Teaching and Learning Resources by Peter Pappas

How to Create A PLC with Google+ Hangout

G+hangout logo-featured

I critiqued the “top-down vision of innovation in schools” in a post Innovations in Teaching and Learning: Top Down or Bottom Up?

Want to find out more about instructional innovation in action? That won’t cost you a thing either. Just jump on my Twitter feed and you find superb teachers willing to share their latest student projects. And that free flow of information contrasts with a second “top-down” approach to innovation in schools – the professional learning committee. Imagine being told that, “teachers will now attend PLC meetings.. and don’t forget to fill out the PLC report form and turn it in to your administrator.” No one at the top seems to notice that teachers who want to network have already created their own “bottom-up” support systems via the social web.

PLCs for singleton teachers?

A recent post by high school physics teacher Casey Rutherford, describes how he used Google+ Hangouts (free video conferencing) to create his own PLC. A Physics PLC: Collaboration at a Distance. Casey writes:

This year my school district, like many others, implemented PLCs (Professional Learning Communities) as the driving force behind how we collaborate to help students learn. The directive was that all teachers should meet in a PLC weekly for approximately 30 minutes. This sounds, and can be, great, but I had a problem. …. For 7 years I had been the only physics teacher. …

Enter Twitter. I’ve been on Twitter almost two years now, and I have learned more on Twitter in these two years than the previous six, which included a masters degree. Among other things I have managed to build a pretty awesome PLN (Personal Learning Network) that includes a couple hundred incredible physics and math teachers from around the country.

Casey posted a tweet with a link to Google doc soliciting members for his online PLC:

My name is Casey Rutherford. I am entering teaching for the 8th year, my 7th teaching physics, and my first using Modeling Instruction. I have a relatively odd request.

My school is implementing PLCs, certainly a worthy task. The problem is that at this point there is not a logical person with whom I would form a PLC. Thus my request. I am wondering if any of you would like to form an online PLC with me, working together approximately 30 minutes/week to compare student work. My thought is that we can do a lot with formative assessments, using photos of student whiteboards to form the basis for our conversations. I am, however, open to other ideas as well. …

What follows is Casey’s step-by-step description of how his team used a G+ Hangout to manage their PLC sessions. It includes details about managing the Hangout, using it to analyze student work, and building meaningful collegial relationships. It’s a very helpful post for anyone looking for practical information on using G+ Hangouts. 

Rutherford-g-hangout

Hat tip to Marshall Memo for leading me to Casey’s piece.

Screenshot credit / Casey Rutherford

14 Provocative Questions for the Faculty

 

It’s back to school time. Get ready for that opening day faculty meeting where you sit and listen, while wishing you could be getting some actual work done in your classroom. Here’s some questions you might ask at the meeting to generate more meaningful back to school discussion.

Can students learn to be innovative in a school driven by the routine of test prep?

Every summer you get to reinvent yourself as a teacher. I’ve used the time to brainstorm a few disruptive questions I would pose to subvert the status quo in school. This post is directed to teachers and administrators thinking about their school at the program level. Its companion post, 13 Subversive Questions for the Classroom, offers reflective questions for teachers to consider when thinking about their approach to instruction.

  1. When’s the last time we talked about who’s learning, who’s not, and what we are doing about it?
  2. How much of what is taught in our school is only useful for passing state tests?
  3. With new and cheaper technologies giving students greater control of their information landscape, when will our school become totally irrelevant to students and fully isolated from their personal learning environments?
  4. Do we dumb down instruction for the “low achievers” in the belief that they cannot handle higher order thinking?
  5. Are the “honors” students critical thinkers, or just willing to memorize what we give them?
  6. Are teachers’ informal social media connections more valuable to them than our district-mandated PLC’s?
  7. Which is the better driver’s test – the written DMV exam or the road test? What does that tell us about state assessments?
  8. If we accept the notion that the careers of the future have not been invented yet, how do we justify the rigidity of our 19th century, departmentalized curriculum?
  9. When do students actually get to work on that “life-long learner” goal in our school mission statement?
  10. What would happen if faculty meetings and staff development had to use the strategies being advocated for the classroom?
  11. When we host a parents’ event, do we use the instructional strategies we promote for the classroom or simply lecture at them?
  12. Is our school program thoughtfully designed to give students increasing responsibility for their learning?
  13. What meaningful career looks like filling out a worksheet?
  14. Can students learn to be innovative in a school driven by the routine of test prep?

Comment below to add a question you’d like to see posed at the opening day faculty meeting.

Image credit: Banksy – subversive street artist.

Innovations in Teaching and Learning: Top Down or Bottom Up?

Up-down

Head to the vendor area of an educational conference and you'll see a "top-down" vision of innovation in schools – expensive stuff that delivers information – lots of flashy equipment like display systems, interactive whiteboards, etc. They might give the illusion of modern, but in fact they're just a glitzy versions of the old standby – teaching as telling. Does anyone really think there's an instructional ROI in jazzing up test prep with a "Jeopardy-style game" delivered by "cutting-edge display technology?" 

In fact, the best innovation in instructional practice is coming from the "bottom up" – from teachers who find effective ways to harness the creative energy of their students. These teachers don't simply deliver information to kids, they craft lessons where students can research, collaborate, and reflect on what they're learning. They harness a flood of new platforms that enable students "see" information in new ways and support a more self-directed style of learning. Unlike the expensive wares being hawked by the convention vendors, most of these web tools are free. 

