sit in desks in rows learning the same traditional content the same traditional way? During this year’s event, there will be a whole lotta shakin’ going on with sessions centered around the theme and even a new type of session called a “Walk n’ Talk” where attendees will actually walk around the campus with a presenter sharing an idea. You’ll want to have a good pair of walking shoes before you join us this summer!
Someone will invent a PokemonGO type app for education
Speaking of PokemonGO, it’s only a matter of time before someone invents an app that has some of the same addictive…er…engaging pieces of the widely popular Niantic app. I know there already is a PokemonEdu Facebook group and Twitter hashtag centered around using the characters from the app in an edu setting, but I’m talking something bigger here.
Imagine it. As a teacher, you have access to a platform that allows you to upload little learning nuggets into a platform. Students then actually get up and physically leave the classroom to discover these learning nuggets. Working in teams, they put the nuggets together and get certain badges for completing certain challenges. There could even be time limits, based on the class schedule, so you don’t just have kids wandering the halls all day. It’s like taking the APPmazing Race to a whole other level….hmmmmm….
Data actually gets sexy
I’m always reading stuff about “Big Data” and hearing about some fancy things happening with the IBM Watson project, but in truth, I find data to be extremely boring in its traditional, spreadsheet-focused format. I equate it to going and getting a physical. You don’t want to do it, but you need to if you really want to improve your health. Let’s face it, unless you are an accountant or testing coordinator, you’d rather find something else to do with your time rather than pouring over hundreds of color-coded graphs.
But this year, I think that will change. Now, I’m cheating a little bit here as I’ve been privy to a new program (called CatchOn) that actually puts usage data in a simple, clean, fantasy-football-like format. Gone are the days of me logging into different programs to look up usage statistics and figure out the ROI of a particular program. In this not-so-distant future, we’ll actually be able to see everything that’s being used on a district or school level right on our phone and then adjust accordingly. As someone who delivers professional learning in my district, being able to see this data instantly and beautifully would be powerful in steering what we need to help train teachers on or what we need to get rid of. Now that would be sexy (and save us money)!
Mixed Reality makes it’s way into the mainstream classroom
For the past couple of years, there have been several one-off ideas of using some sort of mixed reality in the classroom. Maybe it’s virtual through programs like Google Expeditions or Nearpod VR, or maybe it’s augmented like using the Aurasma app to see hidden things (something I attempted to do with my book series). Either way, mixing realities can provide a powerful way to engage students into certain content areas and up until now, it’s largely been seen as a niche or fun side activity. As witnessed by this recent Kickstarter called the ZapBox, it’s not too hard to see a future where the holograms actually do pop up on the desk so you can interact with them. Now, if only they can invent a way to create virtual versions of those paper footballs that I used to flick across the classroom.
Piggy backing on the VR concept and expanding into pop culture, I see hollywood grabbing onto the VR the concept and expanding it to the viewer. Now, as someone attending a VR-enhanced movie, you put on the VR goggles, much like you do now with 3D glasses, and are instantly in the middle of the movie. You look around at all the characters around you and actually sit in the middle of the room where the action is taking place. Imagine sitting in a car from Fast and Furious 15 as it launches out of a plane and lands on a boat! Or imagine sitting in the living room during Halloween Part 13 and instead of yelling at the screen for the actor to turn around, you can actually turn around as the killer approaches? Doing it in a movie theater gives everyone the same shared experience and you could even make movies more “Choose your own adventure-like” where half the audience goes down one hallway and the rest go down the other. Sound crazy or genius? I’m not sure where I fall on this yet, but hope it happens.
The Classroom becomes “Smart” with Frank
With devices like Google Home and Amazon’s Alexa really taking off in the consumer market, it doesn’t seem that far-fetched that we would soon see an educational version of these tools. I think it should be called something like “Frank”. Frank would be like a fact-checking teacher’s assistant that all the students could also use. “Frank, when was the battle of 1812?” or “What is Bohr’s law?” or maybe “What is my teacher’s favorite treat?” All of these could be useful in saving time in the classroom and help dive into even deeper learning and higher Bloom’s level thinking. However, I imagine it might also come with a lot of new classroom management issues. But hey, for every challenge comes an opportunity, right Frank?
