Friday, September 21, 2007

What do they know and do already? Creating and Connecting Report

In starting to design a course for elementary teachers to develop skills and understanding of roles for technology in teaching and learning, I asked myself "What do the students know and do already with technology? How can we tap into their experience and expertise?" I have not yet met any of the students so I don't know first hand. Theron Desrosier, a colleague at WSU helped me get an overview when he wrote about a new report from the National School Boards Association Creating and Connecting Report. He summarized:
Here are some of the other results:

"81% students report visiting a social networking site within the past three months.
71% report using social networking tools weekly.
59% report talk about "education" in their online social networks.
50% report talking specifically about schoolwork"
I suspect that UNE students will have comparable responses. I'll be interested to learn what they are saying about education.

Collaborative professional development - flu simulations

A case-study in continuing professional development

Tools for networked collaboration and learning develop at mind-spinning rates. As much as one might want to stay on top of all the new opportunities, programmers and system developers produce too many new ways of working. The only reasonable response that I have found is to share the responsibilities among people with common interests. Designers and analysts at the Center for Teaching Learning and Technology (CTLT) use this approach. I both benefitted and contributed to the informal cooperative learning effort.

Throughout my professional life, I have found simulations to be valuable tools for learning and research. So, that is one of the areas where I explore and share with colleagues. Several years ago, I found StarLogo and NetLogo, two variants of the Logo language, that facilitate the exploration of a wide range of phenomena using an approach called agent-based modelling. My colleague, Nils Peterson wanted to anticipate the adoption rates for the new WSU portal he and others were developing. I fired up an epidemic model in NetLogo and modified it to predict how dissemination of the new technology might develop. Theron Desrosier, another designer at CTLT, saw that work, appreciated the learning he derived from the experience, and filed the idea in his long-term memory (with few details other than an association with me).

Fast forward to this week. I have been studying the National Educational Technology Standards for Students and Teachers (NETS-S, NETS-T) as part of my preparation in developing a course to help elementary teachers facilitate learning using appropriate technologies. I may need to brush up on this topic because the new standards encourage teachers to use simulations to support learning. Yesterday, Theron indicated that he too wanted to brush up on his understanding of simulations for learning. He commented on my blog post: Institutional commitment to learning via real problems:

Do you remember the name of the tool you used to play with ant movements, evolutionary change, and tragedy of the commons. I am looking for something students can use to investigate the spread of flu.

Thanks, T

He wants to help students engage with the Flu project, an institution-wide effort to integrate learning through common reading and disciplinary extensions.

I could have responded to his question by firing off and email message with the words "starlogo" and "netlogo" and a suggestion to use one or both in a Google search. That might have met his immediate need. However, I chose to respond by writing this contribution to the examples of real cooperative learning because I think it has value beyond my serving as an extension of Theron's wetware.

Notes: I first wrote this post as a real example of informal collaborative learning for our department's new exploration of a wiki as a collaborative learning and work environment. I shared the link to the wiki page with Theron in a comment on my original post in this blog. Fortunately, I tested the link from a second machine because it reminded me that in the exploration we agreed that it be private as members of the department initially learn about wikis. Since I prefer working publicly, I copied the protected post and pasted it here with relatively little effort.

In reflecting on the voice, I see that I wrote it as if it were a blog post (personal) rather than as a disembodied wiki contribution. Maybe it really belongs here rather than in the UNE Teachers wiki. I'll have to pay more attention to the differences.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Cooperative learning for our students and ourselves

Our department will devote one monthly faculty meeting to sharing topics that will help us improve our programs. We will engage in a form of cooperative professional development. For the first meeting, we will discuss cooperative learning. Doug Lynch suggested that we read Slavin's research review and an article by Johnson and Johnson, advocates of cooperative learning, to prepare for the discussion. He invited us to contribute readings that we share with students.

As part of my work with MSAD 75, I have been reading a recent book by Jonathan Supovitz entitled The Case for District-Based Reform: Leading, Building, and Sustaining School Improvement ( ). Supovitz uses his work evaluating reform efforts in the Duval County, Florida district as a case study in the process of reform. I found the book so helpful that I have recommended it to Sally Loughlin, Asst. Superintendent, as part of our reciprocal reading recommendations.

In the context of sharing ideas about cooperative learning, I found Supovitz's identification of seven critical components for professional development. I assume that they apply to us as well as they apply to teachers in districts. Supovitz contends that professional development must:
  1. show teachers how to connect their instruction to specific and ambitious criteria for student performance
  2. immerse participants in techniques of active learning
  3. be both intensive and sustained
  4. engage teachers in concrete teaching tasks that they can employ with their students
  5. focus on subject-matter knowledge and deepen teachers' mastery of their content area(s)
  6. capitalize on the experiences and expertise of peers
  7. be connected to other aspects of school change (pp. 81-83)
Supovitz elaborates on each of the components and cites research that support them. Since our program is a form of formal professional development, we will serve our students and ourselves well by reflecting on the ways our program supports these critical components. For example, we are capitalizing on the experiences and expertise of peers by collecting information from students in the program about issues they face in their classrooms, schools and districts. We hope to build distributed learning communities around some of those common issues. What other ways are we ensuring that we include these critical components in our work with students and each other?