Thursday, March 7, 2013

Elementary Educators, there's no better time to "open" up

Image courtesy of simplogist at Flickr

As part of ETMOOC, we were able to participate via Twitter in an Open Education panel this afternoon in connection with Open Education Week. In her summation at the end of the session, one of the panelists, Karen Fasimpaur made the point that for elementary educators, right now there is a critical window of opportunity when participation in the open education movement can make a big difference in elementary education. 

Currently, those of us in elementary education  are in the process of adopting the Common Core.  Yong Zhao, in his blog post "How to Minimize the Damages of the Common Core" is one of the many who has said what we all know, the Common Core itself will not be education's panacea.  It's another national "solution" with standardized testing. What it has done, however, is force educators, policy-makers, and parents to think about how we want to proceed from here.  Schools all over the country are having major philosophical discussions about the new curriculum and how teaching should change. 

Combine this ripeness for change with the access to resources the open movement has provided and there is no better time to be an educator, if districts will support their teachers with the time and resources to investigate open educational resources.

There are incredible resources available to schools for free.  For example, last year, I had the opportunity to spend time with some wonderful people at the Cebrowski Institute at the Naval Postgraduate School who, among other things, are interested in getting more young people interested in STEM careers.  Through them, I learned about Scratch, a free computer programming tool that was developed at MIT.  I was able to learn to use it by attending various workshops taught by volunteer instructors, including Kate Lockwood, from CSU Monterey Bay. 

Through this STEM project,  I also learned about CS Unplugged, a collection of free learning games developed by Tim Bell in New Zealand, that teach about computer science without using a computer.  These open resources are doubly remarkable. One criticism leveled at OER is that these resources are sometimes un-democratic.  Not only do these CS Unplugged activities teach about computer science without the use of computers, but they are available on-line in 9 languages.  We were lucky enough to have Tim Bell come to our school to give an assembly and the students loved it. What a terrific way to generate interest in computer science.

In the ed tech field in general, there are numerous freely available resources.  We are fortunate to be piloting iPads in our classroom this year.  I was initially concerned that we would need a large budget for apps, but the rate of app development has been astounding.  What is available for free has been quite surprising, as has been the responsiveness of app developers to input from school teachers.   At the beginning of the year, I was very frustrated by work flow problem with the iPads.  How was I going to manage the work that students were doing on the iPads without constantly having to check each iPad?  Now, hardly 6 months later, we are using a free classroom management system which allows students to easily upload work they do on numerous free (or nearly free) apps and submit them to me so I can view them at one time on my iPad or computer. 

Before I became involved with the STEM project and the iPad pilot, I had no particular expertise in either area, I was just interested in getting 5th graders ready for the "real"world they were going to live in.  Our current curriculum didn't cover either programming or Ipads, it was much too dated.  Nearly everything I learned, I learned from colleagues or on-line, via traditional methods (reading) or in Collaborate sessions, following Twitter, or on-line courses. 

This leads me to my main point. There has never been a better time to get personalized professional development.  It is the day of the PLN.  There is no reason every teacher shouldn't be out there learning about something that he or she is passionate about that will make that teacher a better teacher.  Everyone should participate in learning opportunities like this ETMOOC where they can learn how to take advantage of social networking to learn, share and grow. It is with this learning, collaboration and encouragement that we can genuinely make a difference.

However, we can best do this with the support of our schools and districts.  I am able to spend time on this MOOC because I teach part-time.  If I were in the classroom full-time, and were working on my extra-curricular school activities, there would be precious little time left over for the MOOC.  Teachers need time built in to their schedules to collaborate with each other and to develop their on-line PLNs.  There is so much available on the internet.  We don't need to be reinventing the wheel every time we do something.  We need to be working together and using the expertise of others.  (Thank you Sally Wilson for your list explaining how to find images with Creative Commons licenses on various sites.  My 5th graders will appreciate this.) 

I think the way we can best help our students as we head into Common Core is to have the time to use all of the amazing open resources available to us and collaborate with our on-site teachers and PLNs.

In return for all the open resources that we glean from the internet and our new PLNs, we need to heed the advice of Alan Levine and share what we have learned.  This sharing in an open and social manner will be new to some of us, me included, and may feel uncomfortable, but if you need inspiration, take a look at Alan's "True Stories of Openness" project.   I know I can do a better job with this and after reading Sherry Hegstrom's post today, I have decided to dedicate an hour a day to social media in order to develop my PLN and become more comfortable with it.  

We can make a difference and the time to do it is now.

1 comment:

  1. Dear May Lee,
    Thanks for a very interesting blog post. It really resonated with me. I teach in Australia and whilst we don't have the Common Core, our struggles are very much the same as yours. I've been developing my PLN over the last year or so and love the opportunities that I've been afforded...just by opening up. Trying to get more of my colleagues on board-will share your post with them!
    Keep sharing the good message!