I finally publish my first children’s book…and this time I mean it!
Yes, I know this was on last year’s predictions, but I sort of had that whole Mobile Learning Mindset book series to finish first. With that series finally complete, I’m ready to embark on a new journey. I’ve got a lot of good ideas for a tech-centered children’s book that will definitely be some sort of mixed reality book too. It might even come with it’s own pair of VR goggles attached on the back. Like a virtual pop-up book of sorts. Now, if only I can find a publisher willing to take a risk….
There you have it. A few bold and bolder predictions that may happen this year. What do you think? What do you predict? Add your comments below and maybe together, we can make the future a better place for learning too!
Happy New Year!
Do you ever have that moment where there is something you have to do, but you don’t want to do it? Maybe it’s just a menial task like putting away laundry or doing the dishes. In your job it may be something like entering grades or uploading data via .csv files. Those moments happen throughout life unless you are lucky enough to have a butler and not have to work.
But what about those times when there is something you have to do that troubles you because you know it pushes you out of your comfort zone?
Now I’ll stop here and say that the phrase “have to do” would really be more apropos if replaced with “should do.” It’s those uncomfortable moments when you have an opportunity to do something that has some potential benefit, but because it pushes your comfort zone a bit, you decide not to do it. You end up circling back later usually with some regret, expressing how you should have done whatever it was. You end up “should-ing” yourself out of doing things. (Great video here detailing this concept)
A couple of weeks ago my wife and I got to travel to Australia to present and MC the amazing iPadpaloozaGC event taking place there. We decided to make a mini-vacation out of it as I was taking time off to travel anyway and go up a few days early. After traveling 26 hours, we landed in Gold Coast with really only 2 and 1/2 days to explore, the 1/2 day being the Sunday we landed.
My wife had done some research and discovered a place called “O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat” which had a great viewing platform that over-looked the rainforest. The only problem was, it was too far for an Uber ride so we had to rent a car. Now, as you may know, in Australia they drive on the left side of the road with the car seat in the right side of the car. We decided rental was the way to go and as we landed I noticed something strange….I was nervous.
I say strange, because nervousness is not usually a trait I possess. Even before public speaking, you can often find me laughing and dancing off-stage (probably as a way to combat the onset of nervousness mind you). My hands were clammy, my stomach began to ache, and I began to imagine that scene in European Vacation where Chevy Chase is running into everyone in the parking lot as he learns to drive.
I began to frantically look at the cost of an Uber ride. It would be about $300 round-trip, but that cost might be worth it if for no other reason than to overcome the anxiety I was now experiencing. Without really thinking though, we walked up to rental counter to “hire a car” as they say it down under. And so, despite being exhausted and jetlagged, I found myself behind the right side of a car driving on the wrong side of the road. We were off.
We picked up our friends, Scott and Lisa on the way up to O’Reilly’s to share in the horror/experience of me learning to drive all over again at the age of 41. Of course, being a male, I had to hide my fear, but anyone looking at my knuckles on the steering wheel would have noticed they were stark white. As we traveled up the mountain the road began to get narrower and narrower. Eventually, it turned into a one-lane, two-way road that didn’t have any guard rails and a deadly cliff on one side. Here’s a little time-lapse of what that looked like from the passenger seat on the left side:
Needless to say, I was now completely terrified. Every time a car was traveling down the road, I would have to pull off onto a non-existent shoulder with the car teetering on the edge. My wife would dig her nails into my leg as she had a bird’s eye view on what would be our eventual demise. At some point on the drive (which lasted about 45 minutes), I began to have a sense of euphoria overtake me. Had we died and I didn’t notice? Was this what adrenaline junkies refer to as an adrenaline high?
This euphoria I was experiencing was from learning something new. That change and discomfort I was feeling went hand in hand with learning something new. Now, I know this isn’t a break-through in science as many blogs and articles have discussed how you can grow through discomfort, but this experience was extremely visceral for me. I started thinking about my own career and the education of our students. I started thinking about our teachers who we ask to take out of their comfort zones at times with the integration of technology.
