Coaching the Coaches

Peer-Ed, 2018

Peer coaching in the teaching profession is a humbling job. Whether part-time or full-time, a peer coach’s job is to help his or her colleagues improve their practice. In his book, “Peer Coaching: Unlocking the Power of Collaboration”, Dr. Les Foltos speaks to the critical role that a peer coach can play in a fellow teacher’s practice, “This process of observation and reflection is the most effective form of formative assessment for educators. It is their key to life-long learning.” Given that a teacher’s practice is as much personal as professional, a peer coach’s job is to take this into full consideration while helping the observed colleague to reflect, ask questions, and improve upon his or her practice. On an annual basis, this is the fall focus of the Digital Educational Leadership (DEL) program at Seattle Pacific University (SPU) where Dr. Les Foltos and Dr. David Wicks coach a cohort of instructional coaches on the delicate art and science of peer coaching.

Essential Question

How does an educational professional take pedagogical and andragogical instructional theory related to peer coaching and practically apply this in practice with a colleague?

Coaching a Colleague

The overarching task of peer coaches in the SPU DEL program is partnering with a peer to practice applied coaching skills and strategies. One of the first things to consider are the various roles and approaches that a peer coach can take on: facilitator, collaborator, expert, and catalyst. There are times for each, however, a 1-on-1 focus lends itself well to collaboration. If the interaction were more of a large-group instructional setting then facilitator may have been the best option, whereas more of a one-time consulting-type interaction may have meant an expert approach. Growing into relationship over time can result in a catalyst role, however, this generally takes time and a significant level of relational capacity. With all of this in mind, my approach to working with a colleague was to focus on the role of collaborator so that we could grow our peer coaching relationship together. Our initial meeting focused on getting to know each other with relation to this task, agreeing upon relational norms of interaction, and setting goals for our time together. This naturally led into and supported the rest of our peer coaching work together.

Planning Together

After our initial introductory meeting, my peer coaching colleague and I arranged a follow-up meeting to focus on a possible lesson together. We looked at a relatively new project that covered six hours of professional development learning for teachers. This presented a good opportunity to practice all of the critical skills that Dr. Foltos describes as essential to successful peer coaching, “The coach’s success rests on her ability to utilize skills in all three areas: coaching skills (communication and collaboration), ICT (information and communication technology) integration, and lesson design. Remove any leg and coaching could fail.” The skills of communication and collaboration were critical in our first session as well as leading into the planning session. My job was to actively listen and verify understanding through listening strategies such as paraphrasing and summary. Once my peer coaching partner verified mutual understanding then we could focus on the collaborative act of lesson planning together. Given that the lesson instruction focused around online teaching, information and communication technology skills became a critical part of the process by the very nature of the instructional context. We maintained the focus on the learning first and foremost, and then explored a variety of technology tools to support this process. Lastly, the third facet of lesson design was certainly part of the process from beginning to end. We approached lesson design based on the collaborating teacher’s experience, and kept this in mind as this would drive a lot of the reflection process.

Reflecting as a Team

The lesson reflection process centered around the Learning Design Matrix referenced and featured in Dr. Foltos’s peer coaching book. The matrix serves as the feature image of this blog post, and, as you can see, the focus of the four quadrants is on standards-based tasks, engaging tasks, problem-based tasks, and technology enables and accelerates learning. Fortunate enough to have established a positive rapport, my peer coaching partner and I were able to review the lesson of focus through the lens of all four quadrants from the Learning Design Matrix. Through the standards-based lens, we were able to look more closely at the learning targets. While the selected standards seemed well aligned, we were able to brainstorm ways to make them more explicit for learners. Engaging tasks take on a new dimension when learning online, so we looked at ways to build more interaction among participants. By keeping breakout group members consistent, we discussed how this would likely lead to more relational engagement by participants which would help increase task engagement. The lesson contained several problem-based tasks. What seemed missing, though, were ways to empower participants to better support each other so we brainstormed ongoing discussion board ideas. Lastly, we looked at technology–something that’s pervasive throughout online learning but can also become a distraction or impediment to application as a result. With this in mind, we looked at how technology could better support interaction and looked at learning tools that better support the human element of learning. The overarching coaching and reflection discussion had both breadth and depth as we explored numerous applications across the entire Learning Design Matrix for iterating upon the existing lesson design for future instructional improvements and implementation.

