Monday, June 20, 2016

Mentored by experts

“If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.”  Such wisdom, this time, did not hold true.  

During the academic year of 2015-2016 I was offered an amazing opportunity.  With the support of my elementary principal, my superintendent and the staff at DPEA, I was invited to participate in a year-long training program.  Our collective goal was to leverage the expertise of DPEA, and  the experience of working in a project-based environment, to empower me to return to my K-6 school capable of running a successful design center.  During the formation of this plan Amir Abo-Shaeer said to me, "I want to train you for a year and give you a masters in the Maker world. I can teach you, deeply, in a very thin slice of engineering and then you can go back to your elementary school and share that expertise."  

Lofty goals indeed. Such intentions, I soon found, are a cornerstone of the DPEA foundation.  DPEA is built on the goal of transforming education, and so the idea of training an elementary teacher to extend DPEA’s game-changing intentions makes perfect sense.  After a year of training, I feel well equipped and inspired to share their vision and transform the lives of my students.   

Being immersed in this project-based platform has given me direct exposure to what is possible at the high-school level.  I’ve learned how to use a host of tools necessary to operating this kind of a program, including CAD software, 3D design, machining, solding, assembly, laser-cutting, CNC and routing machines, inventory management, curriculum design, electronics, coding and project management.  

These essential skills, as critical as they are, pale in comparison to the expertise I have gained by observing and interacting with the engineers and students, especially at the 12-grade level.  Working with the seniors during their capstone project, I have witnessed the frustration of failure and the joy that ensues with overcoming failure. I have been amazed at the level of professionalism and maturity these students have expressed during the design, manufacturing and assembly of these projects.  One of the most powerful elements of this program, and this style of project-based learning where the staff is actively participating in the project, is that the students witness the mentors failing, revising, and rebuilding - just as the students do.  The mentors share and model the same language and processes that the students practice, which reinforces that practice of design, testing, re-engineering, and retesting to arrive at a final product.  

The challenge of tracking multiple, complex projects by 90 students with a variety of skill-sets, motivations and aptitudes requires careful management.  Without this, even the best designed project learning environment will fail. In addition to the tangible skills I’ve acquired over the past year, and the many lessons I’ve learned about teaching through working closely with students, I have also gained an appreciation for and knowledge of the management capacity necessary to support this kind of a program.

My personal appreciation and pride of this project is immense.  From the vision of Mr. Abo-Shaeer and district community, to daily lesson learned from the professional staff I know this has been the most powerful learning environment I have ever participated in.  It has been an honor to participate and it is my goal moving forward to skillfully share and extend DPEA’s goal of transforming education.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Coming soon: planetary destruction or human transcendence. Is there a lesson plan for that?

By Sean Federbusch

Last week, all fifth-grade teachers from my district came together to create an assessment. With the effort we put in, one might have thought we were creating some sort of particle accelerator. How hard can it be?!

Living in this time of human evolution, teachers are faced with unprecedented opportunities in the mist of impossible and contradictory expectations.  My mind races with possibilities. At times, this can lead to paralysis.  

For years now, my PLC has been fueled with reading, watching and developing curriculum with the end in mind:  Our world is profoundly changing and technology must be a part of the solution. I keep waiting for my path as an educator to become clear; to see the technology, philosophy, policies, curriculum, and the society become aligned in such a way that I am able construct an eloquent and articulate post about the future of education, and know exactly how my classroom and student fit into that alignment.   

The main problem with waiting for this solution is that there is no one solution.  Education is a messy business, and in this culture, the modality of teaching is interlaced with contradictions and conflicting forces,  the main one being the discrepancy between the rich and poor.  Schools in the US are doing a great job, considering the amount of poverty we have to contend with.  The other main challenge we face is the disfunction of attempting to solve a social problem with a financial solution.  Our school systems have been designed to fit an outdated economic architecture.   

The disfunction of the antiquated structure of our school systems is accelerated exponentially as Moore's law applies itself to nanotechnology, robotics,  and bioengineering.  These transformative features of our technological landscape create a host of new requirements for people entering our work force, not to mention, a shift in the entire economy.  

