About Matt Renwick

Matt Renwick is a 14-year public educator who began as a 5th and 6th grade teacher in a country school outside of Wisconsin Rapids, WI. After seven years of teaching, he did time as a junior high dean of students, assistant principal and athletic director before becoming an elementary principal in Wisconsin Rapids. Matt blogs at Reading by Example (readingbyexample.com), tweets @ReadByExample and writes for EdTech magazine. His book about digital portfolios will be published by Powerful Learning Press in the coming year.

What is a big misconception about technology in education? 

I posed this question to the many members of a Google+ Community I host, related to my book I published last year. Below are a few replies.

What statements might you add to this list? Please share in the comments.

That it can replace good teaching or even a teacher.

That it replaces conversations (oral communication) in the classroom, that it is a ‘fad’ that will pass, and that kids don’t need it because I (elder teacher / parent) didn’t have it when I was in school, and I did just fine…

That learning can become turn-key.

$750,000 in proposed cuts to Wisconsin Rapids Public Schools

Today, I wrote this post on our school’s blog. It will also serve as the front page for our school newsletter next week. We need to advocate for what’s right for our students, families and staff. To not advocate is to concede our authority as the experts in our profession.

Before sharing details regarding the state’s proposal to reduce school funding, consider the following:

• Wisconsin has the highest high school graduation rate of any state in the U.S. (Source: National Center of Education Statistics)

• There is a correlation between increased funding for public education and higher achievement for students, especially for students living in poverty. (Source: Education Policy Analysis Archives)

• The longer a student stays in school correlates not only with a longer life span for that student, but also for that student’s parent(s). (Source: Washington Post)

Knowing this information, why would any state leader propose to reduce funding of a successful institution that not only improves students’ learning outcomes, but their family’s own health and happiness? This is a question that needs to be answered by our local legislators. To be able to ask this question, we need to understand how funding for public education is being cut and why.

The How

Cuts to public education are happening in a couple of ways. First, this year’s proposed state budget calls for a $150 decrease in per pupil funding. That means that for every student in Wisconsin Rapids, the district would receive $150 less than we normally have in the past. Second, there is a request to expand the school choice and voucher program throughout the state. Specifically, some government officials are asking that the cap on the number of vouchers be lifted. This would allow even more families to enroll their child(ren) into private schools using public dollars.

The Why

While some suggest that public schools have enough money and that the competition created by school choice/vouchers helps improve education for all, the evidence shows otherwise. In fact, research from Public Policy Forum has shown that in Milwaukee, public school students outperform private school students. This is a startling fact, especially since public schools have to enroll all students regardless of poverty, behavior, or ability level. Private schools have and use discretion on who they enroll in school.

What you can do

This is not an issue with private schools per se, but with how the system is being (mis)used to defund public education. As parents, the best thing we can do is to contact our representatives and ask them why these harmful proposals are being considered. Thank you for advocating on behalf of our kids!

A New Theory and Practice Podcast – Connected Leadership

Originally posted on Theory and Practice:

Principal PD (4)

Tomorrow morning (Saturday, February 21, 8 A.M. CST), I will be joined by Spike Cook, Jessica Johnson, and Theresa Stager to discuss connected leadership. The title references Spike’s book from Corwin, part of the Connected Educator series.

During the podcast, we will discuss three articles I summarized from a previous post here at Theory and Practice. This podcast will be broadcasted live, either by clicking here or the embedded video below. In the meantime, leave a comment on this page to possibly win a free copy of Spike’s book!

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What’s wrong with this picture?

Every night, my wife and/or I read aloud to our kids, ages six and eight. One text we can all agree on to read is Highlights Magazine. Their motto is “Fun with a Purpose”.

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We recently graduated from High Five, a junior version of Highlights, but the tenets of this publication remain the same. There are narratives, nonfiction, visuals, jokes, questions and answers, original poetry and artwork submitted by other kids and, what they may be best known for, hidden pictures puzzles. There is one hidden picture puzzle titled “What’s Wrong?”. The reader is supposed to find all of the silly things appearing in the illustration.

In the Q and A section of the most recent issue, a reader asked why Highlights never provides the answers to the “What’s Wrong?” puzzles. Here was the magazine’s reply:

We don’t provide answers for these scenes because what seems silly to one person may not seem silly to another. For example, a person wearing a space suit on the subway may seem wrong to one kid, but another might say, “That could be a person on the way to a costume party!”

Is this not the most brilliant answer to everything that is wrong with accountability in public education today? I don’t know about you, but I am ready for the editors and writers of Highlights to take the reins of the Department of Education. This ridiculous focus on standardized assessments as the primary focus on student achievement has led to school leaders and teachers teaching to the test and forgoing what they know is best for kids.

Like Highlights motto, we can also have fun with a purpose. There is no reason to wait for the political climate to change to make this happen. Teach with intention. Bring in authentic texts. Avoid cookie cutter curriculum that assumes some random publisher or expert is a better teacher than you. Ask open-ended questions and celebrate divergent thinking. Speak up to your school leaders and ask how the current district initiatives are benefiting students now and in the future, both academically and as people. Even though I place blame on the powers that be, I refuse to use it as an excuse for not teaching well.

I’ll end this rant with how Highlights closed out their response to the young person who wondered why the answers weren’t provided for their puzzles:

Look closely at the “What’s Wrong?” puzzles, compare what you see to what you know, think creatively – and have fun! What’s silly is up to you.