Next Steps

The act of learning about peer coaching became real through the practical applications of these lessons learned under the guidance of Dr. Foltos and Dr. Wicks. These theoretical lessons offered many possibilities for practice, while the application offered real-life examples. My personal goal is to continue to improve upon my utilization of these applied skills as well as to continue my overall study of peer coaching skills and strategies. As a lifelong learner, I realize this is a lifelong process where the process is the journey and the destination is an ever-moving target of growth where one never truly “arrives”.

References

  1. International Society for Technology in Education. (2019). ISTE Standards For Coaches. ISTE. Retrieved from https://www.iste.org/standards/for-coaches
  2. Les Foltos. (2013). Peer Coaching : Unlocking the Power of Collaboration.
  3. Foltos, L. (2018). Coaching Roles. Peer-Ed, Mill Creek.

Open Sourcing Education

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Introductory Section

One of the earliest definitions for Open Education Resource (OER) comes from the UNESCO 2002 Forum on Open Courseware: “teaching, learning, and research materials in any medium, digital or otherwise, that reside in the public domain or have been released under an open license that permits no-cost access, use, adaptation, and redistribution by others with no or limited restrictions.”  Knowing early thinking around OER helps to understand how the concept has grown and developed over the years with the evolution of the Information Age.  Where open source as an idea facilitated largely by technology meets education can be confusing, however, it can also be clarified by looking through the lens of educational technology standards.

International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Educator Standard 6

Facilitator: Educators facilitate learning with technology to support student achievement of the ISTE Standards for Students. Educators:

  • 6a. Foster a culture where students take ownership of their learning goals and outcomes in both independent and group settings.
  • 6b. Manage the use of technology and student learning strategies in digital platforms, virtual environments, hands-on makerspaces or in the field.
  • 6c. Create learning opportunities that challenge students to use a design process and computational thinking to innovate and solve problems.
  • 6d. Model and nurture creativity and creative expression to communicate ideas, knowledge or connections.

ISTE Educator Standard 6 describes how educators can facilitate learning with technology by managing use in regard to student learning strategies in digital platforms and virtual environments.  There is a strong connection between this standards language and utilizing an Open Education Resource.  Online OERs provide accessible digital content for students in a virtual environment that teachers can scaffold, adapt, and leverage for both classwide and individualized learning.

Essential Question

How can educators manage the use of technology and pedagogical practices in digital platforms and virtual environments in such a way that facilitates student engagement and learning?

Learning Strategies and Digital Platforms

Leveraging ISTE standards with Open Education Resources helps answer some of the questions around management of technology and digital pedagogical practices in regard to student engagement and learning.  There are a wide range of OERs online. Some OERs serve as an entire curriculum unto themselves.  EngageNY is one of the most widely known examples and was created in response to the lack of curriculum supporting Common Core State Standards.  Another gold standard in this area is YouCubed which is technically a MOOC (Massive Open Online Curriculum).  YouCubed provides curriculum with videos that essentially form self-contained courses.  As one can imagine, adopting an entire curriculum is not realistic for most contexts so educators may be more interested in utilizing collections of individual lessons that they can search, adapt, modify, and customize for their educational contexts.

OER Lesson Libraries

While EngageNY and YouCubed function as relatively quality one-size fits all curriculum, other OERs function as searchable online lesson libraries that allow teachers to mix and match per their context.  The advantage is flexibility but the disadvantage is the time required to search through what’s available.  Gauging quality within and across these types of OERs is also a challenge because there may be multiple authors, limited rating and feedback mechanisms, and a variety of lesson templates among other things.  Edutopia speaks to this aspect in a 2015 article entitled “Open Educational Resources (OER): Resource Roundup” and suggests utilizing an OER rubric tool developed by Achieve.  Ultimately, each educator is the best judge of what meets the unique and specific needs of his or her educational context.  Based on my experience and research, the OERs below are good places to start in order to build familiarity and to begin to learn what’s out there.

Curriki: This is a collection of lessons and units across content areas.  Curriki has a five-star rating system and a strong history as it’s been operating as an award-winning OER since 2007.  Curriki also offers wide-variety of resources across content areas.  Curriki also has arguably one of the largest collections of open-source curriculum online.

Better Lesson: Backed by both the National Education Association and the Gates Foundation (a rare combination), Better Lesson certainly warrants a visit.  More recently, Better Lesson has started focusing on how to promote peer coaching but the resource did start out as an OER focused on providing national standards-based lessons.