As the need for awareness of the interconnection between cultures, nations and our warming planet grows, as the merging of our biological bodies evolve to incorporate the tools we develop, as our international social fabric develops with our social media, as our tools of learning transform the educational landscape to the point were the current educational system no longer seems relevant, what is the appropriate reaction for a fifth-grade teacher?  

With so many paradigm shifts happening, where is the best place to stand?

What I think I know

I know that the likelihood of human survival on our planet is precarious and I realize that the key to survival may require a profound change in our economic, military and national framework.  I know that the power of the Corporation will only decrease when we are unified as a world community, and realize the power of the collective is more important than the continued acquisition of wealth for a few.  I know I am not alone feeling the suffering of the all of members of our community, when our people of color are killed and enslaved by the current system of injustice and economic dis-opportunity.  

I know the constructs of human creation- the infrastructure, economic models and educational and religious systems- are the byproducts of human thought, awareness and wisdom, and that any cultural enlightenment we can produce will only manifest as a result of our collective personal transformation away from fear and towards wisdom, compassion and understanding.  

What I think I should do. 

  • Connect with my students

Because of these beliefs, I greet my fifth-grade students every day with an immediate need to educate them.  I look each one of them in the eye, and attempt to connect with them on a personal level. My intention is to recognize their inner strength of awareness and compassion and to see their power manifest in their writing, mathematics, understanding of our physical world, awareness of each other and their ability to use technology to transform their education.   

  • Find work / life / growth balance

Because of these beliefs I do my best to find the balance of work, play, meditation, family and professional development.  Each activity I engage in, I do so with a single point of focus, somehow keeping the background knowledge of our tenuous situation at bay- at least on the good days.  I wake each day making the wish that all beings find happiness, brew coffee, and sit down with my PLC of Twitter and Flipboard.  I drink in the knowledge, wisdom, best practices and teaching ideas share by progressive educators around the globe.   

  • Teach my students why things matter. 

I train my students in the vision I have; that my students will use technology to help them better understand their world, both personal and as a member of a world community, while (skillfully) communicating that their existence on this planet, as well as their own personal happiness, may depend on their ability think critically, work collectively and develop a profound sense of personal freedom and human justice.   

  • Reflect 
As I reflect on my ability to do these things, I realize the distance between my goal, and its application, is great.  That on most days, I grow frustrated, ill-tempered and unable to remember the long-term vision I have as a teacher.  But I do so with compassion for myself, understanding that all of us can only work from where we are.  

And in this way, education is slightly less messy.    

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Formative assessment with Evernote

By Sean Federbusch

For instant feedback, it hard to beat the low-overhead, backchannel solution of Today's Meet.  And if teachers are looking for a tool to offer a quick exit question(s), or a quiz to measure understanding, Socrative is an amazing tool.  While Today'sMeet's offers a place where classrooms can connect to during the day or week and a transcript of the conversation listing individual contributions, Socrative allows teachers to pre-script quizzes, exit tickets, offer a race where students compete to answer questions, review of answers (with or without student names) and the option to save reports for later analysis.

However, sometimes a teacher needs more.  As I search for tools that will allow me to connect to my students and take advantage of our 1to1 iPad program, I wondered if Evernote might be a solution. It's in my top ten productivity tools, so I figured there might be a fit for my students.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that it has exceeded my expectations.

After Evernote is loaded onto the device and account is created, (it asks new users for an email, but does not require verification) students can create a notebook and share that notebook with their teacher. Once the teacher has accepted the invitation and joined the student's notebook to the teachers Evernote software, that notebook will be permanently displayed.  Student notebooks and be "stacked" on top of each other, essentially creating a folder with all the students notebooks.

The beauty of taking the time to set up this system is that any note subsequently added to that folder I, as an educator, can see it without refreshing or syncing on the students machine.  If I want to see the notes they are taking during class, I can simply wait five minutes or manually refresh my screen.  If they are taking notes, say in their Science journal, I'll have them take a picture of the entries.  If I want them to summarize, or comment on something, I can have them include an audio recording into a note.  If there is a picture or PDF that we annotated electronically, that file can be included in a note.

This week we participated in the Smarter Balanced practice test, which instructed us to engage in a Performance Task.  This exercise include a brainstorming session where students initially produced a
list of all the Marine animals they could think of.  Some of the students, unprompted, started using Evernote as their recording tool. I overheard one of my students saying, "You can use bullet points and different colors in Evernote!"

