In the morning, we got to hear from Mimi Ito, who works with the Digital Media Learning Research Hub at UC Irvine. Shas was phenomenal! I'd never had the chance to hear from her before, but I'd go to see her again in a heartbeat. She highlighted the major shifts in the world for which we are educating our students and how our students worlds differ from our own. One of the questions she asked and the faculty responses troubled me, however. She asked, "Do you think technology today makes our students smarter/more engaged/more social or less intelligent/more disengaged/less social?" With a show of thumbs (up, down, or to the side) at least half felt that technology made our students less intelligent/more disengaged/less social. Yikes!
This past Friday was my first full grade-level training day for this school year. And even though I did about ten of them last year, I was beyond nervous. I didn't go to bed until far too late (or early), slept fitfully and was up before the crack of dawn. Does that ever go away? Last year's professional development was well received, but there's no guarantee that the goodwill would carry over into this year. Turns out that my fears were unfounded and the day was a success.
Fast forward to this morning...I received an email from a science supervisor in Newark, NJ. He came across a reference to one of my blog posts in the NGSS newsletter and shared that his attempts to introduce the NGSS to his teachers had not been well received. He asked what I had done to be relatively more successful with our amazing teachers. I think there are three short answers: start with their concerns, teach in context and be genuine.
One of the perks of this job is that I have the opportunity to work with teachers across the entire grade band (K-8) in our district. One of the challenges of this job is that I have the opportunity to work with teachers across the entire grade band (K-8) in our district.
My background and personal teaching experience is in the middle grades with most of my time spent in seventh- and eighth-grades. I did teach sixth-grade science my very first year of teaching, but that's it! So, truly I have direct teaching experience with three of the nine grade levels in our district. Yikes!
Every teacher knows that you have to differentiate your instruction to meet the diverse needs of all students in our classrooms. Well, my students are really teachers and they are just as diverse, if not more so, than the students I used to serve. So, shouldn't it stand to reason that we should differentiate our professional development for teachers too? Let's all say it together...yes! And just as in the classroom, it's easy to say, but sometimes tough to accomplish.
I always loved If You Give a Mouse a Cookie and the related titles. The domino effect described in the book can be explored in so many different contexts, including my own teaching practice.
In my last two years in the classroom, my teaching and learning in my classroom shifted dramatically. In fact, the term "shifted" does not seem to accurately reflect the change that occurred in a relatively short period of time. The change was primarily sparked because of the introduction of technology to my classroom and my struggle to make the best use of it that I could manage. If I look at it from a Piagetian viewpoint, the introduction of technology to my classroom disrupted the equilibrium in my teaching practice. And that simply wouldn't do! I struggled to find my new equilibrium and realized that I really needed to shift my conceptual understanding of what teaching and learning could and should look like.
So, they're called the Next Generation Science Standards but are they really standards in the same sense that we're used to? Throw in there that the assessable units are called performance expectations (PEs) and I'm not so sure where we stand anymore. And I don't think I'm alone either, judging by a post from Brian MacNevin in the Google+ NGSS Peer Learning Network.
I was challenged by Jody Green (@peerlessgreen) to share five things that educators must stop pretending in order to #makeschooldifferent. Here they are:
Let us stop pretending that adding technology to a classroom will automatically make it more engaging. I have seen technology change the face of teaching and learning in my own classroom and in our district. However, if you take your old boring worksheets and put them on an iPad as PDFs, do you know what you get? You'll get boring digital worksheets! We have to change how we do business.
So, as a science teacher there are many things that we teach because...well, probably because we learned them in school. Within that category would be the stages of mitosis, the formulas for photosynthesis and cellular respiration, etc. But, I question why do we really teach them? Are they relevant to the lives of our students? Does the average American need this information to be successful in their lives? To make informed decisions? Or are we just perpetuating the traditional methods because it's what feels warm and cozy?
Yesterday was the first elementary whole grade level training of the year. It was absolutely AH-MAZE-ING! I'd probably put some 40+ hours into prepping a six-hour workshop, and to have it go so well made all of that time feel well like it was well-spent.