OER Commons: OER Commons is a platform for organizations to create and share their own Open Education Resource.  The advantage is that look, feel, and navigation are more consistent from one resource to another and there’s an entire collection of OERs all in one spot.  Many states have started to utilize this resource with Washington State launching an OER here in response to various educational needs created by the current pandemic and quarantine.

Polyup and Cue US Challenge: Polyup is a website that utilizes Reverse Polish Notation to gamify mathematics by removing order of operations (PEMDAS) and focusing on the process as opposed to the answer.  Polyup has partnered with CUE and November Learning among others to create an OER library of standards-based math lesson activities for grades 1-8.  Polyup is working toward K-12 support and in the meantime is providing a US Challenge with prizes for teams/classes that earn enough “math points” collectively by not just solving problems but also creating content for others.

Learning Keeps Going: Learning Keeps Going is an an OER created in direct response to the current pandemic and quarantine circumstances.  The resource has powerhouse sponsor organizations in the form of ISTE, EdSurge, Digital Promise, Education Week, and several others.  Learning Keeps Going is more of a curiation OER highlighting and sorting resources available for educators in response to COVID-19 as a one-stop shop.  The sheer volume of everything out there is overwhelming so having a searchable library like this can be helpful.  Learning Keeps Going lists materials, resources, and OERs (including the next example on the list).

AVID Open Access: AVID Open Access (AOA) emphasizes quality over quantity as an OER resource.  It’s not meant to be a one-stop shop but one of several quality options for teachers where they know that what they find will be high quality.  AVID Open Access focuses on virtual teaching and student resources for online learning as well as STEM lessons and activities.  Partner organizations include MIT, Wonder Workshop, Blue Origin, Microsoft, Engineering is Elementary, and more added every week!  Full disclosure: as the author of this blog, I am also working on and supporting AOA so there is some implicit bias due to my involvement.

Other Well-Known Examples: There are far too many examples to list and searching through all that’s out there can be a little overwhelming.  Some additional examples that may be more well-known as well as more niche include the following: Khan Academy, TED Ed, PhET Science and Math Simulations, Wikipedia, the Micro:bit Foundation, and much more!

Beyond a Basic Introduction

While OERs have a 20+ year history in education, the recent pandemic conditions have created resurgence of both interest and creation of content in this space.  The dramatic increase of materials available at no cost to classroom teachers means more quality educational content but also more materials to sort through.  Educators will need help, time, and support in navigating these resources so curation done at all levels will greatly assist and improve the ability to leverage the increased number of OERs and their expanded libraries.  School administrators, government education officials and policy makers, and non-government education organizations would all do well to keep this in mind as we seek to support all teachers as best we can in meeting all students’ needs. Some ideas related to this can be found in the post, Open Education Resources in Action, which builds on the “what” of OER found in this post to look more closely at the “How” of using OERs.

References

  1. International Society for Technology in Education. (2019). ISTE Standards For Educators. ISTE. Retrieved from https://www.iste.org/standards/for-educators
  2. Edutopia. (2015, December 4). Open Educational Resources (OER): Resource Roundup. Edutopia (George Lucas Foundation). Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/open-educational-resources-guide
  3. Vega, V. (2011, August 30). A Primer on Curriculum-Sharing Sites. Edutopia (George Lucas Foundation). Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/blog/curriculum-sharing-sites-Vanessa-vega
  4. Sparks, S. D. (2017, April 12). Open Educational Resources (OER): Overview and Definition. Education Week. Retrieved from https://www.edweek.org/ew/issues/open-educational-resources-OER/index.html
  5. UNESCO. (2020, January 4). Launch of the UNESCO Dynamic Coalition for Open Education Resources (OER). UNESCO (United Nations). Retrieved from https://en.unesco.org/news/launch-unesco-dynamic-coalition-open-education-resources-oer

Computational Thinking Across the Content Areas

Photo by Jan Zhukov on Unsplash

“Computational thinking is the thought process involved in formulating a problem and expressing its solution(s) in such a way that a computer—human or machine—can effectively carry out.” 

Wing, Jeannette (2014). “Computational Thinking Benefits Society.” 40th Anniversary Blog of Social Issues in Computing.