As the students completed their lists, I simply refreshed my Evernote software to see the list the students had produced.  I then copied their list into our Smartboard software, where the students could read from and add to.  It was a great compliment to our brainstorming session.  Several of the students then added pictures of animals to their notes.  When students find solutions, or clever options in a tool, I will stop my class to point out this observaiton.  My students know this is part of the learning process when evaluating new software.

Next week I plan to ask for students to record audio files and include them into a note.  I also want to explore clever ways to incorporate annotated PFD and picture files.  The best part of using Evernote happens after I sit down at my desk and review their notes.  I find gems in both the eloquent answers, as well as, the misconceptions I find.  Often, examples of both will soon be on our Smartboard for the teacher to clarify and the students to evaluate.  This type of first draft to evaluation to feedback to revisions loop is something that would be impossible without a tool like this and its assessment would fall between tier three or four using the SAMR model - but more important for me, this tool allows me to connect to my student's learning.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

How my LMS develops a growth mindset in my students

By Sean Federbusch

My motivation and student responsibilities.

All I really care about is connecting with my students, with the intention of developing their knowledge, curiosity and happiness.  The rest of the work I do is what I have to do to get to those moments.

I love that sweet spot, as an educator, where you have an authentic connection with a student and are able to reach them exactly where they need to be meet in order to bridge that gap and extend their learning to the next level.  Like knowing the perfect question to ask, or restating what they said in a way that validates what they noticed, while extending their learning in a way they can still hear.  It is for this reason that I (happily) put in long hours creating lessons, units and resources; I want to connect with my students and extend their learning more than I want to manage my classroom.  All those mundane tasks of teaching seem acceptable only because I have the honor of connecting with others and sharing in their growth.

My classroom requires my students to understanding dozens of online resources and programs.  They are responsible for keeping several journals, such as writing, math and science.  In addition, they have weekly summaries, which dictate the amount of money they earn in our Micro-society.  The summaries are designed to document their understanding of the week's activities.   Their balances over the year (which includes calculations for taxes and desk rentals) indicates a level of participation and provides an accurate level of participation in, and understanding of, the content offered in our class.  Finally, my students are responsible for documenting their growth, achievements and highlights in a digital portfolio.  Now, I understand I am the one who created on this, however, I still marvel at the amount of work my students produce as fifth graders!

The benefits of my Learning Management System

All of this would be impossible with the LMS I use.

Without a central location, which my LMS provides, I would be unable to coordinate all of the activities, responsibilities, expectations, resources, and documentation of growth of my students.  I do not mind taking the time to develop an assignment that includes clear instructions, sample work, rubrics, pictures or videos, resources such as handouts or web sites, and instructions for make up assignments, if it means that next year I do not have redo all that work.  If I know I have that assignment (and all the resources) will ready to assign next year, than I do not mind taking extra time to create it.  In addition, the LMS I use allows me to create groups for the assignment so I can build in my differentiation automatically.

Using this LMS tool (we use EDU 2.0), and the culture of my classroom, I estimate that my students produce 30-50% more work that they did without it.  In addition, the conversations about 'missing' assignments, worksheets or resources I often had in the past, are now rare occurrences. The students (and my trained parents) know reporting 'lost work' will only be greeted with the opportunity for them to print out another copy to complete.  On the other hand, I am amused to see students come in my class asking me to grade what they have recently submitted or bagging about their grades.  They come up to me, holding up their iPad screen, just to show me the beauty of what all A's looks like on their account.  I agree, not because of the result, but because it represents the effort they put into earning it.

Developing a growth mindset

My focus is clear to me: I want my students to take ownership for their learning and understand that a lifetime of learning can only happen successfully with a growth mindset and tools to measure their growth.

I want my students to know that by applying patience, persistence and ownership, the result of success - or intelligence - or growth - or opportunity - whatever you want to call it - will eventually arise. However, this is a stretch for a fifth grader.  They need scaffolding to change their mindset.  Many of them (like many adults) believe that intelligence if fixed and that people are "good at math" or "bad at drawing."  I use reflection, understanding and observation to reveal to them that they all have experiences where they worked hard and then achieved something they had never done.  And I use technology to show them that data can reveal to them that with hard work, comes results.  The tools I use, include but not limited to my LMS, help my students understand that growth can be measured and should be the focus of their learning.

