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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Mixing the Levels: We Can All Learn From Each Other

Jim Moulton

Technology Integration and Project-Based Learning Consultant

The weather folks here in Maine insisted that last night was going to be "brutally cold." Now, brutally is not a word used lightly here in the Northeast when discussing temperatures in January, so I fully expected to arise this morning to find the thermometer reading minus 10 degrees Fahrenheit -- at the highest. But no, the temp at the homestead was a balmy 2 degrees, and the air was absolutely still.

Well, my new car has a thermometer in it, and as I drove across several towns, up hills and down hills, through woods and over fields, I watched the temperature vary from the high that I saw at home down to a low of minus 14 degrees at a couple spots, and every reading in between.

The sharpest drop came as I drove the 3 1/2 miles to Bowdoin Center, downhill all the way. In the center, the temp was minus 12 degrees, meaning that the still night had allowed the coldest, most dense air to sink and pool in the valleys, so Route 125, running between hills down in the center, was a catch basin of cold. Watching the temperatures as I drove allowed me to see the temperature of the air in layers, to see the pattern formed as a result of air not being stirred by any wind. I could see that, left to its own devices, cold air hangs out with cold air and relatively warmer air connects with more of its own.

And this got me thinking about school -- specifically about designing professional-development opportunities for teachers. I worry about professional development that asks teachers to place themselves at a technical skill level, of professional development that, like this morning's weather, asks folks to become striated: The more highly capable stick with the highly capable, and the novices are asked to work with others who are only beginning to find their way through the possibilities.

I have to believe that it is important that people recognize and travel across these all-too-often self-imposed boundaries of "I am a techie" and "I am not a techie," and meet in the middle as curriculum-area or grade-level groups, or as other teams of school-community professionals. In order to make the most of technology-rich professional development, they need only agree to be committed to using the best tools available to support all their students, because the professional development really needs to be about supporting progress toward school goals, not about technology. The professional development must support the development of better science, mathematics, and writing teachers, and not better technicians.

So, like the folks at Teaching Tolerance say, I think we ought to all mix it up and learn with and from all the "each others" in our school community. What's your experience in mixing it up in professional development, of having a wind stir your faculty and mix hot, warm, cold, and everyone in between when it comes to learning how and why to integrate technology effectively?

Have you ever learned more from other participants than from the presenter? Have you ever been "mixed up" and discovered a colleague who has become a friend and a collaborator, someone to take you under his or her wing and be your tutor, or someone who asks the questions that make you realize just how much you do know about these digital devices? Have you ever found it worth leaving your own level to blend your gifts with those of your colleagues?

I look forward to hearing from you.

Jim Moulton

Technology Integration and Project-Based Learning Consultant
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Ken Messersmith's picture
Anonymous (not verified)
You make an important point that it is "not about the technology" it is "about learning." The way I like to put it to my students is that technology is another tool in your bag. You wouldn't want a carpenter to build a piece of fine furniture for you if she didn't know how to get the most out of her tools. We need to know how to get the most out of our technology tools in order to be the most effective teachers we can be.
Denise Douglas Doctor's picture
Anonymous (not verified)
You ask an excellent question, "have you ever learned more from other participants than from the presenter". I suspect that when this kind of learning occurs we are Constructivist learners, engaging in a collegial learning community where we do blend our talents. Professional development that is delivered via robust online learning, as an example, provides the environment for such experiences and opportunities to learn from our colleagues, rather than just the presenter.
Jim Moulton's picture
Anonymous (not verified)
I was a carpenter before I became a teacher, Ken, so the use of the tools makes great sense to me. And Denise, as to learning from others, I never really knew how powerful a block plane with a well-sharpened blade could be until I worked on a house alongside a wonderful finish carpenter by the name of John Tome. As a person who nowadays is consistently facilitating the professional development sessions, I still love to learn from and alongside participants. A really good day is one when I help folks learn and get to learn something myself. It is far more important that I help keep the focus on goals and support folks in their progress towards deeper understanding and better questions than it is that I know all the answers! Mustn't we all be both teachers and learners? Adults and children both, I believe...

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