Dissecting the 21st Century Teacher


I'll be honest. I didn't really plan on attending a lot of sessions at ISTE this year.

However, the one I attended today was one of the few on my schedule. It also happened to exceed all expectations.

The session, moderated by Ken Shelton and featuring a variety of educators, including Paula White, a member of my PLN for whom I have much respect, was a panel discussion focused around some thought provoking and deliberately worded questions developed by Ken himself.

What ensued was a meaningful and engaging conversation about what it means to be a teacher in the 21st Century, about the use of technology in the classroom and the struggles that teachers face.  Each question Ken posed was worded just right to allow for deep thinking about what it means to be a teacher in 2010. 

One of the things that I took away immediately was the idea that we are NOT 21st Century educators. Rather, we are contemporary educators.  I have always struggled with the label "21st Century learning" as a way to define what I do, when in fact, I am educating and preparing my students for the future, not the present.

One of the first discussions delved into this.  Are we contemporary teachers just because we integrate technology, or is it more than that? Furthermore, do we NEED to always integrate technology to be contemporary teachers?

One of Ken's brilliant questions was: "Do 21st Century teachers make a conscious and deliberate effort to integrate tech into their curriculum?" (I may be paraphrasing here, but you get the idea.)

I had to really think about the wording of the question. Conscious effort, yes, but deliberate? That was the word that got me. Should we be searching for ways to integrate technology into the curriculum just because it's expected or because we feel obligated or because the technology is there? Is it a necessary aspect of being a 21st Century teacher to be seeking out ways to use technology in our classroom?

Or, should the technology we use in the classroom be so seamlessly integrated that we use it only when it fits our learning goals and leave it aside when we can achieve a learning goal without it?  As Paula suggested, technology should transform a lesson without the lesson being centered around the technology itself--seamless integration.

On the other hand, should we be thinking deliberately about why we are using technology, how the tool will engage students and transform learning when we introduce new tools into the classroom?

As an audience member stated, "curriculum needs to drive technology." We need to keep learning goals in mind first before we think about the technology we are integrating into the classroom.

One of the last questions asked was:   

 "Are these the greatest challenges a 21st Century teacher faces?
  • Money 
  • Lack of resources 
  • Lack of Professional Development 
  • Student aptitude/attitude 
  • Lack of Administrative Support"
I don't believe that all of these qualify as the greatest challenges of a contemporary teacher. Some of them are facts of life (money and student aptitude/attitude), We can either claim these as road blocks, or we can label them as stumbling blocks from which we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and keep trudging. 
 One thing you can clearly see is missing from the list: time. This was mentioned by an audience member.  I am of the opinion that if it matters, you can make or find the time for innovation and risk taking.  Seek out your own resources, find your own learning network to support your professional development needs, write grants and work with what you have.

Maybe this is asking too much, but we have to stop making excuses.  

So what is a 21st Century teacher?

A contemporary teacher is one who maintains relevant content and delivery and allows students to explore content through whatever medium or pathway that is appropriate for the task, whether it is using technology or not. A 21st Century teacher is a contemporary teacher, integrating technology seamlessly with content, transforming lessons and building global citizenship amongst his/her students.  S/he is an advocate for his/her students, s/he connects with like-minded educators and never stops learning.

What does it mean to you?

photo courtesy of aaron schmidt on Flickr
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Crowd Sourcing and Problem Solving at ISTE 2010


As I was sitting in the Bloggers Cafe and listening to the hubub around me I was empowered by the conversation.  Why do people come to ISTE? Why do they convene here in this space with few chairs and even fewer tables?

To find solutions.

We all come across struggles and dilemmas in our daily teaching experiences, and what better place than this to find solutions?

Next year I will be at a new school, starting a technology program from the ground up. My school wants Interactive Whiteboards (IWBs) and technology to be integrated into every aspect of teaching and learning.  Right now, we don't even have a lab or any up-to-date technology in any of the classrooms aside from one Dell desktop as a teacher station.

I have been sitting here picking the brains of some wonderful educators for whom I have a lot of respect about 1:1 programs and IWBs and how they use them in their schools and districts. I have been learning about different brands, what they offer and the good and the bad about each one. I have been getting feedback about how to implement 1:1 programs and learning about the pitfalls to avoid when implementing a program.

I was talking with my friend, Cory Plough about some conversations he had last night that helped him solve some struggles and dilemmas that he has been facing in his teaching.  He felt that he had learned more in that conversation outside the Hard Rock Cafe than he could have in any session.