It is my intention to create a classroom where everyone is winning because all of them are playing the game.  In my perfect classroom, they are playing games all the time, with learning and growth embedded in the activities.  When students feel like winners, even when they are failing, and can support peers, even when success appears to come more easily for others, I know I will have done something right.

I know I am far from that goal, but with every year, every activity and every piece of software I integrate, I move closer to that ideal.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Perect moments and profound reflections of a 1to1 program

I look for perfect moments.  

I found one last week as I watched my students typing away at their writing assignment.  As I walked around the room, all I could see was students excited about their writing prompt - or was it their new iPads? - I couldn't tell.  What I could tell is that they were engaged.

Normally, when I hear the clickity-click of an iPad indicating that the owner doesn't know how to turn off the default setting of the touch pad sound feature, I inwardly frown.  However, as I listen to the space surrounding the numerous iPads in the default clickity-click mode, I felt like a jazz musician aware of the space between the notes.  The beauty of the silence seemed to be enhanced by the numerous clicky-click sounds of the writers.  

So that's the good part.  

My district rolled out several hundred iPads in the last few weeks.  My school is one of four that was chosen to participate in a pilot program.  The schools of this pilot program were chosen because of their ability to implement a new program and their willingness to adapt, grow and enhance - and then share with others in our district.  Aware of the the mistakes made by other districts, the cost, and challenges associated with a one to one iPad program, our board of education have held this program to a high standard before approving this program.  I appreciate their accountability standards, even if it meant more work for myself and my colleges.  

After eighteen months of expectations, the day finally arrived when I looked out over my fifth grade class and said, "Please take our your iPads."  I have been blessed with the fact that my class of 31 has had eight iPads to share.  This has also provided a challenges of having to create three rotations (which included my personal phone, and two computers) when I wanted each of them to work on a device.  This challenge was held in balance by my desire to test, and prepare for, what would work best when I had a class full of iPads.  

I have also been blessed with staff and a supportive principal.  It seems like every day I can hear myself saying to my colleges things like, "I tried this program and the result was__" or "Did you know you could___?" or "What do you think about___?"  These informal conversations were held with the understanding that we would have 100% of our students with iPads one day soon, and we wanted to hit the ground running when that day happened.  

And here it was.  Day one.  Now what?  Even with high expectations from our district and daily planning, I wasn't totally sure what to do.  However, I did know enough to keep my mouth shut.  I knew that the students were as ready as I was to work with these devices we have been waiting so long to get.  So I told them to pull up a browser and open the following link.  They quickly joined the Today's Meet and started typing away at the prompt: "What do you think we should use the iPads for?"

Their responses did not surprise me; they thought the same thing I did.  They said we could use it for:  EDU (CMS), finding answers on Google, communicate with their friends and classmates, Dreambox, take pictures, writing their blog post on KidBlog, taking notes, makings movies, create 3D files for our 3D printer, access our class web page.  It was confirmation that the students and their teacher were on the same page.  As I watched the responses update on our smartboard, I realized (again) that the true power of connecting each student, was connecting each student to everyone else.  Our pilot program was designed with the attitude that it was a one-to-the-world program, meaning that this device will connect each student with our classroom, our city, our state, and our global community.  

As an educator who is wrestling with the idea of what it means to be a teacher in this climate of light-speed change, information ubiquity and global connection, I continue to have this sense that I can barely appreciate what is happening.  Like a dream on the tip of my memory, I keep seeing visions of possibility in my students and global community, but I'm unclear about the path or my roll in it.  Driven by the desire to connect the dots of this digital utopia, where my students continue their education every day of their lives, where they find answers to solve our global crisis, where they find happiness and benefit others because they have found understanding and balance, I commit myself to the following habits:

  • Read, watch, post and share every day - my daily PLC
  • Adapt my classroom - finding what works and discarding the rest
  • Ask questions -   I see others as experts and ask them to teach me.
  • Reflect - sometime formally, other times, just staring into space.

