My Brush with Greatness

I recently attended an Administrators’ Academy all-day workshop with Alan November. I have seen him speak a few times before and I have one of his books, so I was really excited to attend this conference. He was awesome! His message is compelling but it’s his style of presenting that makes spending the day with him so enjoyable. He is a passionate educator that filled his talk with anecdotal stories and case studies that really drives home his points. Here is an outline of his message along with some reflection about my own experience:

Technology is a tool that adds richness to teaching and learning. It allows teachers and students to do things that would have never been possible without it. It’s not technology for technology sake – but a way to make connections, develop relationships, collaborate, and express ourselves creatively.

The current curriculum should be “globalized”. We need to teach kids to be reflective and understand that everything needs to be viewed from many perspectives. He gave the example of looking at the American Revolution from the British perspective by accessing curriculum materials from the UK or even talking to a teacher or students from the UK to find out how they are learning about the American Revolution. An example from our district is requiring students from the Middle School foreign language classes to find articles about current events from newspapers and media sources from Spanish speaking countries – not just from our country’s media.

Rethink Assessment and provide opportunities to create content. Find a balance between focusing on standardized assessment tools and offering students the opportunity to develop higher level thinking skills with projects and activities that ask them to create, make decisions, and work with others. In our district, we can demonstrate many examples of how kids use creativity and problem solving skills. Sometimes they don’t even use a computer – but we are prepared to help them do things like create videos too.

Understand the concept of information literacy and know that using the web to find information is a complex process. With the help of the Library Media Specialist in our district, I created a presentation that combined much of the concepts from Alan November’s book as well as the Standards for the 21st Century Learner from the American Association of School Librarians. You can find that presentation here. Basically, we can’t ask students to “go find it on the web” without first considering how construct a query, locate information, and evaluate the source. Although many teachers disregard the complexity of the Internet and still expect their student to “google” everything, we are getting much better at providing better preparation for using the Internet effectively and efficiently.

Based on what I learned that day, I think the change I would most likely implement is to utilize the free tools such as Skype to connect our students to the world. Alan spent a great deal of time giving examples and making recommendations about how a simple thing like a Skype call in a classroom can really transform a learning experience. We used Skype twice this year to connect our students to classrooms in Canada and Texas. I know that was a fun experience. I will look for more opportunities for other classrooms to make connections to help students understand that the world is only a Skype call away.

In addition, I would facilitate more opportunities for students to create content for a wider audience – making sure that really rich projects are showcased on the web. I’ll start by showing teachers projects from YouTube, wikis, and blogs to demonstrate what is possible, then offer support so that projects don’t become “just one more thing”.

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