As if perfectly timed, the next week I was back in the states (now re-learning how to drive on the right side of the road) and preparing for our first ever iLeap Academy for internal staff. iLeap Academy is an immersive learning expedition of sorts. Tim Yenca (@mryenca) and I train teachers over several days on effective and meaningful ways to integrate technology. We also visit many of our classrooms and let the teachers take on the role of the observer to see 1:1 in action.
This academy isn’t for the tech savvy teachers. It’s for the teachers that have sound pedagogy and content knowledge that are just looking for a way to improve their practice with the integration of technology. Over the course of four days, 36 brave teachers sat down in their seats and prepared to drive down the wrong side of the road and get out of their comfort zone.
They were introduced to boundary-pushing concepts, forced to competitively collaborate in a series of challenges and an Appmazing Race, and even had to endure some of my most difficult brain break challenges on top of learning new tools and ways to integrate them. Like my drive up to O’Reilly’s, I could sense that many in the crowd had some fears or discomfort to some of the concepts and ideas being discussed, but decided to take the ride anyway.
When the week ended, Tim and I went back to review some of the comments from the exit survey. We have done iLeap Academies for other districts, (next one is November 8-10, register here!) but never our own staff. We were both floored by the responses:
Wonderful experience, I feel I am walking away as if I went through a technology boot camp and going to try some of these things next week. Very excited to try all of this in the classroom and can’t wait to see my kids reactions to some of the ideas!
It was excellent, I would recommend it to every teacher I know!
I really enjoyed the opportunity to come and learn about technology even in my 33rd year in education.
One teacher, who was in his 30th year of education, even took the time to write our superintendent to tell him that this was the best professional learning experience of his career. Many of the teachers in side conversations expressed initial hesitation for attending and being a part of this. It was a couple of days out of their classroom which means sub plans, playing catch-up, etc. and it also meant learning about some new ideas. But after the experience and stretching them out of their comfort zone, they went forward with confidence and ready to take a risk.
As Tim and I visited campuses the following day, we saw many of our “iLeapers” proudly wearing their iLeap shirts and more importantly, putting into practice immediately some of the things they had learned.
That sense of euphoria from learning something new can come in many different ways. It comes from trying new things and getting out of your comfort zone. It comes from sharing an experience with friends or colleagues as you travel down a narrow road. It comes from not “should-ing” on yourself and being brave. While the peril that exists on the other side of our choice may not always be a deadly cliff, taking a risk or changing a mindset is still an extremely uncomfortable thing for our brains to do.
I applaud all those teachers out there that continue to try and improve their craft.
So take a chance and drive on the wrong side of the road every so often when it comes to your teaching craft. The pay-off for student learning can be spectacular. Much like the view from the top of a rainforest.
For generations, the main areas of learning in the classroom have been the same. Reading, Writing, Math, Science, and Social Studies. These “core” subject areas of curriculum have been a focus of American learners since the mid-20th century. These subject areas were thought to be the essential curriculum necessary to prepare the youth for success in college and the workplace. The manner in which these subject areas were taught mirrored the factory model method in which they were delivered. Content was passed back, row-by-row, as students repeated tasks and built skills over time.
While both traditional teaching styles and core subject areas have been slow to change to the modern world, the new area of mobile devices in classrooms is disrupting all of our previous ideologies around these sacred pillars of education. Repetitive tasks can now be gamified into forms that create critical thinking. Fact-based content can now easily be searched, opening up time to work on association and application of that information. Science and Math have given way to STEM. Reading and writing are now being embedded throughout the curriculum in a more project-based approach.
As these changes collide in a classroom that now welcome mobile devices, the modern teacher needs to think about how this affects change in their classroom in multiple areas. In Book #4 of the Mobile Learning Mindset, I represent this transition in a concept I call the Mobile Learning Quadrant (MLQ).
The four areas of the MLQ are Content, Space, Interaction and Time. Here’s a brief overview of how these four quadrants can change in a mobile learning environment:
While much of the content in education is still based on the core subject areas (driven mostly by traditionalism and standardized testing), it now begins to take on a much more interactive form with mobile devices. Initial iterations of content on mobile devices meant glorified PDFs in the form of online textbooks. Still, at the beginning, mobile learning meant consuming content on a screen rather than in a book. In the new mobile learning environment, content must shift from consumption to creation. Rather than reading the textbook online, students can create their own textbook to demonstrate learning.
