Sunday, January 19, 2014

A New Renaissance

The Renaissance is perhaps the most popular example in the western world of creativity  And why not?  Just think of the art, architecture, and literature that we have inherited from that time.  We marvel today at the ingenuity and originality of the times.  And we sometimes long for just a smidgen of the talent represented by that era.

I believe that technology is presenting us with an opportunity to reclaim some of that creativity and originality.  I believe we are living in a new renaissance.   However, because it is driven by technology I think many discount the potential.

When Brunelleschi figured out how to complete the duomo atop Santa Maria in Florence in the 15th century, he was creating.  He saw a problem and took a risk.  The result?  A spectacular piece of architecture that is still marveled at today.  He had some tools at his disposal and with some design thinking, built a structure not seen since ancient times.

The same is true for our students.  I have watched students who never said two words in class create a stop-motion video about Thomas Jefferson that blew me (and them!) away.  I saw students create detailed presentations using anything and everything but PowerPoint (because I told them PPT wasn't an option) and listened to the reactions from their classmates: "Wow!  We are really smart!"  "I never do anything like this in other classes."  "Ms. Schaefer, last year we weren't this good.  How did we become so impressive?!"

Are they smarter?  Did they "become" impressive overnight?   Yes and no.  They did have better presentations, but not because they suddenly got smarter.  They had better presentations because they branched out.  I challenged them to be creative and they were.  I think they found the same thing in creating that I have: technology allows a safe environment to take risks and the results are amazing.

Take a moment to stroll your hallways and talk to your students and observe your teachers.  I assure you if technology is being used correctly then you will find your own evidence of this renaissance. If you feel you don't have evidence on your campus of effective technology use, or if you need more convincing, simply turn to Twitter, your G+ communities, and YouTube. Any of these venues can provide ample evidence of complex problem solving, original thinking, and creative genius on the part of students at all grade-levels.

 Technology is everywhere and it isn't going away.  This is welcomed by some, and spurned by others.  I argue that it doesn't matter how you feel about technology, it is here to stay so get used to it.  That might sound a bit harsh, and perhaps it is.  However, I am tired of making an argument to people for WHY we are using technology.  There are the obvious answers: Students have to know how to create with technology because their future jobs depend on it.  Students have to be comfortable with technology because we can't even imagine what programs and apps and hardware will be created in the future that they will need to learn and use.  Students need to take responsibility for their learning, and understanding how to curate the vast amount of information available on the web is part of that responsibility. This list an go on, but you get the idea.

Just as the masters of the Renaissance had the time and ability to think, collaborate, and  create, so do our students.  The tools might look different, but the desired outcomes is the same: produce something original that I am proud of.  What is different is the access to the tools.  In place of painters palettes, chisels, parchment and quills, our students use smart phones, tablets, software, and social media sites.  No one told the masters of the Renaissance not to try.  No one took their tools from them.  No one "blocked" their access to what they needed to do their jobs.  So why do we block and/or ban so many tools for our students?  Why are we disadvantaging our students?  Why are we preventing them from achieving their fullest potential?

 There is a rush that comes from releasing ones' creative juices.  And there is a true sense of pride when solving a problem in a new and unique way.  I believe that our technology today is allowing a new renaissance to occur.   But we have to be open to it.  So allow your students access to the tools of the 21st century renaissance.  The turn your students loose and see what they dream up.  You most likely have a 21st century Brunelleschi, Michelangelo, Giotto, Alberti, Machiavelli, or Ghiberti.  But no one will know until they are given the chance.

I welcome your comments.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Learn, Share, Repeat

photo credit: courtesy of Jonathan McIntosh
This past week marked the start of the new semester for us and I was eager to begin work on my plans, projects, ideas, and in general get back to the business of school after a few weeks off.  I started, however, a few days early by attending EdCamp Home 2.0.  It was an awesome experience!  I finished the day completely pumped for the new semester.  I attribute my enthusiasm to the two sessions I attended.  

My first session was a collaborative conversation in which we contributed to a Google Doc, shared best practices,and  threw out questions and challenges to crowd source solutions for.  It was a great opportunity to learn with other educators from a round the globe.  My second session was an unexpected opportunity to sit at the feet of the amazing @garnet_hilman to hear about #sbg.  It was such a fabulous session because we had THE guru in the room.  I was extremely grateful to her for being willing to share her knowledge, the lessons she has learned from implementation, and to have a good conversation with others interested in finding ways to implement Standards Based Grading on their campuses.

So went my Saturday before school started.  I did not have much time to bask in the glow of EdCamp Home 2.0 energy, however, because I was off to #GAFEsummit Napa that week.  This was my first Google summit and I was presenting as well as attending.  This was a bit nerve-wracking for me as some real Google ninjas were there running sessions.  My beginner session came and went and afterwards, I was chatting with @TheTechDog01 who sat in the front row for my workshop.  He said to me "I always learn something every time I attend a workshop.  It might be something new.  It might be something I learned once and forgot about.  It does't matter.  I always learn."  

Wow!  Light bulb!  I am not a Google certified teacher ( on my list of things to do) but I do use Google.  I have  knowledge--and not just about implementing GAFE in a school.  That knowledge needs to be shared.  That is what we expect our teachers to do every day.  That is what we encourage our students to do.  Thus, this is what we need to model as Lead Learners.

Collaborating with others, learning something new, and then turning around and sharing out is what being a life-long learner is all about.  I enjoyed these back-to-back experiences very much.  It was a great way to kick-start the semester and also a wonderful reminder of the importance of giving back as much as you take.

There will be more EdCamps and more conferences.  There will also be countless informal learning opportunities.  Every one of them will be another chance to learn and share.  I am looking forward to 2014 as a chance to grow as both a learner and a leader.  I hope that you will take the time to both learn and share with your #PLN.  You just never know what you will learn or what you will inspire in someone else.

Comments welcome.