Bringing in Experts. Transformative Teaching & Learning?

As we are asking ourselves: “How do we upgrade a traditionally taught curriculum unit and bring it into the 21st century?”

… We need to test, probe and continuously experiment what works? How does it work? Is the upgrade transformative? Does it increase student motivation? Engagement? Learning?


I observe carefully if an upgrade, with the use of technology, is just automating the way we have always taught or is it informating and transformative? Alan November explains what he means by automating and informating in an article titled Creating a New Culture of Teaching:

I have learned about two ways to think about technology: one is called automating, the other is called informating. One will give you incremental improvement; the other will give you big improvement. Unfortunately schools and technology planning tend to focus on automating. This means that you bolt technology on top of what you’re already doing. Most of the investment in education is automating. We have kids write a five-paragraph essay with a $2,000 pencil in a word processing lab. The best improvement you can hope for if you automate is incremental. For example, if we automate report cards, the result is we have prettier report cards, but we don’t improve learning.

You get very different results when you informate. The real revolution is information and communication, not technology. Let go of the word technology. If you focus on it, then you’ll just do what you’re already doing. The trick in planning as we move forward is to think about information systems, whole systems of the flow of information and communication.

As our fifth grade class at the Martin J Gottlieb Day School prepared to study the American Revolution, I am conscientious of the upgrades we are planning and implementing for the unit. Take a look at my previous post titled: The Official Scribe: It’s All About Learning Styles & Collaboration, where I share the transformative use of collaborative note taking (some with..some without technology involved) to address different learning styles.

Collaborative 5th Grade Bulletin Board

Another upgrade we are monitoring for results is bringing in “experts” into the classroom via Skype. I consider someone an”experts” who has a passion for a subject or topic, personal experience or can bring in another perspective.

As I started to mention on Twitter our planning to upgrade the American Revolution unit, Travis Bowman picked up on it. He is

a 6th generation descendant of Peter Francisco and has written an historical novel about Peter’s life entitled Hercules of the Revolution.

Travis agreed to skype into our 5th grade classroom to talk about his ancestor’s story and life. Students were able to ask questions, make connections to what they already had studied in the classroom and digg really deeper into their understanding and visualization of “what life was like” for a soldier during the American Revolutionary war. Take a look at a shorten summary of our Skype call. I hope you can get a feel of our students’ engagement of the topic as well as the quality and critical thinking skills that went into their questions. Ask yourself if questions like these would have been encouraged with the use of a textbook alone? As Travis was speaking with the students, their teacher was circulating her iPad among them to pull up images or other info Travis was mentioning.

A second opportunity presented itself, when Richard Byrne, a History teacher from Main, and famous author of the FreeTechnology4Teachers site, accepted our Skype invitation to the classroom in Florida. Mrs. Z., the 5th grade classroom teacher, asked Richard to talk to her students about the battles of the American Revolution. Richard, instantly, was able to create a connection to our students through the screen. Students (ten & eleven year olds) who usually would be fidgeting when asked to sit and listen for 45 minutes to a lecture where engaged and interested. They were absorbing, questioning…making connections…

I also want to point you to a guest post from Heather Durnin, she wrote about HER students experience during a Holocaust unit, when I had been asked to skype in as “the expert” and share my family’s history.

Is technology being used to transform teaching and learning by bringing in experts? Are students experiencing that learning and information does not only come from the pages of a textbook or a teacher lecturing in front of the class? Are students starting to make connections about the value of a network and being able to contact people from all around the world to learn from them? What are your experiences from bringing in experts into the classroom? Is technology, like video conferencing, truly transformative? Can examples, as the ones described above, help other teachers get tools, like Skype, unblocked in their schools and districts for the sake of new forms of teaching and learning? Are we on the right track?