The days of having desks in rows are over. It’s time to write an obituary to the student desk. Obviously the word “mobile” applies to much more than just devices. However, in many classrooms this isn’t the case. Devices are distributed to engage learners, yet really all they do is replace their paper notebook as students sit in rows and take notes on their Chromebooks. The mobile learning environment should contain flexible spaces that encourage interaction and collaboration with others in the room and online. It doesn’t always have to be an expensive new modern chair either. Many teachers are hacking their spaces with bean bag chairs, exercise balls and pub tables. Learning doesn’t even have to be contained within the classroom walls anymore. Teachers assessing their space in the MLQ should determine how much of their students’ time is spent in static spaces versus dynamic ones.
With more flexible space comes more meaningful interaction amongst students. When I took part in the #Student4aDay Challenge, in the classrooms where the space was static, there was little to know interaction between student to student. In fact, most of the interaction was uni-directional (teacher to student). However, in the classrooms with more flexible space and student created content, interaction becomes much more collaborative in nature rather than isolated.
All of the above quadrants can still happen without technology or mobile devices. While mobile devices make them all much more possible and dynamic, much of it depends on how the teacher integrates them. The ability to shift learning from a set-time every day to more on-demand can only happen with technology. Remember only a couple of decades ago when in order to watch the next great episode of the Facts of Life, it meant that you had to sit in front of the television at 7:30 on Thursday night? If you missed it, you missed it. In our schools you could apply that same rule to the class schedule. If you are the type of person that learns math best in the afternoon but have to take math at 9:30 in the morning, you also “miss” it. Now with flipped classrooms and blended learning in a mobile environment, we can “bend” time to make the necessary content much more available on demand.
Infusing mobile learning into a classroom where students consume content in isolation in a desk at a set time of day is a waste in some ways. Creating flexible spaces that encourage collaboration to create content and an environment where learning can happen 24/7 is truly a thing to behold. Leveraging the MLQ in this way can really begin to move the needle when it comes to efficiency of learning with mobile devices.
Now, if we can just do something about those standardized tests…
Editor’s note: This post is based on the book series Mobile Learning Mindset. This 6-book series explores how each key stakeholder can best support a mobile learning initiative. The first two books are already out and can be purchased here. Books 3 (focused on coaches and professional learning) and book 4 (focused on the teacher and classroom environment) are set to be published at the end of September.
When I started this position in 2010, hiring new educational technologists followed the same lines as all other positions in the district. A group would get together, look at resumes, and basically determine which 4-6 candidates made the most sense on paper to come in and interview for the position. The interview was a standard 1-hour process made up of the typical questions like “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” or “Tell us more about yourself.” While this process had been in place for years, it really didn’t shed much light on the ins and outs of the position itself nor did it give other candidates a chance to participate if they didn’t have what it takes on paper.
Something else I noticed in education (and somewhat in private business as well) is that it’s much easier to hire someone than it is to fire them. If hiring consists of a 1-hour interview and a couple of reference checks, firing takes months to years worth of documentation, discussions, mediations, and even at times, legal involvement. With that background, over the past few years, we’ve set out to make the hiring process much more robust. In December of 2011, I thought I had nailed it by adding a presentation component to the process.
Alas, it was just the beginning.
What follows is the now 9-part process we implement when it comes to hiring an Ed Tech at Eanes ISD. I’m sharing this because other districts may benefit from reviewing and updating their hiring practices and I would also love to learn from other districts that have a more rigorous or innovative process.
Round 1 – Application Score
Looking through the field of applicants, any that match the minimum criteria for the position as posted on the job description make it into this initial round. Putting all the applicant resumes and cover letters in a shared folder, my team reviews each and gives them a rating based on the campus that needs to be filled and how well their resume aligns.To keep consistent, each scoring section carries a 1 to 5 scale for interviewers to score the applicants.