Want to find out more about instructional innovation in action? That won't cost you a thing either. Just jump on my Twitter feed and you find superb teachers willing to share their latest student projects. And that free flow of information contrasts with a second "top-down" approach to innovation in schools – the professional learning committee. Imagine being told that, "teachers will now attend PLC meetings.. and don't forget to fill out the PLC report form and turn it in to your administrator." No one at the top seems to notice that teachers who want to network have already created their own "bottom-up" support systems via the social web.

Most kids have a "bottom-up" expectation of curating their own information and creating something with it. The barriers to producing content (music, art, books, etc) have all but disappeared. Schools should be helping students develop better skills at critically evaluating information and using it in responsible ways. But many schools cloister students behind internet filters. And instead of finding innovative ways to take advantage of the student's personal smart phone, they ban them. "Susie put your iTouch away and please focus your attention on the output from our classroom's expensive new wireless document camera."

Corporate music, publishing and film were transformed from below. Do we expect education (another legacy information gatekeeper) to be spared the forces of the digital revolution? Unlike the vanishing local newspaper, schools won't disappear entirely. After all, someone has to watch the kids. While it may be difficult to replace the custodial function of schools, I suspect that education's "top-down" approach will eventually be breached. Or perhaps life will just become an "open book test" and we'll no longer notice how our information moves through it. 

As Matt Ridley noted in a piece about the evolution of the social web,  "The very notion that we once discussed the relative merits of text, email, social-network messaging and tweeting will seem quaint. In the future, my part of the cloud will get a message to a friend's part of the cloud by whichever method works best, and I will not even know which way it went. The distinction between a newspaper column and a blog will dissolve, as will the difference between a book and an e-book."  ~ Microchips Are Old Hat. Can Tweets Be Far Behind? Wall Street Journal  March 5, 2011

Image credit flickr/visualpanic  

A Guide to Designing Effective Professional Development: Essential Questions for the Successful Staff Developer

All considerations for professional development (PD) should flow from the premise that staff development should model what you want to see in the classroom. We strive to offer our students engaging, relevant, and rigorous instruction that supports students who will, over time, take responsibility for their learning. PD should apply those same goals to training teachers, staff and administration.

I’ve seen PD from a variety of perspectives – as a 25-year teacher receiving staff development, as a teacher offering PD courses at our district teacher center, as a K-12 director and Assistant Superintendent planning PD, and as outside consultant / trainer. Viewed through those lenses, I’ve developed few questions for consideration by professional development planners.

Design and planning:

1. Did your teachers have a meaningful role in deciding what PD is being offered? (You’re in trouble if the training is merely based on a tip from someone who saw “this really cool presentation.”)

2. If it’s a school-wide inservice day, have you provided appropriate training for all faculty and staff? (“OMG! We forgot about the librarians! Do you think we can get away with putting them in with PE?)

3. Is there a clear alignment between how the session is promoted to teachers and what the trainer is prepared to deliver? (Before my session begins, I usually ask a few attendees what they expect. When no one has a clue, I’ve got work to do.)

4. Have you prioritized your PD objectives to bring focus to your initiatives? (It’s easy to turn people off with the perception of “just another reform du jour.”)

5. If you are implementing PLC’s or action teams, do the participants see their value? (Or do you have groups of “PD prisoners” who only see it as busy work?)

6. Do you offer appropriate training for all staff? (Don’t forget, the entire organization can support instruction.)

Delivery

7. Have you considered internal expertise, before turning to outside trainers? (PD is about building capacity.)

8. Will the trainer be utilizing the strategies being advocated? (If not, at least modeling them.)

9. Do you differentiate PD by instructional method? (Or is that something you only expect teachers to do with their students?)

10. Will teachers leave with ideas they can immediately put to use? (Not everyone is fascinated by the implications of new brain research on student achievement.)

11. Will appropriate administrators be in attendance? (It sends a powerful message when they are.)

Follow up

12. What is your plan for follow up to the training? (No drive-bys allowed!)

13. If you are offering technology training, will teachers have immediate access to the necessary equipment? (Use it, or lose it!)

14. Do you have a mechanism to gather and act on participant feedback (Learning is about experience and reflection.)

15. Have you clearly identified an instructional outcome you hope to see as a result of the training? (Or are you doing it, just because it’s in fashion?)

A high-functioning professional development program considers these questions and many more. The best programs are guided by a tacit “reciprocal accountability.” If administration is holding teachers accountable for student performance, then administration is accountable to engage teachers in the design and implementation of meaningful PD. Likewise, if teachers have an active role in shaping their professional learning environment, then administrators should expect to see the strategies utilized in the classroom, followed by an honest appraisal of what’s working.

I disagree with the notion that teaching is kind of innate “gift” that only some are born with. Teachers are nurtured with experience, training, and reflection.

If you’ve read this far,  you might also like a few other posts:

Teacher-Led Professional Development: Eleven Reasons Why You Should be Using Classroom Walk Throughs

Lesson Study: Teacher-Led PD That Works  

The Reflective Teacher: The Taxonomy of Reflection 

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