Sunday, July 19, 2015

Brown Baggers and the Pendulum Swing

I remember the beginning of my teaching career, when the lunchroom was filled with old timers telling me that what comes around in education will come back around again. No need to jump on the band wagon the first time you see something new, it will make its way around again in about 10 years, freshly repackaged by some new author who has put a fresh spin on an old topic. Collaboration, Reading Methods, Instructional Techniques, you name it, and some brown bag toting, immoveable oak, deeply rooted in routine was telling me that they had seen it all and that it wasn't going to change the way they taught.


So, here we are again, a new set of standards, a new push for infusing instructional technology into the classroom and a new set of brown baggers. This time, as I look around the lunchroom, the oaks are all about my age, which means I have been around long enough to see the pendulum swing.


2015 is a crucial time in American Education. We defined 20th Century Learning in 1998. We are 15% done with the 21st Century, and if we haven't made the shift yet, the best we can do starting now is to nail the next 85 years...That is only a B+. So what is the shift? Is it simply re-targeting the new standards? Is it the shift to paperless learning? Is it rigor over ritual, or depth rather than keeping score with a breadth of studies? Whatever the answer, change is eminent, because our industry is always changing, growing and trying to improve.


Along comes SAMR. Substitution, Augmentation, Modification and Redefinition. The SAMR model simply put, says that if you are going make change, make it where it is easiest to make first. This
makes a ton of sense. Don't go trying to redefine your entire practice the first day you get a set of Chromebooks, or even a new set of standards for that matter. Go after the substitution first. If you can simply substitute water for soda, you are bound to be healthier. If you want to infuse technology into your classroom, start by replacing something that is non-tech based with a tech-based solution.


If students typically write in a journal in your class, have them type onto a Google Doc instead. That's it. That is the "S" in SAMR - Substitution.


What about Augmentation, Modification and Redefinition? These will come in time. Nobody loses 35 pounds without losing the first 5. By the same measure, some people have not joined the 21st Century Learning revolution because they are waiting for the redefinition to be defined. The problem with this is that redefinition is a verb, it has to be done, not known, it is a process, and the process starts with an action. You will not get to the redefinition unless you start with Substitution.

This is liberating news. We can start, without knowing exactly where the work will end. As I learned in the lunchroom in 1998, it doesn't end, the work just keeps coming around to present itself, so I would encourage every one of us brown-baggers to take that first leap of faith, engage in substituting a former practice with a new one and see where it leads.