Round 2 – Social Media Background Check
According to Career Builder, 43% of companies now add a social media background check as part of the hiring process. As our position involves sharing online as well as gathering content via virtual PLNs, I individually search each of the qualified candidates on social media. A candidate with no profile online can’t hurt them, but it also doesn’t help them. In some cases I’ve come across questionable material which has caused me to pass on a candidate and in other cases, I’ve seen some amazing digital profiles that could nudge the candidate into the next round if there is a tie or they are below the cut-off line. Based on profiles I either award a single point, a zero, or a negative point to the process. Taking the applicant score and social media background check bonus, we narrow the field down to 12-14 applicants which will then process to the next round.
Round 3 – Video Resume
Those 12-14 candidates that survive round one and the social media check are then asked to create a video resume. This is a 2-minute or less video that highlights the best of the candidate. We encourage candidates to be as creative and to not make the video Eanes specific (more on that later). Usually at this point, a few candidates drop out and some have even claimed they “don’t have time for this” which is somewhat telling. The candidates have 5 days to create their video and submit at which point I put each video into a form to be scored by the interview team. Here’s a mock version of the form (added some of my favorite video projects to protect the innocent). Following the scoring round, we reduce the field to either 4 or 8 candidates depending on the positions we need to fill. Those candidates are then invited to participate in “The Gauntlet”.
No, not that classic video game from the 1980’s, but it is somewhat equally challenging. In fact, at some point during the process I can almost hear the game narrator say, “Valkyrie, your life force is running out.” The Gauntlet all takes place on the same day. The idea is to give each applicant a snap-shot of a day in the life of an Ed Tech. It also optimizes the time of the interview committee. In the traditional interview method (1-hour Q&A with a candidate), reviewing 4 applicants would take 4 hours plus time in between each candidate as well as prep and debrief time. Looking at 4 candidates in this traditional format would generally take up to 6 hours. This process reduces the actual time with the candidates to 2.5 hours and gives us a much broader look at the skills and talents of each candidate. Here’s a matrix of what the day might look like for four applicants (A-D):
Rounds 4-7 – The Gauntlet Matrix
Each candidate participates in these 4 components. They are all done in a different order for each candidate but laid out as such that the interview portion doesn’t back up to the presentation portion, as those tend to involve the most stress. Each component takes 30 minutes or less.
Round 4 – One-on-One time
Each candidate gets an opportunity to ask a previous Ed Tech questions. In some cases, it could be an Ed Tech that was previously posted at the school hiring or one that has retired. Which this seems like a pretty easy step, you can tell a lot about a candidate based on the questions he/she asks. The Ed Tech being questioned returns at the end of the process to report out their view on each of the candidates based on the questions asked.
Round 5 – Interview
This is the most traditional component, but we tried to update some of the traditional questions to make it more modern. George Couros has a great post here that ties the 8 characteristics of the Innovator’s Mindset (his book) to interview questions. To prepare the candidates, I email them the general topics around what questions are asked so they can have a story or two in mind. (i.e. Perseverance, handling failure, leadership, etc) Then, each person in the interview room is given a scoring form with each question asked. Here’s an example of what that form looks like.
Round 6 – Problem-Solving Room
Candidates are placed in a private office and asked to answer three different email scenarios on a Google doc (see example below). The scenarios involve an email from a parent, a teacher, and a principal that pose a problem or concern that needs to be addressed. The Google doc is viewable by the rest of the interview team which are then asked to score them (blindly) based on the candidate responses. (Mock example here) As a wild-card, during this process I walk in wearing a wig (yes…a wig) and different outfit. I’m playing the role of a teacher who’s iPad won’t work as well as someone who questions why we even have iPads in the classroom. As part of this role is constantly getting interrupted for just-in-time troubleshooting and problem-solving, the purpose of this wild-card isn’t to see how they fix the problem as much as how they deal with me. I then awarded a bonus point to the candidates with the best responses.
Round 7 – Mini-Presentation
Each applicant is asked to prepare a mini-presentation that lasts no longer than 20 minutes which builds in some time for set-up and Q&A afterwards. The audience is made up of administrators, Ed Techs, and staff from the campuses that are hiring. The candidates are encouraged to use this time to showcase their presentation/training style while also teaching the group an idea/topic/concept. Following each mini-presentation, the audience scores the candidate using a form like this one.
