Wednesday, June 29, 2011

ISTE impressions- facilitating problem solving in the classroom

I'm back from ISTE and still have so much swimming in my brain. By far my favorite part of the conference was meeting so many great educators. I loved listening to their passion, ideas, and enthusiasm that radiated from them even though everyone is still a bit weary from end-of-year exhaustion. I got to put faces to some ed bloggers I'd been following for awhile and added lots of ed blogs to my Google reader that I'm excited to dive into. I have all sorts of ideas of ways to play once back in the classroom in August, or when I return from maternity leave.

My favorite session above all was Peter Reynolds, the author of Ish and The Dot. Like the message in his books he talked about how important it is for us to teach our children to embrace their mistakes and to give permission to them to not be perfect. This was a topic that frequently came up at EduCon as well. So often we are focused on perfection with our students- perhaps because we're focused on perfection with ourselves as well (2014 isn't far away...  anyone at a title 1 school making that 100% pass rate yet? No?  Keep pushing...)  Rarely do we teach our children how to embrace failure, how to move on when something is not perfect, or how to try even when unsure. In special education this might actually be taught more than most- so many of our struggling friends are unable to move on when they are stuck on a task- if we are going to get anywhere with them we have to teach them how to fail.

Teaching problem solving is essential to learning. The more our children learn to problem solve on their own the more they drive their own learning. Without failure there are less problems to solve and one never learns how to try hard at something, fail, assess the situation, build steps to fix it, sequence those steps, and then begin to build onward toward success. These are life skills that are difficult to be successful without. Of course, success in life often looks different than success in school.

Walking through the vendor hall at ISTE one is practically beaten over the head with all the tools and devices out there to embed technology into the classroom. All of these seem amazing, top-of-the-field and impressive until you start to ask, what will my children learn from these practices? Why are these better than my current practices?  Other than impressing others and being able to talk the ed- tech-talk, what is the benefit? Down in the poster session hallway there is another story. Many of the poster sessions focused on ways real teachers use technology in their classrooms and they are readily able to discuss their success, failures, and learning curve with their projects. From booth to booth I kept noticing a similar pattern- technology was being used to problem solve. No one was using it to teach children rote memorization or to become better test takers. Instead technology was being used to push children beyond their traditional roles in the classroom. Students were taking ownership of their learning, trying new things, interacting with the curriculum in a personalized way, and problem solving in order to be successful. And most importantly, while most was teacher facilitated, it was predominately student-led work. Once the students were engaged the teachers stepped back and allowed the students to drive their own projects.

Research has shown us that children who are the most successful are the ones who are able to create a mental image in their mind of what they would like to create and then set out to be able to achieve that image, despite any failures or difficulties they run into along the way. Teachers can facilitate the creation, but children must be able to create their own images and their own plans of getting to the end goal. It's what we all do to be successful in life- whether it is knowing we want a masters degree, to lose five pounds, create a new video game, write a novel, or start a company- it is the process that makes us successful. It's the "secret" behind that book Oprah was pushing a few years ago (No, I didn't read it, but that's my impression)- make a vision of what you want and work to get it. We can have students who are able to spout off facts, read for understanding, and fill in the blanks well, but without knowing how to set a goal and achieve it they are lost in the real world.

We certainly do not need technology to help us teach this in the classrooms, but after visiting the poster sessions it is clear that it is one way to help give children this opportunity.

It was perfect that my first session at ISTE was Peter Reynold's talk- he reminded us to focus on facilitating creativity in the classroom, give children permission to not be perfect, and most importantly, to let every child know they matter and that they exist. Perfect lessons to carry with us throughout the conference- it's not about the newest and greatest technology in the classroom, it's about the individual children who come to us each year. How will we reach them? What ways will we let them know they are important? How will we give them the tools to succeed?

After his talk I was ready rejuvenated and inspired enough to dive into next school year. Luckily I have more than a month to make my ideas and plans concrete.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I find myself wrestling with some of these same ideas and how to make them more concrete in my classroom, especially on a "turnaround" campus where there are many ideas thrust upon me as to how to accelerate student achievement. I hope you will keep posting as you work through your thoughts and plans over the next month. I would love to read about how you flesh out these ideas.