George Lucas Educational Foundation
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One of the things I've struggled with during my tenure in education is how professional development is done in schools, especially around integration of technology. PD is already confined to a couple of weeks in the summer, but then throw on top of that the "sit-and-get" style in which we teach our content, and you can see why most teachers would rather surf Pinterest than learn during these sessions. We preach how "student-centered" we want the classroom to be, yet we spend hours talking at teachers and call this "professional learning."

While this isn't unique to technology, I've found that a vast majority of technology training spends 90 percent of our time teaching us about tools, and 10 percent discussing how we could use these tools in the classroom (usually at the end of the workshop, when we are all exhausted).

The APPmazing Race

At last year's iPadpalooza, we stumbled upon an idea that may have changed the way professional learning in educational technology takes place from now on. During the three-day "learning festival" (it's not a conference), attendees were encouraged to create teams either prior to or during registration. These teams would take part in a 36-hour challenge known as the APPmazing Race (thanks to the clever Lisa Johnson for the title). The inspiration behind this concept is that learning takes place everywhere and anywhere, so why should we limit it to the individual sessions during the event? What about the time in between?

One of the finalists for the APPmazing Race.

Over 40 teams took part in the inaugural race, and 18 actually completed all the challenges, which ranged from taking selfies with the vendors to creating a digital poster of what they ate from the infamous food trailers. (Learn more about the challenges.) The race combined collaboration, interaction, problem solving, movement, and creation all at once. Add to that, there was no direct training on actual technology or apps. While each and every challenge required technology, it was almost invisible at the same time. Needless to say, the APPmazing Race was a big hit with attendees, and it got me thinking -- why couldn't we do this same thing with regular, everyday staff development?

The Interactive Learning Challenge

"Learning by doing" is not a new concept by any stretch. The famed Learning Pyramid has been around for decades. However, what has changed is how we all now have access to the world in our pocket. So, armed with the success of the APPmazing Race, I've spent the past year developing and testing this concept that I'm calling Interactive Learning Challenges (or ILCs).

At its core, an Interactive Learning Challenge starts with the concepts of collaborative problem solving and interactive creativity, and adds an element of competition to learning. An ILC can take place over the course of several days or even in one hour. It can be done with as little as a dozen people to as many as a few hundred people (as was the case at iPadpalooza).

This past fall, I debuted the Interactive Learning Challenge to a group of 150 staff members at a school in San Antonio, TX. Their superintendent had contacted me about delivering a keynote speech during their "Welcome Back" convocation. He then mentioned that if I wanted, instead of the typical hour for a keynote, I could have two and a half hours to expand it into some sort of interactive workshop. This was the perfect time to try out my theory.

After setting the tone for the day, I had the entire group line up and self-identify who was the most or least tech-savvy. After that, I paired and grouped the staff to insure that each team of four included at least one "high tech" person. The way I designed the challenges, every team member had to be participate in the creation of the final product, regardless of tech skills. Rather than confine them to the lecture hall, I placed challenges throughout the building. Completing one challenge revealed the clue to another, and so on. One staff member called it a "scavenger hunt on steroids."

Every group completed the challenge, and after we reconvened, I asked the staff to reflect on what they had completed. Some of the takeaways were that they loved moving while they learned, and that those who had self-identified as least tech-savvy felt empowered and actually learned some apps they hadn't known before. Needless to say, it was a huge success, and many of them send me messages even today about how engaging and interactive it was, but more importantly, about how they are trying the same thing with their kids in class.

While I don't think this style of staff development can be applied to all topics, I'm working on making a series of "recipes" based on subject matter, group size, device availability, and time frame so that others may try this same approach to professional learning. My hope isn't so much for Interactive Learning Challenges to revolutionize the way we do professional development around technology as much as it is to maximize the time we have for learning.

And it doesn't hurt if the learning is also fun, right?

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First Grade Frenzy's picture

This sounds like an incredible change in Professional Development! A lot of the staff at my school dreads PD because it is redundant for so many hours. Is there any way you would recommend trying to implement something like this on a smaller scale? I would not even know where to start! Making professional developments more engaging and effective for adults is something every school would benefit from doing. Hopefully some others think of this new way to get adults hands-on learning as well. I loved reading this blog, very refreshing to know others are making teachers better at learning and teaching.

shaunice's picture

I love this idea! I think that it should be a change in Professional Development. Sometimes, the only thing that I leave is with an understanding of how my students feel when they are constantly lectured to. I would love to have the opportunity to do trainings online because I feel that it would offer more time to do other activities to benefit my students. It is a struggle for me because during our trainings, they talk to us about using different strategies and technology in the classroom but we don't get enough time to actually practice.

Scott McLeod's picture
Scott McLeod
Director of Innovation, Prairie Lakes AEA

Carl, you know I love your work (and this idea) so please take this question in the spirit with which it's intended...

Stage 1 of teacher technology learning has tended to be learning the particular tool (what do I click on, what does this do?, how do I make it work?). Once they have a decent grasp on Stage 1, then teachers typically start learning how to use the tool in their teaching. Hopefully this progresses over time from replicative uses to more transformative uses but, as we know, many teachers never get beyond replicative use (because of lack of vision or expectations, low support systems, lack of PD that moves them out of replication, a paucity of higher-level exemplars, and numerous reasons). This process gets repeated over and over again - learn a new tool, use it mostly in replicative ways; learn a new tool, use it mostly in replicative ways...

