The Apple Teacher Program

How many of you like to play games?  Maybe you like board games or card games that you can play with your family and friends.  Maybe you like to play video games on the PlayStation or Xbox.  Or maybe you are more into games that you can play on your iPad or phone.  One thing that has become a trend in a lot of the digital games is the idea of earning badges to symbolize advancement in the game.  People love to compete for those badges.  Some teachers have even integrated this gamification into the learning process.  Today I want to share with you something that Apple has developed that can allow all of us as educators to collect our own badges, and maybe learn some new things in the process.

A couple of days ago I saw a post on Twitter from an educator that I follow saying that he had just earned a new badge in the Apple Teacher Program.  I didn’t know much about the program, but a quick Google search took me to Apple’s site with more information about the program (click here if you want to check out the site!).

Reading over the short pieces of information on that site, I learned that through this program you could learn how to use built-in apps to “enhance creativity and productivity” in the classroom.  As you complete lessons, you can take a quiz, and if you pass the quiz you earn a badge.

I decided to sign up so that I could learn more about the program.  Once I was signed up (almost instantaneous – you sign up with your Apple ID, and then you receive an email with the link to sign in to the Apple Teacher Learning Center), I was able to find links to learning resources for teachers, inspiration for new things to try out, and links to earn badges that are based on the iPad or the Mac.  Since we are 1:1 with the iPad, that is where I went first, and without having to participate in any lessons I was able to pass quizzes to earn a couple of the badges.

There are options to earn general badges for the iPad, to learn about productivity, and to learn ways to integrate creativity with the iPad.  There are also badges for specific apps like Pages, Keynote, Numbers, iMovie, and GarageBand.  When you select a badge you want to earn, you have the option to go to a Starter Guide with tons of information about apps – I just skimmed through looking for things that were new to me.  What I also found interesting about the started guide is that it instructed you on how to play with the app in order to learn to use it better.  We all know that we learn better by doing!  In addition to the starter guide, there are links to online help for the app, or even options to sign up for a live workshop at the Apple Store.  Once you feel like you understand the app, you can take a quiz and earn a badge.

In addition to the original options for badges, once you complete all the badges you earn an official Apple Teacher logo, as well as access to additional learning resources and badges.  I wanted to share this with you because I found it interesting.

Have any of you ventured into the Apple Teacher Program in the past?  There seem to be tons of great (and free) resources that could be used in the classroom.  Share with us if you decide to sign up, and then let us know as you add badges to your collection!

Best Practices and Innovation

ny-times-best-sellerHave you ever noticed that the majority of the marketing you see, whether it be related to a movie, a book, a car, or music, is focused on the newest stuff?  If you go into Barnes & Noble in the coming weeks, the first thing you are sure to see is the newest releases from popular authors.  But then if you look at the best-selling list, you may notice that not always do those newest books show up.

I was recently reading a post to Seth Godin’s blog – simply named “Seth’s blog” – titled Understanding the backlist (for everything, including books).  For those of you who haven’t heard of Seth Godin, he is an author who writes on many different topics.  He’s probably best known for his writing on marketing, leadership, and change.  In the post he was talking about the difference between backlist and frontlist items.  Backlist items are those things that a company has been making for a long time, while frontlist items are the things that are brand new.  A great example of a backlist item would be a Dr. Seuss book – people don’t buy those books because they’re new, they buy those books because it’s what everyone buys.  On the other hand, frontlist items are the hot new thing that we don’t really know how long they’ll be around.

Earlier I asked if you had noticed that marketers focus on the newest stuff, but think about where consumers spend their money.  If you decide to pick a book as a present for someone, what are you more likely to choose?  A new book that you know nothing about, or that classic that you’ve read several times and love?  Book publishers make 90% of their profit from books that they published more than six months ago, but they put just 2% of their effort into promoting and selling those books.

In education, there are a lot of things that would be considered backlist items.  My first copy of the book Best Practice by Zemelman, Daniels, and Hyde is copyrighted in 1998, and it is a second edition, with the first edition coming out in 1993.  Many of the strategies that are defined as “new standards” are things that I recall happening in my elementary and secondary education in the 80s and 90s.  The book has been updated a couple more times, and is currently on its fourth edition, however if you compare editions, you’ll notice that the key ideas haven’t really changed.  I think we all can agree that in education there are backlist items that have been around for a long time and we use them to help our students learn.

At the same time, there are frontlist items that come along in education.  It might be the shiny new learning tool, some new curriculum idea, or a new app that works wonders.  Some of us are early adopters and try out all the new things to see what works in the classroom, while the more cynical of us might say “I’m just going to hold out and see if this is just going to go away.”

Companies are really good at watching the frontlist items, seeing how they perform, and if things look right, they will make it a core product.  I remember when the first smartphones (think Blackberry) came out, and I thought I would never need/want one.  Then the iPhone came out and it suddenly seemed like something that I had to have.  Currently I’m on my 4th smartphone, starting with a Droid, and then moving to the iPhone.  Frontlist items can become a backlist product with time.

Today's Students are Wired Differently - Matt Miller
Today’s Students are Wired Differently – Matt Miller

In education, not all of us need to be the early adopters or early innovators, but when we find a tool that has shown student success, it’s hard to justify not giving it a try.  I know that there are some among us who don’t see themselves as innovators, but keep in mind that as the youth we serve interact with the world in new and changing ways, that will affect how they learn.  There are some of those best practices that guys like Zemelman shared over 20 years ago that will continue to be valuable for our students, but some of those innovations will serve our students just as well, if not better.