Following the jigsaw matrix of the 4 rounds above, the candidates are all invited into our main room to participate in the final collaboration challenge.
Round 8 – Collaboration Challenge
Each candidate sits with a team of 3 teachers to help solve a dilemma or disagreement. The teachers are asked to play three different roles: a teacher that is super excited to integrate technology, one that is not, and one that is in-between. They are then asked to choose one of two different blind scenarios and read them aloud. Over the course of the next 20 minutes, we observe how the candidates listen, ask questions, and help mediate the mock team meeting. Afterwards, each group assigns a collaboration score using a form like this one.
Following all the challenges, the entire group meets to debrief. We hear the strengths of each candidates as well as the areas which they would need support if hired. We don’t rank the applicants or ask for a ranking as the scores will bear that out. Even with the scoring system, it’s always good to hear from members of the interview crew. As this group is made up of teachers from hiring campuses, administrators and Ed Techs, they each provide a unique perspective on the candidates and how they can fit with the campus culture. I then ask them to submit their final thoughts on an open-ended form as sometimes, sharing in a group of 16-18 educators can be intimidating and I want to hear the thoughts of everyone on the committee.
Round 9 – Reference Checks
Pretty standard, but necessary. I use this time to ask not only the strengths, but also what supports the candidate might need going forward in our district.
While this is an exhaustive process, using technology helps us optimize time spent with the candidates as well as receive feedback from a wide variety of people. While this is the first year, we’ve implemented the “Gauntlet”, we have done the mock presentation, email scenarios and video resumes in the past. In looking at the blind scores and coupling that with the feedback from the group, EACH time the candidate with the highest overall score also gets the most positive feedback.
Communication is key for this to work. From the moment the applicant applies to the day I offer them the job, I’ve sent them an email with an updated timeline and instructions for each step along the process. I’m doing this not only to inform them, but to also see if they follow-up for questions or respond to let me know they received the instructions (testing their professionalism a bit). In many way, this process begins when that first email is sent.
For those candidates that don’t get hired, I try and give them feedback on things they could improve to earn the position in the future. In some cases, applicants return the following year and get hired based on this feedback and campus match. In other cases, I’ve had candidates tell me they’ve received offers in other districts based on their video resume (which is why I ask them to not make it “Eanes specific”).
Hiring will never be as hard as letting an employee go. I know this process isn’t perfect and we are constantly trying to improve it. One thought from the team is to weight the scores of different components based on importance (like the collaboration or presentation components). Regardless, my hope with this process is that we can be as informed about a candidate’s personality, skill-set, work ethic, and overall ability so that firing will never be an option.
My daughters love talking about dinosaurs. This summer we visited the dinosaur park in Cabazon, CA (made famous by Pee Wee’s Big Adventure) just so they could climb inside a dinosaur. I’ve shown my oldest the original Jurassic Park (not the scary parts) and she has begun to ask me, “Daddy, what happened to the dinosaurs? Are there still some around? Did they become birds?”
Lots of questions and lots of theories but it’s made me think about our own educational landscape and the changes that have been happening dramatically the last 5-7 years when it comes to mobility, social media and content creation. We still have a lot of dinosaurs walking the earth in education, namely the major textbook companies. What is going to happen to them? Will they go extinct or evolve?
Today, I attended a State Board of Education session on “Educating the Digital Generation.” I was pleased to see many educators like Scott Floyd (@woscholar) and superintendents like Randy Moczygemba (@rmocyzgembanb) present to share their frustrations and concerns around the digital textbook industry. (You can view their testimony here: http://www.house.state.tx.us/video-audio/) However, being that textbook publishing is a big business in education, the major textbook companies were also given time to not only defend their platforms, but also ask for more support. The SBOE in Texas has some progressive members that support digital learning in schools but they also have some that seem to be steeped in learning from prehistoric times. One such board member mentioned that “kids are stupid” when it comes to social media and that “using the slide rule is better for learning math than a graphing calculator.”