The Bad
There have been challenges with the start of this program.  A percentage of my students still lack an AppleID, which limits their availability of apps and options of learning.  We have also put in long hours simply deploying the iPads, creating ID's and the districts payment program.  Some students have parents who do not want to take responsibility of the iPads, other parents give their children their AppleID's password with money on their account to purchase apps.  Students quickly figured out they can AirDrop pictures to anyone in the class and download apps that have little or no academic merit.  

And this is exactly what we anticipated.  Our district, and IT staff who created this program, knew that we would have challenges and outliers.  They knew it wouldn't be perfect.  But they proceeded anyway.  They created a plan, and then a list of contingency plans to meet challenges, some expected, some unforeseen.  

As I stared at the screen of replies of excited expectations, and listened to the clickty-click of their response to a video of a African girl drinking clean water in her village for the first time, I have this vague feeling that something big was about to happen.  It was the same kind of feeling I had in 1992, when I sat in the dark room of my friend who explained to me what a web page could do and how a hyperlink worked.  

Sunday, March 30, 2014

My first Technology-in-Education Conference

I am humbled. 

Four years into my teaching practice, with all the work, effort, love, focus, mistakes and coaching, I find myself surrounded by people who know so much more, are using their tools in significantly more powerful ways, who have included thoughtful, data-driving pedagogy with a vision of transformation in their students’ learning.  

I know most young educators feel overwhelmed or intimidated by how much their veteran peers know.  I find myself, again, comforted that I have good company and am on the right path.  However, as someone that people reach out to for support, and claim that I have some benefit fort them at understanding how technology can empower them and their students, it’s easy to create (at least in my mind) that I am a leader in my community.  This potential claim, now, makes me feel like a lier, phony or fake.   

I make the pledge to continue to acknowledge that any benefit I can offer to others comes only as a result of others who’s ideas I have stolen, plagiarized and embellished.  

When people compliment me, they tend to discuss my infections attitude I bring to understand technology, society and change.  In this way, I do feel like a leader.  I see a theme in my teaching (for all ages) that it’s not the content I deliver, but the way I deliver it, that seems to be helpful.    

My spiritual teachers have taught me that the best teachers really don’t do that much.  They really don’t say too much, request too much, or claim too much.  Their strength isn’t in the knowledge they possess, but rather the example they provide when they incorporate and blend their knowledge and wisdom with their behavior.  I strive to be an example for others.  For my students, I want them to see how I evaluate, incorporate, test, use, learn from, and then seek out better ways to utilize these tools - with the goal of learning, connecting and solving problems.    

Like spiritual leaders and their assimilation of wisdom, knowledge and actions, I too seek to find that the sweet spot of knowledge and action.  My goal is to profoundly change the way students learn.  I see a world where their consistent growth is possible.  Never before have we had the possibility for learners, all learners, from all economic backgrounds, the opportunity to learn in such powerful ways.  I know not everyone has this access or ability now, but it my vision that they will in the future.  It is also my goal that this access to knowledge leads to wisdom and happiness. 

Monday, June 21, 2010

Developing as a Professional Educator

One can easily find the overarching themes of this entire teaching program incorporated within this domain. I feel like the whole year could provide evidence for the growth found within the elements of this domain.

The first artifact I have chosen as documentation to illustrate the element of "working with communities to improve professional practice" is the map I have created illustrating my future classroom and the connections between my students, their parents and our partners within our community. Since it takes a village to make a person, I see teaching (and a teacher) as a component within that village. I think responsible educators in the future will be able to provide appropriate connections to groups within our community that are motivated by the growth and development of our students. Business and non-profits, especially those who are setting high ethical and ecological standards within our global community, can play a significant role in our schools. It is my intention to identify recourses in our community and appropriately apply them, taking into consideration the values of my student population.

Many teachers reach out to partners as a way of funding or subsidizing their classrooms and schools. Businesses, non-profits and other programs designed to aid and support students can be leveraged to promote mutually beneficial relationships for themselves and our students. By developing partnerships, teachers in the future will be able to gain access to materials, professional development, and resources otherwise unavailable to them. Students have even more to gain when these links to their community provide a sense of purpose to themselves and to their education. Similar to the benefits of service-based learning, the connections to our business supporters can provide students with a clear vision of the student’s role in the community. With a mature sense of purpose developed by these associations within their community, students can develop their personal motivation to contribute to their own academic success, as well as, the altruistic intention to benefit people and groups within their local and global neighborhood.