Conversation is empowering. Use it here at ISTE to learn and grow!
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ISTE 2010 Foursquare Scavenger Hunt!


Are you coming to ISTE's annual conference in Denver this year?

Are you a Foursquare user? (if you're not, check out the bottom of the post for more about what it does)

Make sure you participate in the Foursquare Scavenger Hunt to win prizes and explore the city of Denver and the Convention Center!

Here's how it works:

1.) If you haven't already, download the Foursquare application for your smartphone.
2.) Find Steven Anderson and Mary Beth Hertz and add them as friends.
3.) Check in at the Conference to get started.
4.) Follow the tips at each location to find out where to check in next.
5.) Earn prizes!

How do I earn prizes?

1) Check in at various places around the Convention Center and the city of Denver that Steven and Mary Beth suggest.

2) When you get to the last check in, you can collect your prize!  There are also mini prizes for checking in at 5 different places and 10 different places, and there is a grand prize each day for checking in at all 15 places--a $25 gift certificate to the ISTE Bookstore!
    2) Collect your prize starting on Monday from either Steven or Mary Beth by finding them based on their Foursquare location! (only one grand prize per day and only one prize per person!)

    Not on Foursquare? Not sure what it is or what it means?

    Foursquare is an application that uses your location (based on the GPS on your phone) to show you what places are around you. If the place where you are isn't listed, you can add it to the list based on your GPS location. Every time you check in, you get points and it alerts your Foursquare friends that you have checked in at that location. You can also leave tips about a place you visit so that your friends can see what you have to say about it.  For more information on the app, click here.
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    Subsidizing The Digital Divide


    Yesterday I attended EdubloggerCon, an unconference organized by Steve Hargadon. In the sessions on Best Practices in 1:1 Laptops and Bringing the Family along for Learning, the conversation centered at times around the Digital Divide.  One of the things I love about the ISTE conference is hearing all of the innovative and exciting projects and initiatives that people are doing in their classrooms, schools and districts. However, I live in a different world than many. Teaching in an enormous, urban district that is controlled by the State (we have no School Board) often makes my perspective and situation unique and different from others. 

    When the topic of taking laptops home came up, there were mixed opinions. I tweeted out the question of whether students should take laptops home and got a variety of responses. One person brought up insurance concerns. Another said that students should be buying their devices. In the face to face conversation there was a consensus that students should be taking devices home in order for them to be effective learning devices.

    Here is where the conversation got really engaging.

    A few people were commenting that kids were going to be bringing their own devices into school anyway because they owned them already. I commented that my students don't even have smartphones (most of them use pre-paid phones), and most of them don't have the financial ability to buy a laptop.  Then I brought up the idea of a 'rent to own' system where students make payments toward their laptop until they own it.  To me, this seemed like the perfect solution. If students know that they will one day own the computer, they are more likely to take care of it and more likely to take the time to learn the ins and outs of how it works. This also eliminates the need for districts and schools to spend large amounts of money on insurance.

    It was the perfect solution until I was sitting in the Family session and the point was made that if a child attends public school and is required to have a laptop, that it would have to be provided to them by the school. Then, one of the session participants offered the solution of using Title I money to subsidize the laptops. We already have 100% of our students who receive free breakfast lunch, so why not use that distinction to divert Title I funds toward subsidizing the devices for those students who qualify for free/reduced lunch. In my school, all of the devices would most likely be subsidized, but in schools with a more diverse socio-economic population, this would help decide who would buy a laptop straight out and who would be subsidized.

    All of this got me thinking: are laptops the new pencil, notebook, paper, pencil sharpener, etc...that parents are required to send their child to school with?

    This would be a huge shift in thinking and practice for public schools, and I'm even sure it would work, but the Digital Divide is real and the need for access is real. 

    How do we ensure that technology literacy isn't a privilege for those who can afford it?
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    What To Do About Rock Stars


    photo courtesy of fmgbain on Flickr
    During this week’s edchat I saw a name scroll by that made me look twice. Mixed among the many tweets was a tweet from Diane Ravitch.  I had just recently read an adaptation from her book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education in American Educator, which I had really enjoyed.  For those of you not familiar with Ravitch, she was Assistant Secretary of Education for George W. Bush and a supporter of the No Child Left Behind Act when it was first passed. Over the years she changed her views and is now adamantly against the policy.  In short, she is highly influential and well-respected amongst many educators and policy makers.