What does all of this mean for major textbook companies? I have an outlook for them, and judging by recent events, their future is bleak. Let’s look at some signs that spell the demise of the “Big 3” (Pearson, HMH, and McGraw Hill) as well as the massive educational asteroid that will ultimately wipe them out.
Open Educational Resources
With the government’s recent push for more Open Educational Resources (OER) and the already massively available “flexbooks” through sites like CK12.org, we no longer have to purchase an expensive, unreliable online textbook from a major company. Instead of spending millions upon millions of dollars on textbooks, districts can instead dedicate that money towards staffing, technology, and paid online resources that will actually help kids with learning. In Texas, we have our Instructional Materials Allotment (IMA) which allows for “local control” of funds so districts can choose what they want to purchase when it comes to instructional materials. However, the most recent statistics show that 93% of those dollars are spent on traditional textbook resources, mainly from the Big 3. Why is that the case if there is still local control? Primarily it’s the “safe” thing to do. No district wants to stick their neck out too far to purchase something not vetted or…*gasp*…perhaps even save that money for other instructional uses.
Crowd Sourced Content
In addition to the OER resources out there, teachers and schools are sharing more than ever before. Take a look at the hundreds of twitter chats happening online daily centered around education to see the explosion of sharing that is taking place. Some of this sharing comes in the form of “paid sharing” via a program like TeachersPayTeachers.com. I don’t begrudge an already underpaid teacher trying to make a buck (although profiting off other underpaid teachers is a slight concern), I do think the more open we are, the better the learning will be for our students. I recently listened to Tim Berners-Lee, the “Father of the world wide web”, on the TED stage talking about how if he had made the internet cost money, it would have never turned into the great collective network that it is today. I think if we freely share resources and best practices, that crowd sourced content will ultimately make the Textbook-destroying asteroid even bigger.
MYOT (Make Your Own Textbook)
Ok, so a bit of a play on words of the BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) movement in Ed Tech, but when you take the OER resources and the crowd-sourced content being shared, why not just get the best teachers in the district or region and have them create their own book? It’s not about the book, it’s about the learning standards right? Paying teachers even HALF of what we pay textbook companies to make a better book, would not only save a district thousands, but also create a better product that is ultimately district-owned. We’ve started down this road with the Texas History adoption, and during today’s state testimony, many districts reported successfully building and deploying their own “textbooks”. I see this as the next evolution in content provision and can even see it further evolving to where kids start to create their own textbook. After all, teaching the material is the best way to learn right? The meteor is approaching….
Publishers vs. Programmers
Some of the dinosaurs did indeed evolve and survived. Those smaller mammals that were more nimble (i.e. smaller content publishers) survived and even thrived following the extinction level event. When working with the Big 3, you must realize that they are publishers, not programmers. I can’t begin to tell you the amount of man hours wasted with data uploads, failed ebook downloads, incorrect content, and massive lack of technical design when it comes to digital textbooks from the larger providers. While I won’t mention names I can tell you that one company even creates a “bridge” product to connect it’s multiple products and product teams. Another when asked directly about integration with our student information system (SIS), stated that they “never mentioned it would be seamless.”
While you would think an eTextbook would save money, in many cases, because of how they are bundled, these cost districts almost the same amount of money. In many ways these companies take fat checks from schools and districts all over the land to cover their massive bottom-lines, not to better serve districts. The smaller, more nimble companies, on the other hand, start with programming and build a better project based on client feedback (that client being the teachers and students).
The Final Explosion and Aftermath –
Several districts here in Texas have started to join forces to fight these behemoths and their poor practices and heavy costs. We’ve pleaded with them to join up with a company like Clever, which handles the automation of data from SIS to textbook company (at NO COST to the school or district). Two of the three major textbook companies have told me that we “don’t need that kind of integration” or “sure it’s free for you, but it costs us.” The fact that a company that gets millions of dollars from districts actually has the gall to say that is appalling.
And so, with this global killer approaching their industry, it’s obvious that the only thing keeping them alive is their sheer size and girth. But like the dinosaurs, those that don’t evolve will become extinct. And in some ways, maybe the educational world will be a better place because of it.