So my question is this: Can your new PD process be designed in such a way that it gets beyond simply learning the tool and starts to get at how to teach with the tool, particular in deeper, non-replicative ways? If you think yes, I would be interested in exploring this idea further with you...

Carl Hooker's picture
Carl Hooker
Speaker | Blogger | Consultant | Instigator

Scott - Outstanding question and I think you've taken this idea to the next level (which is really where it should be heading). I think the concepts you outlined of learning the tools through a series of steps can be useful still, however, I'm finding that more and more of the tools are becoming less cumbersome on the technical side which frees up time (and thought) towards application. I remember when I wanted to run a program on my Commodore 64 - I had to do about 15 different things and type in a command prompt to get it to work. Now we just press a button and tap an app.

My honest vision for this is classroom application and realizing that perhaps the teacher (or trainer for that matter) do not have to be the fountain of all knowledge and direct instructor. Ideally what this process models is the exact thing we strive for in the classrooms - a learner-centered ecosystem. While many of the ILCs I've facilitated start at a very introductory level, they are meant to inspire further reflection and use of the tools used during the challenge.
I end every challenge with a series of reflection questions for groups to ponder. I do this for two reasons -
(1) To give me time to add up the "scores" of the teams and compile everything they've created quickly and
(2) To get them reflecting on the tools they've learned, thinking about how to apply those tools in their classroom/curriculum, and most importantly, what it would look like if their students could work like this.

I'm finding that for some reason, "fun" is considered a bad word in educational circles (especially higher ed as I'm sure you've witnessed) and that must mean it's another "f" word --- "fluff". What I'm attempting here is taking the standard sit and absorb 6 hour training model and turn it on it's head by making it more active, interactive, engaging, and well.....fun.

I don't think any of these are new concepts by any stretch, I just think we are now seeing the convergence of the concept of 'group collaboration' and mobile devices/tools that allow this to be powerful.

Thanks for the comment and for always provoking thought Scott. You're someone who has been an inspiration for my work a great many years and I'm honored that you would ask!

Scott McLeod's picture
Scott McLeod
Director of Innovation, Prairie Lakes AEA

I get all of that. And I think you're doing an awesome job. I guess what I'm asking is if you think it's possible to move beyond "use the tool and reflect on how you might use this in your classroom" to something deeper such as "don't just use the tool (which, thankfully, has a low learning curve) but instead use the tool in a way that your students also might for an authentic, non-low-level, learning task that you gave them" so that participating educators have a fighting chance of actually experiencing (not just reflecting on) the pedagogical purposes, not just tool purposes. I don't know if this is possible in a conference format...

Maybe we need to set up a webcam chat to discuss! :)

Carl Hooker's picture
Carl Hooker
Speaker | Blogger | Consultant | Instigator

I get what you are saying and I do think that is possible (and should be strived for). My perfect world scenario is a place where technology and "tools" are invisible so to speak. Some of the best learning I've witnessed taking place in our classrooms are the ones where the technology is like "air." It's there and it's being used, but it's not the focus. In a way, you're asking if it's possible to automatize the thinking/reflecting on the tools part of this and I think it is...eventually. As someone who has taken the word "technology" not only out of my job title, but also out of the district goals (it's embedded in everything, not a separate goal) it's something I strive for. I'll be the first to admit we aren't there yet, but I look forward to continuing the conversation with you on how do we make that happen?

ajacaudill's picture

I wish my district would invest in something like this! I feel like we have so much room for improvement in the PD department. Every single time we come together as a district, split up by grade level and share ideas, says what works and what doesn't, then get lectures about things we should implement in our classrooms. Ask pretty much any of us a week later and I guarantee we don't remember much.

Matt Harrell's picture
Matt Harrell
Founder of MemberHub.com and passionate about parent engagement.

This is a great point about the time being spent ON the tools versus how to use them.

I've seen this happen several times. For example, with our school communication software, there are times where we'll work with a school to do a training for teachers or Room Parents and folks are getting glazed over as someone attempts to go through each "feature".

Then all the questions come and they are ALL about how to use the software to actually do something like send out out newsletters, or text the parents about bus delays or share photos.

Even more, there are comments/questions on workflows which if defined really help get the most out of the tool and help work towards real improvement.

Trainings should answer specific "user stories" and allow for more than enough time for questions.

Kyle Pearce's picture
Kyle Pearce
Secondary Math Teacher & Intermediate Math Coach

Carl,
Great article and even better conference. I really enjoyed participating in the APPmazing Race and hope to participate again this year.

I am working on gamifying the PD process for teachers in my district as well. May not be as "APPmazing", but I hope to encourage teachers to do some learning and strive for the next challenge. Will share out on my blog once I get it off the ground!

Stephanie C's picture

I think this is an awesome idea for Professional Development! Learning should be fun even for the adults...Before coming to the organization for which I work now, Professional Development was so boring and typically that lecture feeling. The organization for which I work now professional development is extremely fun, yet a great moment where we learn and are able to connect more with our coworkers.

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