The map submitted as my first artifact shows the links that are now possible as a result of technologies unavailable ten years ago. The ability to link parents with students has never been greater. Students can share daily work and on-going projects with parents and other supporters and collaborate with groups and individuals globally via the Internet. Depending on the security settings, defined by teachers or administrators, students now have the ability to work with safely with others, in a collaborative effort, as a way of promoting, engaging, and linking their work with others. This type of collaborative work environment is an appropriate (and important) skill that students of this generation will benefit from in the future. The presentation tools (Smart Boards, inexpensive microphones, document cameras) and free software provide teachers with the ability to dynamically meet the students every increasing expectation about the delivery of information. Inexpensive software programs and Internet connectivity provides students with a potential link to their local, national and global community like never before. Tools like Google Earth and Stratalogica (interactive mapping software) can be integrated across curriculum topics, giving educators increased flexibility from which they can enhance opportunities for student engagement.

It is my goal to leverage existing resources in our communities by creating connections between students, their parents and the partners within our community. Finding mutually beneficial relationships will ensure the sustainability of the program I wish to develop. Because this vision is in the developing stages of its manifestation, I would consider myself to be in the emerging stage of this element within this domain.

My second artifact is also related to technology, which seems to be one of the central themes of my development as an educator this year. The use of interactive white boards (Smart Boards) was an integral theme of my ten-day takeover during the last half of this year. The use of Smart Boards is related to the last element in this domain "Consulting with other teachers, support technology enhanced learning."

During the first month of my placement I attended a training, which featured a guest speaker from a local Jr. High. The speaker is the principal of the school that shares the same physical space as the school of my placement. As an aside to her story about inefficiencies within the district, the principal casually mentioned a stash of Smart
Boards that were not being used at her facility. Knowing the cost of these boards and potential opportunity, I interrupted her to clarify the statement. She confirmed that several boards were not being used and had been in storage for months.

The next day I arrived at school early, handed her my card, and asked if she could show me the boards. After finding the serial numbers on the boards, I went home that night to research potential training opportunities, as a way of learning the Smart Board technology and software. As I defined my goal to become proficient with the Smart Boards, I approached the principal of my school and told her that I would like to offer training to anyone who was interested on her staff. As a result of the on-going dialog (and perhaps my willingness to offer free training) the principal was receptive to my request to utilize one of the boards in my room during my take over, which I took advantage of. Understanding the benefits of the Smart Board (especially to the ELL students) and appreciating the resources in my community, later that month I was able to leverage one of my national partnerships and personally acquire a Smart Board.

Another example to support my claim that I am in the applying category of this element happened when I visited an educator who uses a Smart Board while teaching. This desire to regularly consult with other professionals who are using technology within their teaching is a goal of my goal, as well as a defining characteristic of the element of this domain. As a result of this visit I was able to refine my understanding of the Smart Board’s potential use. Her integration with a remote device, used to control the Smart Board, increased the flexibility for dynamic presentation opportunities, as well as student participation, since they can interact with the board without leaving their seats.

My third and final artifact is the social justice paper that I wrote as one of our final assignments in the summer quarter. I have provided highlights to some of the quotes that help support my claim that I am acting in the beginning stage of the domain element related to social and ethical action. Although my cooperating teacher makes a claim that "Social justice are two words that embody Sean,” I believe this is a gross exaggeration. I do have a clear vision about how social and ethical justice are related to education, but since I have little evidence that I "conduct myself as a professional consistent with the knowledge that teaching is an ethical act," I feel that it is inappropriate to describe myself as beyond the beginning stage of this element. My goal is to regularly consult with my peers to expand my scope and understanding of social justice and ethical behavior related to teaching. My growth within this element over time has been deepened by my direct experience with English language learners, during the second half of this year. By setting high expectations for all students, especially those with significant language challenges, I believe that I am well on my way to conducting myself as a professional who is highly aware that teaching is an ethical act.