Computational Thinking

Jeannette Wing, a computational thinking researcher, describes computational thinking as a specific thought process for formulating a problem so that it can be effectively solved by someone or something that computes (human or machine).  This makes computational thinking an especially effective approach for developing computer science and programming approaches via physical computers and for those that program and utilize those computers.  But what about for other content areas beyond computer science? A good place to start with this in mind is a slightly closer look at computational thinking. There are four primary components of computational thinking that are commonly recognized as its pillars and they are as follows:

  • Decomposition: Breaking down data, processes, or problems into smaller, manageable parts.
  • Pattern Recognition: Observing patterns, trends, and regularities in data.
  • Abstraction: Identifying the general principles that generate these patterns.
  • Algorithm Design: Developing the step-by-step instructions for solving this and similar problems.

These four pillars are also explained well in a video for educators created by Google.  With these four pillars in mind, we can look at how the ISTE Indicators of Computational Thinking quantify computational thinking into a single applicable statement: “Students break problems into component parts, extract key information, and develop descriptive models to understand complex systems or facilitate problem-solving,” ISTE Indicators of Computational Thinking.  Essentially, computational thinking is a process for quantifying, breaking down, and solving problems into small solvable pieces.  Problem solving can be done in any content area. By looking more closely at the ISTE Computational Thinking standard, we can get an idea for how computational thinking might be applied more generically across content areas as a way to approach problem solving in different subjects.

International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Standard 5

ISTE Standard 5, Computational Thinker, students develop and employ strategies for understanding and solving problems in ways that leverage the power of technological methods to develop and test solutions. Students:

  1. Formulate problem definitions suited for technology-assisted methods such as data analysis, abstract models and algorithmic thinking in exploring and finding solutions.
  2. Collect data or identify relevant data sets, use digital tools to analyze them, and represent data in various ways to facilitate problem-solving and decision-making.
  3. Break problems into component parts, extract key information, and develop descriptive models to understand complex systems or facilitate problem-solving.
  4. Understand how automation works and use algorithmic thinking to develop a sequence of steps to create and test automated solutions.

The ISTE Computational Thinker standard emphasizes the leveraging of technology in problem solving via computational thinking.  The focus is on formulating problems, collecting data, breaking down problems into quantifiable parts, and understanding automation via algorithmic thinking.  The ISTE standards aren’t the only standards that address computational thinking, though. We can also look to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) Science and Engineering Practices and Common Core State Standards (CCSS) Mathematical Practices for direct and indirect references to computational thinking.  The NGSS directly references computational thinking via the fifth Science and Engineering Practice, “Using mathematics and computational thinking,” and references aspects of computational thinking through other practices such as “Analyzing and interpreting data.” The CCSS Mathematical Practices do not explicitly state computational thinking but the components are definitely present in practices such as “Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning” and “Reason abstractly and quantitatively.”  With all of these references across a variety of standards, it makes sense to start thinking about applying computational thinking in as many relevant places as possible across the curriculum.

Essential Question

How do teachers effectively integrate computational thinking across academic disciplines in such a way that it becomes an effective tool for areas of instruction beyond computer science and math, such as engineering, science, reading, writing, history, and art?

Starting with Familiar Computational Thinking Problems

As we think about applying computational thinking beyond computer science and math, it’s probably best to reflect on how computational thinking is more traditionally applied in computer science and mathematics.  This will provide a starting point when thinking about applying computational thinking elsewhere.

  • Decomposition in Computer Science: in programming this means looking at how to approach a problem in small and simple enough ways that it can be written as parts of a computer program that utilizes primarily binary logic.
  • Pattern Recognition in Computer Science: by looking for patterns across any problem or problems then programmers can start to identify similarities and differences necessary for solving various aspects of a problem or problems.
  • Abstraction in Computer Science: once patterns are identified then computer programmers can begin to piece the various small pieces of a problem together into something that might become a larger solution as it’s applicable across problems of a certain problem type whether known or as yet unknown.
  • Algorithmic Design in Computer Science: the creation of a set of steps to solve a certain problem type can be described as an algorithm because it applies to both known and unknown problems.

These various steps when applied via computer science should start to sound familiar for mathematics.  We basically teach students to memorize a variety of algorithms starting with those that are most simple and building up toward the more complex.  Along the way, we also try to teach deeper mathematical thinking, concepts, and terminology but the algorithms tend to be at the center of instruction.  Teaching computational thinking in mathematics means taking instruction to a deeper level, though, because we need to show students how to identify, break down, quantify, and design algorithmic thinking itself.  This deeper approach to mathematics via computational thinking would go a long way toward helping students understand the “why” behind what they are doing.

