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.