DisruptEd

Matt Renwick:

Is education ripe for disruption? It depends on which areas and who you ask. While eBooks and online portfolios have gained a strong foothold in schools, MOOCs and BYOD continue to have their ups and downs in the K-12 environment. Why do some innovations make an impact on student learning and others do not? Consider sharing your response to this question in the comments.

Originally posted on Theory and Practice:

disrupt, dis-ˈrəpt, verb: to cause (something) to be unable to continue in the normal way : to interrupt the normal progress or activity of (something) – Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Vince, a pianist with Orchestra for the Young, uses an iPad to house all of his music. Vince, a pianist with Orchestra for the Young, uses an iPad to house all of his music.

Disruptive Innovations in Reading Research and Practice by Susan B. Neuman and Linda B. Gambrell (Reading Research Quarterly, January/February/March 2-15)

The editors of this literacy research journal explore the concept of “disruption”. They compare the corporate world’s definition of this idea, which focuses on the bottom line, with education’s understanding, which “is to promote lifelong learning”. Neuman and Gambrell do not see education as a problem that needs fixing, but rather encourage subtle changes that can agitate the status quo. Both feel this is a necessary step in teaching reading and writing today.

If we are to participate – no less compete –…

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What question(s) do you ask yourself before integrating technology into instruction?

I asked this question in a Google+ Community I created for my book last year.

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Here are some of the responses from members of this community.

The question is whether the goal + technology (strategy + technology, experience + technology, assessment + technology) is better than any of those things without the technology. Perhaps the question is… What does this strategy + technology add to the learning situation that a strategy without technology doesn’t add?

– M Millen

I appreciated this response. There is a contrast created between having the technology and not having the technology, and what the difference might be.

I think one of the most important first questions is: “How does this change or enhance the learning experience for the child?”

– T Maki

Great point, that takes the first comment listed here and centers instruction back to the students in the classroom.

I think there are several steps involved…number one is, what systems are in place that support my teaching and student learning? Also, how can I leverage what we have to enhance my teaching and engage students? Sometimes we have things right in front of us and don’t need to reinvent the wheel.

– E McCarthy

Also a great point, because I think we tend to assume that we need more things – devices, dollars, time – when support for a teacher can be a simple as an extra person in the room to help facilitate a new project that involves digital tools.

I wonder if the technology will help the students feel connected and thus inspired to learn from one another. I also hope the new technology will help students feel valued by others and in return they will gain new perspectives and other creative ways to solve a problem.

– D Hunt

This is where I also see the biggest benefits of enhancing instruction with technology. The idea that you can bring in a broader audience with instruction is incredible. These “new perspectives” that can be gained by Skyping or blogging with another classroom is unparalleled in its authenticity and immediacy. So powerful.

The “PC” answer would be I don’t separate the two. When planning instruction I reflect on the goal, tools, resources and strategies need to reach students. Sometimes I have technology because it is what is needed to move the lesson forward, other times technology doesn’t. I work on broadening my pool of technology resources. I want to make sure what I am using is the best fit. There are so many choices. So the struggle is to make sure the resource changes the lesson, that w/o it my goal of the lesson would change or not be met.

– Z Brown

Being discriminating about technology is essential in today’s connected world. We can get bogged down in always thinking every lesson needs to be “digitized”. Focusing on how “the resource changes the lesson” is a struggle that I imagine many teachers deal with regularly.

What can I do to get students to be more active in their learning? What can I do to make this lesson more fun? What can I do to make student learning more visible?

– J Gauthier

I often forget about this aspect about technology, especially as it has become almost ubiquitous – it’s fun! Making students’ learning visible is also something very possible in today’s highly connected age.

What do you ask yourself before integrating technology into instruction? Please share in the comments.

The Perspective Gap

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photo credit: Grand Canyon (4 of 19) via photopin (license)

I have never seen the Grand Canyon with my own eyes. Other people who have tell me it is a “must see”. It apparently is not enough that I view it in pictures and video.

Certainly, I could look up many details about the Grand Canyon. If I were asked to draw a map of this grand landform, I would probably pull up Google Earth as an aide. If it were the climate and habitat I was asked to describe, surely my questions could be answered with the help of The Weather Channel and National Geographic. For a history of this famous site, I might check out Wikipedia.

But having all of these facts at my disposal does not mean that I have a complete understanding of the Grand Canyon. I couldn’t tell you what it smelled like there, what a person might hear as they enjoyed the view, or what it might feel like to be standing so close to something so immense.

This is why it is so critical that classrooms need to become more connected. And not in the simple digital sense that I previously described. No, I am talking about tapping into the different social media tools that can better bring these experiences to life. In today’s digital age, this is possible.

Skype is one tool that comes to mind. For example, a classroom in my school used this tool to host a video conference with a classroom in another region of the United States. The information that they could glean from one another, about the weather, the wildlife, or simply their way of life, is something that cannot be captured through a digital map or image. People on one end of the camera can share their experiences in a way that only people on the other end can appreciate.

When we talk about gaps in education, it is often about things beyond the school’s control, such as the achievement gap or the socioeconomic gap. These are important issues. Yet, we continue to devote an inordinate amount of time to these issues, which takes up precious thinking time that could be used to consider how we can provide wonderful learning experiences for the students that show up in our classrooms today.

So who can you connect with that will broaden students’ perspectives without having to leave the room? How will these experiences deepen your students’ understandings about the world as well as deepen their love for learning?

If you can answer the previous two questions, I have one more for you: What’s stopping you?