    Thus, seeing her name scroll by caught my eye and my attention. It also caught attention of some other edchat participants. What ensued was a debate over whether to acknowledge her presence or not. On one side, edchat is not about who is more important, or as it was put, about ‘rock stars.’  On the other side, edchat participants want their voices heard. Some of us feel like we’re trapped in a bubble, with all of our ideas, reflections, experience and knowledge bouncing around inside our community without escaping into the mainstream.  “I wish Arne Duncan was here to hear this,” or “It’s too bad Obama isn’t at edchat tonight” are some of the comments I’ve read over the last year.

    So, when Ravitch’s name crossed my twitstream, it was a big deal. At least to me. I thanked her for participating in the conversation. This sparked a conversation with an edchat participant I respect about whether we should be highlighting people who participate in edchat just because they are influential.

    What makes edchat unique is that it is for and by the participants. While there are moderators and organizers, it is ultimately the participants who choose the topic and make the conversation. The conversation moves so fast (Ravitch herself confessed it was too fast for her!) and there are so many ideas flying by that when an idea or comment catches my eye, or if I engage in conversation, I may only have enough time to make a note of the Twitter handle. Often, I must go back afterwards and look through the stream to learn more about a person I was conversing with. More than often, this person becomes part of my learning network.  While they may not be as highly influential on a larger scale, they are influential to me and I respect their ideas and the dialogue that we share.

    So do we treat someone who is influential and well-known, an established member of the education field, differently than we would a colleague?

    I don’t think we should treat a ‘rock star’ in education differently than our colleagues. I think we should engage them on the same level we would our colleagues. I think we do need to keep in mind, however, that if we don’t remind ourselves of someone’s influence or if we shrug someone off due merely to their influence, we run the risk of perpetuating the ‘us vs. them’ culture between those of us who are in the classroom and those outside the classroom or those with seemingly little power and those who seem to have all of the power. Of course, ideally, it should be educators who are the policy makers and educators who run schools and the school system. In order for this to happen, we need to engage policy makers and so-called ‘rock stars’ in our conversation and expose them to our day-to-day struggles and our innovative ideas and practices in the classroom.

    What are your thoughts?
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    Finding my Element


    I am about halfway through Sir Ken Robinson's book, The Element, and I have been reflecting on finding my own Element.

    Over the past year I have begun to feel that I am doing what I was meant to do.  I am motivated by some unseen force to spend my days and nights living and breathing education and technology and expanding my relationships with other educators.  I don't always get paid for these hours of hard and rewarding work, and I don't really mind.

    Here are some quotes from Robinson's book and my reflections on them that have made me realize that I have magically slipped into my Element.

    The Element is the meeting point between natural aptitude and personal passion.
    I know that I'm smart (see my previous post about me and smart people here), and I know my strengths (writing, reading and visual art). However, I became aware this year of a strength I took for granted, mostly because it's not a skill that can be tested.  I have a natural aptitude for working with other people. I am passionate about solving problems and finding solutions, which are better accomplished in collaboration than alone. When I am working with others, I am in my Element.

    When people are in their Element, they connect with something fundamental to their sense of identity, purpose and well-being.
    This quote describes the past year of my life to a 'T.'  All of a sudden I feel a sense of identity and purpose. I have found people who are as passionate as I am, I have found a field of work that ignites a fire in me and makes every day an exciting day.  Of course, with these feelings of purpose comes a sense of well-being. 

    All the same, it should be said that getting too deeply into your Element can cause a sense of ill-being as you can easily neglect your personal relationships as you follow your passions. (Read a great post on this subject by my friend Beth Still here and my own thoughts on the topic here.)

    If you don't embrace the fact that you think about the world in a wide variety of ways, you severely limit your chances of finding the person that you were meant to be.
    As humans we are always seeking out the 'meaning of life.'  "Why am I here?" "What is my purpose?" As Robinson states, we need to explore our world and our connections to the world to fully know who are and who we are meant to be. 

    Discovering the Element is all about allowing yourself access to all of the ways in which you experience the world, and discovering where your own true strengths lie. Just don't take them for granted.
    This quote rings true for me as I have had a wide variety of experiences in my 30 years and I have a wide variety of interests. I have driven cross-country, lived in Senegal, lived and taught on the Navajo Reservation in New Mexico and spent my summers exploring the beaches of Nantucket as a child. I enjoy bluegrass, drum and bass, punk rock, hip hop, jazz, classical and metal music.  I have tattoos and piercings, love hanging out at skate parks and enjoy a good pub. I also have a Master's degree in Instructional Technology, love NPR, read fanatically everything from Roald Dahl to Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.  I love talking politics and policy and I have a soft spot for cats.  In other words, I experience the world through many different filters, which is one of my strengths. These varied interests and experiences help me work well with others and allow me to see things from many different angles.

