Friday, July 11, 2014

Collaborative Action Research: Empower Your Teachers (Part II)

My last post looked at  the power of CAR and why the library should be integral to the process, beyond the obvious research reasons.  Here, we'll look at how we implemented the process at my school.

Our CAR team consisted of our tech integrator, me, the IT manager and my über-organized assistant, who set up all the check-out procedures and worked with the IT manager to decide the process for requesting/loading apps.

Cataloguing the sets in Destiny Asset Manager
Between the school and our parent group, we had a set of  36  16gb iPads, which we broke into sets of 6 by department area.  A few generally useful apps such as Explain Everything, were on all the iPads; otherwise, we kept a list of which apps were on which set.  We were going to run out of room fast, if we tried to have every app on every device.  The library made a rule from the start that the iPad sets  had to be checked out by the teacher, and could only be checked out as a set.  We broke that  last rule occasionally, when a student needed an iPad to finish a project.  We catalogued the set itself in Destiny, making it easier to check out.   Each set had a different colored cover, making them easy to identify.  Each set also had a subject-based (e.g. science/math) desktop image.

In addition, the school bought an iPad for each teacher's personal use (I work at a GREAT school!).  Half came from the teacher's personal PD money, and the school paid for the rest.  Each teacher had the option of buying an iPad retina or an iPad mini; in return, teachers had to commit to completing the CAR cycle (including their final iBooks chapter write-up).  Teachers who did not finish for some reason had to reimburse the school for the iPad.

Once we knew what we had to work with, we had to decide what we were going to do, especially since none of us knew much about action research.  Of course, that meant doing some research of our own:  we wanted to know what was being done, and how people were doing it.  We collected our research here, and quickly realized we had two very basic questions at this point: Can iPads improve student learning?   Can they replace a MacBook Pro (we're 1:1 laptop)?

With those guiding questions in mind, we met to design the study.  Teachers had to apply to be part of the study (though, really, I don't think we turned anyone down) and commit to completion. We ended up with about 17 teachers the first year  (a similar number this year), from Science, Math, Languages, PE, Music, English, ESOL and admin--a good cross study.  They also had a varying range of technology ability/phobia.  We had to dedicate the first few sessions to just familiarizing them with the iPad.

You can see the notes from our brainstorming session here.  It includes our outcomes as well as a tentative schedule of courses and content.  We also knew we definitely wanted to publish our findings to a global audience, having learned the power of going "public and permanent"  with the  WW II: Illustrated Histories project with the grade 10s.  Thus, we decided teachers would need to document their study and findings in an iBooks chapter, which we would collect into a book and publish. (We hope those will go live by the end of the summer!)

We also thought the best way to organized the course was through iTunes U, which would be easy for teachers to access using their iPads.  You can download the cycle 2 course here, and cycle 3 here (FYI, cycle 1 was the WW II book with the students.  We have that process documented here.) It's actually pretty cool that we have several schools following the course--and Apple's keeping an eye on it, too.  The teachers know this, and it honors and values their efforts when they know the world is watching!

Finally, we needed to adapt an easy action research process to our needs.

That's quite enough to look at for now!  My new post will look more specifically at a few of the process elements, the action research planner, and how we tried to structure the sessions.

If you have any questions you want answered, please post them in the comments!

Friday, July 4, 2014

Collaborative Action Research: Empower Your Teachers (Part I)

Two years ago, our director asked the tech integrators "So when are we getting iPads?"  Now, we've all been there:  Schools want to look tech-forward, so they pour money into smartboards or whatever, throw them at the teachers and say, "Here--use them!"

Fortunately, we have a brilliant tech integrator in the HS and she told the director  "If we're going to do this, we need to do it right.  We don't even know if these things are worth the investment."

And that was the birth of the iPad Trials, a two year experiment in collaborative action research. Perhaps ironically, my big take away isn't about iPads (meh--as with any tech, the power's in how you use it, not the tool itself);  it's about the power of the process  to engage and support teachers and their teaching and through that, improve student learning.  That blew me away.

As I mentioned in my last post, I  struggled mightily this year with the whole collaboration thing. WAB has a very strong staff, and part of that translates into them (knowingly or not) keeping control of the teaching in their classes.  Add the insanity of the IBDP teaching load, and teachers don't have a lot of time for non-content instruction or playing with new ideas that may or may not work.

I also believe that, while it's important to broadcast our impact on student learning, it's not having the effect we hoped for, because we're not accountable.   Nobody expects the counselors to take responsibility for science scores and principals don't hold librarians responsible for  reading or history outcomes.  Test scores aren't directly relatable to anything we do--and until NCLB starts testing for information literacy,  they won't be any time soon.

Where we DO have huge impact is on school climate and community building. I will always remember my principal telling me after my first year as librarian that he'd never seen one person make such a huge impact on a school in such a short time.  Now, as much as I'd like to take all the credit for that, I think it says far more about my role than it does about my performance.  They hadn't had a certified LMS in several years, so how could it not have a big impact, when suddenly someone is there whose main job is to make everyone students' and teachers' jobs easier/more productive?

Which brings me back to the iPad Trials.

I'll describe our process in later posts; what's important here is why CAR is so worth doing, and why it should be an integral part of your library services.  Basically, we had 15-20 teachers from multiple disciplines meeting from 4:30-6:30 every Wednesday for four months. The tech integrator and I worked as a team to take them through our version of the action research process. Some worked on individual projects, others worked as groups, but all of them came together every week (and occasional weekends) to discuss, share, commiserate and congratulate.  It was friggin' awesome.

I watched this disparately-skilled group of teachers move from not even being sure how to turn the iPad on let alone knowing how they wanted to use it in their classrooms to writing confident, data-driven chapters on their studies.  It was fulfilling to walk down the hallways and hear teachers talking about their studies, to listen to students chatting in the library about their classroom experiences, and to feel the teachers' pride in their own learning and growth.

Action research is "practical, focused on real life problems...acting on knowledge gained through reflection" (Barranoik, qtd in Sykes 16); it's grounded in students' observable behavior or problems; it's a teacher's reflection on practice, followed by focused, direct action in response to learner needs.  Moreover, working together embeds teachers in a supportive network of shared expertise,  building both collegiality and what Mitchell, Reilly and Rogue call a  "community of practice."

Being an integral part of this process demonstrates the libraries' role in the school and student learning more than any abstract study.  Not only do admin see teacher-librarians actively leading/supporting teachers in their efforts to improve pedagogy and student learning, teachers themselves experience the power of collaborating with the library because, of course, this is an excellent opportunity to team with teachers in the classroom.

I hope I've conveyed the power and promise of the CAR process, and raised your interest.  In following posts, I'll detail exactly how we went about this and link to all of our documentation.

CAR, Part II