Applying Computational Thinking Problems to Other Areas

Now comes the more challenging task of applying computational thinking to those content areas that we don’t normally think of as applicable.  By focusing on the four pillars of computational thinking, we can start to think about what this might look like. At its core is probably pattern identification.  So we need to start thinking about everything in terms of patterns. Computer science is patterns of binary logic and mathematics is patterns of numbers. Beyond these two, art is patterns of lines, reading is patterns of letters, writing is patterns of words, science is patterns of ideas, engineering is patterns of science applied to or with technology, history is patterns of events, music is patterns of notes, etc.  This list is probably an oversimplification but you get the idea that we can look at everything as being composed of patterns, and if we can do this then we can use a problem solving approach like computational thinking that relies on patterns to solve problems across all of these content areas.

  • Decomposition in Art: breaking down the components of a particular type of picture (e.g. landscape or portrait) into different smaller parts.
  • Pattern Recognition in Art: identifying patterns that a particular type of picture or pictures has.
  • Abstraction in Art: by synthesizing from the patterns of similarities and differences across a particular type of picture(s) then a more general idea or set of ideas can be described.
  • Algorithmic Design: a set of repeatable steps for recognizing and possibly creating more pictures of a certain type allows for this type of art problem of recognition or creation to be repeatable and reproducible.
  • Decomposition in History: breaking down the components that lead up to collapse of a civilization in history can lead the student to understand the smaller details that may lead up to such a large scale event.
  • Pattern Recognition in History: recognizing that a certain pattern of events probably leads up to a collapse of a civilization and means the more similarities and differences that can be quantified then the more likely patterns can be identified.
  • Abstraction in History: by building a bigger picture of the patterns that occur leading up to the collapse of a civilization then a synthesized coherent and detailed description of this overall type of event can begin to emerge.
  • Algorithmic Design in History: a step-by-step description of the characteristics of events leading up to the collapse of a civilization and how these can generally be codified as repeatedly observable steps in a process means that students could be tasked with designing an algorithm for analyzing the typical civilization collapse and search throughout history for similar scenarios.

These are two fairly generic examples of applying computational thinking to content areas beyond computer science and mathematics.  Art and history are not traditionally associated with computational thinking and yet there is tremendous potential for applying this problem solving approach to problems that might exist in either subject area.  With practice, components of computational thinking can be identified in all subject areas and then applied to relevant problems by students with proper support through thoughtfully designed lessons.

How Then Does The Average Classroom Teacher Apply This?

Start simple and start small.  This fun video from the website “Hello Ruby” explains computational thinking in the context of everyday life.  The “Hello Ruby” website also has a selection of fun and unique lesson approaches that include topics such as computational thinking.  This Edutopia website article shared by one of my Digital Educational Leadership colleagues at Seattle Pacific University provides a variety of specific content area lesson examples where computational thinking can be applied in a classroom setting.  Looking at examples helps identify approaches to directly copy or inspire various ways that variations can be created and adapted for a different curriculum. There are a variety of online resources out there and more popping up every day with support from organizations such as the Computational Thinking Alliance.  Again, overall, the key is to start simple and start small while growing your classroom approaches from there over time.

References

  1. Liukas, L. (2020, February 29th). Hello Ruby. Hello Ruby Website. Retrieved from http://www.helloruby.com/
  2. Google School. (2016, October 26th). What is Computational Thinking.  YouTube.  Retreived from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GJKzkVZcozc&feature=youtu.be
  3. Sheldon, E. (2017, March 30th). Computational Thinking Across the Curriculum.  Edutopia.  Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/blog/computational-thinking-across-the-curriculum-eli-sheldon 
  4. International Society for Technology in Education. (2016). ISTE Standards For Students. ISTE. Retrieved from https://www.iste.org/standards/for-students
  5. The Next Generation Science Standards for States by States. (2013). Home Page. Next Generation Science Standards. Retrieved from https://www.nextgenscience.org/ 
  6. Common Core State Standards Initiative. (2020). Home Page. Common Core State Standards. Retrieved from http://www.corestandards.org/
  7. Computational Thinking Alliance (2020, February 29th). Home Page.  Computational Thinking Alliance. Retrieved from https://www.computationalthinking.net