Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself. ~ John Dewey

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Last Saturday we had a thunderstorm move through Seattle…we don’t get them very often around here so a storm with over 2200 lightning strikes is pretty crazy and awesome….but more than that…it was Mother Natures way of calling in Fall. Since then the temp as barley hit 70 degrees if we’re lucky and the low slow clouds with off and on rain tell us that Fall is here. That and the squirrels…there are squirrels everywhere all of a sudden…oye.

Anyway, this week I want to thank Katy McKee for sharing an article with me titled What is engagement in a learning experience?

It was put out by GoGuardian a software company that helps filter and monitor student devices. I know school districts that use it and it is a product I have recommended in the past to schools that I’m supporting. 

However, in this case, I’m interested in this article and research these authors did. I’ve linked the article in the show notes and it’s well worth 10 minutes of your time. Especially if you are a coach like Katy or in an administrative position. 

I love how they try and define “engagement” and what it really comes down to is we know it when we see it and we hear it from our students. 

In trainings we continue talking about student engagement in school with technology. Of course, technology isn’t going to do it but it is a huge part of the recipe for this generation. What we know about this generation and engagement. 

1:  It MUST be meaningful to my life today. 

Question to ask yourself: Can I frame today’s lesson/learning in a way that students can relate to it in their own lives? 

2.  It MUST be purposeful. 

Question to ask yourself: How do I frame today’s lesson/learning to be purposeful to students?

3.  It MUST be engaging (fun). 

Question to ask yourself: Do I think this activity is fun?

I find that if teachers can answer those three questions about any lesson then the lesson will be engaging. I can’t tell you how many times I have talked to teachers and asked them “Do you think doing this worksheet is fun?” and they say “No, but…….” and then comes the “I have to do it” or “they must learn it” or …….

I love that the research they did shows this as well….if you the teacher know this is not an engaging activity, if it doesn’t really have purpose in their lives and it’s not fun….then it’s not engaging and YES…this means you the teacher are going to have to rework, rethink, and recreate learning activities that meet these three questions. 

It all starts with the questions we are asking students. Are we asking big essential questions that allow them to dig in? Questions we maybe could never ask before because we didn’t have access to the information to find an answer…and now we do. 

Here’s something you can do to start gathering data yourself. As you are talking with students through the day ask them these three questions. 

– What did you learn today that you can see applies to life outside of school?

– Why do you think you need to learn this?

– What was the best/most fun part of your day? 

You’ll get a feel for engagement by asking students and reflecting on our own teaching. I truly believe we don’t ask students enough at the end of every lesson “How was this today for you?” because more times then not…we know what the answer is going to be. 

Thanks again to Katy for bringing this article to my attention.  

What are your thoughts on engagement? How do you know if your students are actively engaged in learning? I’d love to hear from you and for you to share your thoughts on student engagement in the comments below.

Evaluating the use of technology in a classroom environment is not something most administrators are trained to do. It is easy to walk into a classroom and see that every student is using a computer, but how do you really assess if and what type of learning is taking place?

In the past, I have had administrators tell me “I walked into the teacher’s room and all the students were on laptops.” As though just the site of students working on laptops meant they were engaged in the learning process.
I have been trying to wrap my head around a simple way for administrators to evaluate the use of technology in the classroom (a thank you to Dennis Harter who got me thinking about this).

When most administrators evaluate teachers during the evaluation process, they have some sort of check sheet they are working from either mental or as part of a school’s evaluation process. I wanted to come up with an easy way for administrators to add to that list some questions that they can answer without knowing a lot about technology and by just observing its use within a lesson.

I remembered a Marc Prensky article in Edutopia in which he talks about the typical process of technology adoption:

  1. Dabbling with technology
  2. Doing Old things in Old Ways
  3. Doing Old things in New Ways
  4. Doing New things in New Ways

What if we turned these stages of technology adoption into questions that an evaluator could use during the evaluation process?

  1. Is the technology being used “Just because it’s there”?
  2. Is the technology allowing the teacher/students to do Old things in Old ways?
  3. Is the technology allowing the teacher/students to do Old things in New ways?
  4. Is the technology creating new and different learning experiences for the students?

This could be a simple list that any evaluator can use to decipher how the technology is being used in a particular lesson.

Is the technology being used “Just because it’s there”?

This would be the use of edutainment software, the use of a particular piece of technology because it happens to be in the room. The teacher dabbles with technology, not having a real focus on its use within the lesson but uses it as an add-on or at a very basic level (no real impact on the learning process).

Is the technology allowing the teacher/students to do Old things in Old ways?

Publishing a piece of writing in Word rather than hand writing it would be an example of this.

Also, using an LCD projector instead of a white/black board for a lesson.

Another example would be researching on the Internet rather than in an Encyclopedia.

These are all great things, and great ways to use technology, but they are only replacing the way we have always done things with something that might be faster, easier, and more accurate. In the end however, they are still the same old things we have been doing for years in education.

Is the technology allowing the teacher/students to do Old things in New ways?

Examples would be: watching Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech or listening to a recording of Stalin. Old things in New ways could also be reading and evaluation an original piece of writing or visiting a battle site via Google Earth.

These are not new things…just new ways of doing old things. We used to read Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech to the class, now we can watch him give his speech in Washington D.C.

We used to read the words of Stalin, now we can hear him speak them.

We used to read from a book, now we can read and look at the original document.

Instead of talking about a battle site, we can now visit that site virtually.

These are not new things; they just enhance the old ways of doing things.

Is the technology creating new and different learning experiences for the students?

Does the technology allow students to learn from people they never would have been able to without it?

Does the technology allow students to interact with information in a way that is meaningful and could not have happened otherwise?

Does the technology allow students to create and share their knowledge with an audience they never would have had access to without technology?

Many of our teachers are not at this level yet and many might never get here because this level of technology use requires a new way of looking at learning. One in which many of our schools are not yet prepared to look deeply into.

Prensky puts it this way:

For the digital age, we need new curricula, new organization, new architecture, newteaching, new student assessments, new parental connections, new administration procedures, and many other elements. Some people suggest using emerging models from business — but these, for the most part, don’t apply. Others suggest trying to change school size — but this will not help much if we are still doing the wrong things, only in smaller spaces.

As you evaluate a teacher, you should be looking for answers to the above mentioned questions. I am not advocating that every lesson should use technology or that every lesson should try to answer “New things in New ways”. However, it is good to know just how the technology is being used. There is nothing wrong with only using an LCD projector, or Google Earth to visit a battle site. I get excited when I see both of those things happening in a classroom. I just think it is good to put it into perspective just what impact the technology is having on teaching and learning. If a teacher is only ever ‘dabbling’ or doing ‘Old things in Old ways’ then a conversation can start about how to move the use of technology to a deeper more meaningful level within the classroom.

It is great to see teachers using technology in their lessons during an evaluation. It is even more informative if you can evaluate at what level that technology is effecting learning. Is it a replacement for the way we do things or is it something completely new and pushes both the students and teacher to new heights, new learning, and new knowledge?

[tags]administrator, evaluation, 21st Century Learning[/tags]

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