    People who work creatively usually have something in common: they love the media they work with.
    If children are media, this describes me perfectly. It also describes many of the passionate and innovative educators I have met over the past year. Our passion for children and education make us think creatively and take risks and rise to meet any challenge.

    I feel blessed to have found well-being, identity and purpose in my life. I couldn't have made it here without the help of others.  I also feel blessed to have picked up Robinson's book at such a poignant time in my life.

    So I ask, what's your Element?

    photo courtesy of zenera on Flickr
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    Tech Tool vs Learning Tool


    Tonight's #edchat discussion on how we move from the idea of tech as a 'tech tool' to a 'learning tool' was one I've had numerous times over the past year.  It was the perfect conversation to end my day. Today my 1st and 2nd graders with whom I have been working over the year on higher order questioning and shared inquiry based around classic stories began recording their book reports in GarageBand.

    We spent the last week writing them, filling out information such as the title and main characters as well as the plot and reflection questions.  This week we were to begin recording our book reports to share with each other.  Of course, in typical School District of Philadelphia fashion, we found out 1 minute before our reading group time that this would be our last meeting together. I moved forward with our plan anyway, even if just to give my students a chance to record their voices.

    My students had never used GarageBand before, so I spent a few minutes showing them the basics of creating a podcast with the record button, play button as well as how to delete recordings and move them around.

    Within minutes they were recording their voices. They started by reading off of their papers, but many of them began ad-libbing, describing the story in detail in their own words. A few of them decided to begin reading the story they chose, stopping to listen to themselves and starting over if they didn't think it was done well.

    As you can imagine, there was quite a din with all of them recording at once.

    Unfortunately, in the video above, I had a very impatient student calling my name! However, you can tell how focused and engaged the students are as they ignore all of the background noise.  Amazingly, some of them didn't mind.

    A few complained about the background noise, so I pulled out some copy paper, remembering the trick that Samantha Morra shared in her Digital Storytelling session at Educon this year.  The students rolled up the copy paper to create a little tube, focusing their voice on the microphone.  This helped cut out a lot of the background noise in the classroom.

    As I moved around the room observing and helping students, I was amazed at how engaged the students were in reading their projects and their stories. I could hear them reading with inflection, which I don't often hear them do when we read out loud. I heard them reading and re-reading whole paragraphs until they got it 'right.'


    The project I had planned as a simple way for them to share their book reports had turned quickly into a project that helped them build reading fluency and verbal expression skills.

    A specific dialogue during tonight's #edchat conversation with Rich Kiker and Rebecca Petersen got me thinking: Can I pick a tool to teach content with or should the content lead to the tool?

    In this case, the content led to the tool. This is how I tend to approach technology integration in general. Plan the lesson and the learning goals first, choose the tech tool last. However, I hadn't considered how the tool might help my students learn in other ways. So in the future, could I plan a lesson around GarageBand with the goal of increasing reading fluency?  Or would I plan a lesson on fluency, including my learning goals, keeping in the back of my mind how GarageBand would serve as a great tool to teach this skill?

    Or is this a case of the chicken and the egg?

    In any case, it was a powerful experience for me and my students with huge potential for learning.
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    Thoughts on Facebook Privacy


    Facebook's privacy issues have been all over the news recently. The dialogue has sparked conversations about our attitudes as a culture toward privacy.  Most articles and blogs I have read state that social networking has changed our attitude toward privacy and made us much less choosy about what we share publicly.

    About a week or so ago I received a postcard from one of my best friends. She and I have been writing letters and postcards back and forth for close to 10 years. It's one of those lifelong friendships that will endure until we are old and gray.

    As I turned the postcard over and started reading, I noted the intimacy of the message on the back despite the fact that it was a postcard, readable by anyone through whose hands it passed.  I then thought of the dozens of postcards like this that have been exchanged between myself and my friends over the last 10 years.  I then envisioned the decades during which lovers exchanged postcards across oceans and sent telegrams delivered by complete strangers.  Deaths, births, all kinds of personal messages often went through many hands before reaching their recipient.  Even military personnel have all of their correspondence read before it goes in the mail.

    So my thoughts are: did Facebook really change our attitudes, or have we always held these attitudes and Facebook has just provided a different media and outlet through which people can express their need to communicate?
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