Saturday, July 29, 2006

NECC: Fearless Courage: Technology and High School Transformation (eMINTS)

This session discussed the eMINTS (enhancing Missouri's Instructional Networked Teaching Stratagies) staff development program. While this program started (and is widespread) in Missouri, it has formally spread to nine other states. They appear to be focusing on many of the same issues and methodologies we are, only on a much grander scale.

She (Monica Beglau) described it as "inquiry-based teaching powered by technology," although she was careful to indicate that that did not mean that everything was inquiry based. She said it was based on constructivism and was "problem-based and project based, using the Socratic method as often as possible with different levels of probing questions." I'd encourage you to explore their website (including a link to the PowerPoint she used for the session) - especially eThemes - "an extensive database of content-rich, age-appropriate resources organized around specific themes. These resources are created for educators to use in their classrooms.". I talked to her a little bit after the session about maybe collaborating with them in some fashion and she was receptive, although I haven't even managed to send an email yet. I think they probably have a whole lot of resources they could offer us.

Quote 1: Research is not simply a list of questions you find answers to.

Research should be about solving a problem - where students ask what they need to know to solve a problem and go after it. Not simply using the Internet to find answers to a pre-made list of factual questions.

Quote 2: We are creating student communities that could not exist without the technology.

As with so many of the sessions at NECC (and at TIE for that matter), using technology to foster "communities of learners" was very much a hot topic.

Quote 3: We map as much of the curriculum as we possibly can into problem-based learning. But we do use direct instruction for the other parts. (later on she said) For real change to occur we've found that you can't have more than about 30% direct instruction.

I'd like to learn more about how they determined the 30%. I really like the emphasis on problem-based learning - real, relevant issues that students can sink their teeth into. But I also like the acknowledgement that there is some information or some skills that don't lend themselves well to that and may be best delivered through direct instruction.

Quote 4: We spend a minimum of four hours teaching teachers how to ask questions.

I'd like to find the money to fly out one of their trainers to do this for our staff.

Quote 5: We offer sustained, intensive professional development (a core of 200 hours over 2 years) and we model in professional development what we want them to do in the classroom. Our professional development is about 70% pedagogy and 30% tech literacy.

That split between pedagogy and tech literacy seems to match us pretty well, although we are probably even more heavily weighted toward pedagogy at this point.

Quote 6: We are not supposed to be teaching our personality.

This one really resonated with me for some reason. I think teachers have so much tied up in their profession that it's easy sometimes to make the class revolve around our personality, instead of focusing on the students. That's not to say that teachers shouldn't bring in their personality and personal experiences - I think that's a great way to make connections with students - but that shouldn't be the focus of the class.

Quote 7: Refuse to think for your students.

I really, really, really (did I mention "really"?) like this quote. I think if all teachers read this to themselves before each class (and maybe even out loud to the class), it would help tremendously.

The title of her presentation (Fearless Courage) came from this quote from Andrew Powell of B.F. Goodrich:

Fearless courage is more than visionary. Many have the ability to look at events and trends and describe the future state. However, few are willing to take the risk of acting on that vision unless the current state is bad. To reform or change tactics when things are working, based on your vision of the future, requires courage.

I think this is a key quote for Arapahoe. I think it's very easy for us as a "good" school to just sit back and think we don't need to change, but I think that would be doing a huge disservice to our students. As I've said before, should we be preparing our students for the world as it looked when we were 18, or for the world as it's going to look when they are our age?

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