Monday, November 7, 2016

Illinois Curriculum Leaders at Apple

In October 2016 I participated in an Illinois Curriculum Leaders Briefing hosted by Apple. The Briefing focused on defining the best practices and ideals in instructional technology. Several district administrators from districts across Illinois participated, and over the course of the three-day event, we learned much from Apple and from each other.

Here are a few of the main ideas I wish to share:

Apple began the briefing by referencing Simon Sinek's TED Talk about finding the "why" before you move forward with initiatives. The discussion made me proud of be a part of Barrington 220 as our "why" is clearly outlined in our Strategic Plan; and, as a member of the Department of Technology and Innovation, our "why" is defined through the One to World Vision and Mission statements. Understanding the "why" drives how we provide professional learning, what we choose focus upon in our professional learning offerings, which devices we implement in our classrooms, and most importantly, how we teach and how students learn.

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Through a series of activities framed by the John Dewey quote (from 1916!), "If we teach today as we taught yesterday, we rob our children of tomorrow," our group focused on making instruction engaging, with plenty of time on task. We shared statements, such as, "If it's not student-centered, it's not engaging," "Students need to own the learning process," "Technology should go to where the learning is taking place....students shouldn't be tied to learning where the technology lives," and my favorite, "The role of the teacher is to create conditions for invention rather than provide ready-made knowledge."

We discussed the idea of homework and how technology can play a vital role in reshaping how we assign and value homework. We decided homework should be catered to the progress and interests of each student. We challenged each other with questions like, "Why are we afraid to send students home with with challenging homework?" and "Why are we sending homework home? What's the 'why' of homework?"

We defined technology as anything that wasn't around when you were born. For our youngest students, that means an iPad is not technology. It's not new to them—it's what they've grown up with.

The next topic centered on professional learning offered to our teachers. We came to two conclusions that led to our main discussion:

  • Students need to use technology in schools each day because it's engaging and offers students more time on task
  • It's not the students who constrain the use of technology in creative and innovative ways in schools. 

Based upon those two statements, we questioned whether the professional learning offered to teachers really met the needs for teachers. Are we providing professional learning that is for technology or for best practices in instruction?

To manage change, we examined Apple's analogy of two islands separated by water. Three types of people start on the first island and behave differently to the introduction of the second island. The second island represents change. The first type of person (the swimmer) dives into the water without provocation and begins swimming to the second island. The second type of person (the shark-spotter) is definitely willing to swim, but has spotted some sharks (i.e., potential problems) and would rather wait it out before starting off for the second island. The third type of person (the pole-hugger) clings to the flag pole planted in the first island and has no interest in moving to the second island.

We discussed the value that each type of person brings. The swimmers help move change and courageously find the issues and work towards resolving those issues for the other two types of people. The shark-spotters help smooth the transition of change. The pole-huggers make sure we keep the values from previous changes in mind as we consider new changes.

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