What are some of the things that you have tried that are new that you couldn’t do without?  I know we have some early adopters out there, and the ideas you share could serve as a resource to the rest of us.  Share your thoughts and successes in the comments below!

Self-Assessment

In the most recent post of the blog Teaching and Learning in HSE, Phil included a link to a short (under 2 minutes) video clip from Tom Guskey.  I’ll include the link below if you didn’t watch the clip yet.

guskeyThere were a couple of quotes that were intriguing to me.  At the very beginning, Guskey states “Every time an assessment is given…that is an opportunity to learn.”  However, he’s not talking only about an opportunity for the students to learn.  He’s also talking about the assessment as an opportunity for us to learn.  One of the best ways to assess the job that we are doing is on the consistent performance of our students.  Don’t just look at standardized scores like the ISTEP or NWEA, look at anything that you treat as an assessment, whether formative or summative, as something that is also assessing you.

I loved the strategy that he suggests of keeping a tally of the problems that students have missed.  He shares that “If every kid missed a question, that is not a kid learning problem.  That is a teacher problem.”

If you are using good planning methods, with backwards planning of your units of study, and you start with the end in mind, and you get to that end and the kids missed something that you feel you taught, take a moment to reflect on how you taught that skill.  The easy out is to say “the kids didn’t get it”.  The much harder reflection for any of us to make is to say “maybe I didn’t do a great job of teaching this”.  When that is the reflection we make, it allows us to use the assessment as a way to improve our own teaching.

hl-podcast-cover-large-1024x1024As I watched this clip from Guskey, the comments about self-assessment made me think of a recent episode of the Hack Learning Podcast titled How One Simple Tool Helps Uncover Your Biases (you can follow this link to go to a page where you can listen to this episode).  Hack Learning is a podcast that was created by Mark Barnes, a classroom teacher, author, and publisher of the Hack Learning Series.  While the topic in this podcast is a different form of self-assessment, I feel it is worth sharing.

As you know, we all have biases.  If you have never taken an implicit bias test, google it and give it a shot – you might be shocked by the results.  Our biases can creep into our conversations in the classroom with students.  What we have to remember though is that those biases can have an impact on the learning that happens in your classroom.

hacking-engagementIn this episode of Hack Learning, Barnes shares a portion of the book Hacking Engagement by Jim Sturtevant.  In the book Sturtevant shares a story from early in his teaching career where, as a world history teacher, he professed his position on what might be considered a controversial subject.  He felt that the majority of the class was on board with him, there were some head nods, and they agreed.  After the lesson, one student came up and said “You should be careful about promoting your views so passionately.  I don’t agree with you, and I’m not alone.”

Sturtevant’s initial reaction was that it was no big deal – this is the opinion of one student.  Who cares?  But as he reflected further, he came to the realization that by sharing his controversial beliefs, he was erecting barriers between himself and students.  As he goes on to say in the text “Why in the world would I want to alienate certain kids who may not agree with me on an issue.”

Think about your own interactions with peers, in person or on social media.  When someone expresses a bias that you don’t agree with, what do you do?  You might choose to avoid that person, you might end your friendship, or you might choose to block the person on social media (this is something that I definitely saw happening on Facebook during the most recent election cycle – I saw several friends share that they had blocked or unfriended everyone who’s beliefs opposed their own).  Our students will do the same things if we express our own biases, especially if they do not view things the same way as us.  We might even end up alienating the families of those students as well.

So, what can we do to help us identify our biases and avoid building those barriers between ourselves and our students?  What Sturtevant did was to create a Teacher Disposition Assessment (TDA).  As a world history teacher, there were several aspects of his curriculum that could be seen as controversial.  He identified those things that had the greatest potential to be controversial, and then created a statement from it.  Here is an example of one question on his TDA:

“Muslims should be restricted from entering the United States”

  1. Sturtevant strongly agrees
  2. Sturtevant somewhat agrees
  3. Sturtevant somewhat disagrees
  4. Sturtevant strongly disagrees
  5. Sturtevant’s opinions on this issue are unclear

Every statement included the same five options as a response.  He then took the statements and created a SurveyMonkey to be able to allow students to respond anonymously to the TDA.  As he says “It’s fine to be provocative; such statements will engage your audience.”  Sturtevant uses the TDA as an exit ticket at the end of the semester, but he feels that it could be used at any time of the year.

Sturtevant suggests debriefing after you receive the responses.  You can share the results with your class and ask students what it says about you and their perceptions of you.  He has even gone so far as to create an anonymous Google Form where students can give advice a feedback on times that biases pop up in the classroom.  Finally, Sturtevant asks his students to monitor their own actions moving forward.  He has found that completing the TDA has led students to think about their own actions and behaviors, and has led to some amazing in class conversations.

Talk about a strong self-assessment.  Asking your students to assess your biases based on statements and action in your class – that takes some guts.  But think about what that says to your students.  You are telling them that you are aware of the fact that you might have some biases, and based on your results, it may even lead you to make adjustments to your own statements and actions.  You are also showing them that you want to prevent the barriers that we might accidentally create when we let our biases creep into our teaching.  It’s important to remember that we all have biases, and those biases can impact teaching and learning.

I’m curious if there are any out there who have had issues with biases creating barriers.  Maybe it happened when you were a student and a teacher or professor said something that didn’t sit well with you.  Or maybe you realized later that something you had said or done had created a barrier between you and one of your own students.  If you’re willing, share your experience in the comments below.