#IMMOOC OER as Innovative Practice

oerThis is one of a series of responses to Discussion Questions in The Innovator’s Mindset MOOC and BPS Book Group.

Discussion Question: What is an example of a practice that you consider to be innovative?  How is it new or better than what you had before?

Without a doubt, the integration of digital and internet resources into teaching and learning has spurred innovation in education.  Within this broad arena, the sharing of Open Education Resources (OER) has the ability to be incredibly impactful and accelerate innovative efforts.

There is no universally accepted definition of OER, but generally they are unlicensed or have a creative commons license that allows for use, reuse, repurposing, and modification and are free for use by educators and students.  These can come in all shapes, sizes, and formats.  I’ve integrated online videos, readings, simulations, and assignments into lesson plans – all of which came from different sources and were blended into my own teaching.

The simple act of collaborating, sharing, remixing, and resharing is a huge shift from when I started my career.  I remember colleagues who would only share their lesson plans or worksheets after placing a © in the footer with their name and the date and then would hand you a hard copy so you couldn’t change anything.  (Depending upon my relationship, I may or may not have let them know that if it was created for use in their classroom, it wasn’t their intellectual property, it belonged to the school district.)

OER has started to dismantle those boundaries.  The assumption is that we will share. No one believes that the lesson they share will be perfect for anyone else, but it is a great start for someone to launch from in creating something that works for their students. We start with the understanding that by reaching out beyond our classrooms, our schools, and our districts and contributing to the greater good, we can build something stronger. There are states that are creating curriculum materials and posting them on their websites so that anyone can access them.  Unlike in the days when you had a single program in your classroom, you can pull a wide variety of OER from all over the internet to inspire your lessons and teaching and to give your students more ways to access content.

There are a number of organizations trying to curate all of this work in order to give educators a one-stop-shopping experience.  So far, none have emerged as the perfect solution. I would like a GitHub for educators.  GitHub is an online version management space where programmers can find pieces of code (APIs) that they can download and use, either as-is or after modification.  The only rule is that if you make a change and improve the code in some way, that you load that modified version back up to GitHub for others to use.  What if we had that for educators?  I might upload my unit on graphing and someone else takes it and makes changes so that it better serves their students.  They then upload that modified version and educators now have two versions to choose from.  I might even start using the modified version because that educator saw something I didn’t.

When first talking with many teachers about accessing ideas and lessons online, many express concern that online lesson plans are often not of high quality.  In a GitHub-like environment, these would quickly sink to the bottom because they would rarely be downloaded or remixed.  Alternatively, you may see mediocre lesson ideas greatly improved by other users.  Either way, expanding our concept of collaboration beyond our current PLNs to include OER is an innovation that needs to take hold.

OER fits the definition of “new and better.”  The question is, how do we change the culture so that all educators become part of the process?

Why Do Students Need Computer Science?

(I posted a similar entry on BPS Edtech’s communal site.)

Burlington (MA) Public Schools’ Superintendent Conti’s blog post last month on Computer Science for All outlined the state’s commitment to providing computer science in all schools.

But many people are still skeptical of the idea of teaching CS and coding principles to every student K-12.

So, why DO students need to learn computer science if they aren’t planning on going into STEM careers?

There are many reasons, but I like to think of it this way. Neither of my children are going to become professional chefs; should I therefore send them out into the world without knowing how to prepare a basic meal? Of course not! The ability to use a stove and make pancakes for dinner without contracting food poisoning or burning the house down is an essential life skill (because breakfast for dinner is the best meal ever!) Sure, they could eat cold cereal but shouldn’t we at least provide them with a skill set that allows them to have a choice?

Knowing how hardware, software, and services work together is the new pancakes for dinner, part of the basics that every student should have when they step out into the world. This is especially true as the IoT (Internet of Things) makes its way into everyday life in ways that we never expected. Your fridge and stove may very well be on speaking terms with each other in the near future.

Think of something you do every day – using your ID card to open the door to your school building. As you swipe your card across the reader, you are accessing a combination of hardware and software working together. When this action doesn’t unlock the door, what might have gone wrong? Without some basic understanding of the parts that go into this process, you won’t know where to start problem-solving. Is your card damaged or is the lock not operating properly? If the lock is not operating as expected, is it a physical defect in the device, the programming that recognizes your card as granting access, or has the communication system between central office and the device not worked to let the lock know you are a trusted individual. And that’s just a 1-5 second moment in your day that can go smoothly… or not. This is followed by a myriad of other interactions with computer science concepts that continue throughout your day.

We want our students to be able to use devices, software, and services safely, responsibly, productively, and with understanding, not matter what career path they choose. Most students don’t know what career they will have until after they have left BPS. This is why we make sure that every student has a well-rounded education that allows them to move on to a wide range of advanced studies. Increasingly, this means they need a solid grounding in computer science in addition to the traditional core subjects.

This year, I’m working with upper elementary teachers to demonstrate the advantages of integrating coding and robotics into their math and science curricula.  My goal is to create a sense of urgency and agency that allows classroom teachers to take the lead in adding these skills to their programs in future years.  At the same time, I’m looking at the opportunities to bring CS to to students in grades K-3 in developmentally appropriate ways to amplify learning across disciplines.