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Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Taking Personalized Learning Personal

When I think about personalized learning I see two faces- my own girls. One daughter is a junior in college and the other is a senior in high school. They will both be graduates at the school I have been an educator at for the last 13 years. All through their k-12 educational experience they struggled with math. On and off (more on than off) I hired tutors to help them to feel more confident in the math classes they took. With tutors in their life studying for exams became less tearful. I couldn’t help but ask myself “how is the current system of math instruction not working for my girls and other students like them?” “Why do my girls not understand concepts in class?” When I think of personalized learning, I see my girls and what it could have done for them to make them feel like more confident learners.

As an instructional technologist for my school system I am constantly looking for innovative ways to enhance learning and help teachers become more effective. An opportunity was placed before me that has caused me to become a champion for personalized learning like never before. Three schools across the United States were coming together to look for ways to lower the cost of education through a blended learning math prototype. I was asked to be a part of this pilot as technology support. Our school, in Chattanooga, Tennessee would be a trailblazer.

It started simply with a below average 5th grade math class. The teacher felt overwhelmed by their lack of progress. We turned it into a blended learning station rotation class with the use of technology to fill gaps. The increase in test scores were phenomenal but what stuck with me was the confidence building I saw. I wanted to baby step into blended learning- this is what transpired:

In 2015 those three schools came together to prototype blended learning math using the model of a lead teacher and paraprofessionals in the classroom. Each school looked at it a bit differently due to individuality of the schools. For Chattanooga Christian School, our teachers started off in a blended learning station rotation model with modality stations such as teacher instructed, hands on, technology instruction, gaming, inquiry based.
Screen Shot 2016-11-18 at 3.41.07 PM.pngOur teachers created icons to help students navigate the day for movement in the classroom. They also used a LMS for instructions. It didn’t take long for the educators in the classroom to see they had students that could move forward and some that needed additional time. They decided to allow for personalized learning to take place with some constraints as far as pacing. Those moving ahead were often given opportunities to go deeper and those lagging behind were given calendar dates to get things done by.  It wasn’t an easy year. At the end of the year the lead teacher looked at me and said, “I’ve been teaching for 17 years and I never saw the cracks that my students were falling through. Please don’t make me go back to teaching traditionally again.” It still gives me goosebumps. Especially considering I thought she might quit on me at any moment during the school year! Here are testimonials from 2 students:

In the 2016-2017 school year we are in year two of the prototype with two school systems still involved and 40 students in the classrooms with one lead teacher and 2 para-professionals. The educators in the room have found a rhythm and other math teachers are questioning positively “what’s happening in that room and how can I be a part of it?” I believe in personalized learning and think that maybe some students might become confident math learners because of the trailblazing these amazing teachers are doing at our school. I believe the culture of being grade driven students is changing to competency driven in this pilot. I believe these students have been given a glimpse at being in charge of their path of learning and seeing it for the process it is. I'm interested to see where the future takes us.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

How do I know what Contemporary tool will become a Classic?

  1. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Coca-Cola, Rolls-Royce, Gone With The Wind, The Beatles, MonaLisa, Piaget, Socrates, hamburgers, and phonics- all considered "Classics" by some. Enduring products, ideas, legends even under the scrutiny, dislike, and judgment of others. 
    According to Merriam Webster the definition of classic means "serving as a standard of excellence: of recognized value, traditional, enduring, historically memorable, etc." but what makes a classic? That's the rub. How do we know what will be useful and worthy of keeping for the future?
    As an instructional technologist I am often asked what's the best tool for doing certain things which often leads to "why do we have to embrace so many different tools? Why isn't there something that can do everything we need it to do?" We are in a time where there are many different software options to perform different primary functions. As my coworker, Cathy Smith said, "there is always a degree of overlap which requires an understanding of strength and weaknesses of each product. How a teacher chooses to incorporate the tools into their instructional practice is of course a matter for each of us as professional educators to determine and would be impacted by our specific discipline." At FETC this year Tom Murray said "the technology our students are using today will be the worst technology they will ever use." Meaning that capabilities will become faster, more intuitive, more useful. I think the same can be said of the tools we use that work on a technology platform. 
    So the bottom line is, in a technology world that is exponentially changing faster than it ever has before, how do I know what will be a classic? Which companies and platforms will adapt to best meet needs? Which platforms will be replaced due to better companies coming on board? What needs that we currently have in education will actually become obsolete?And with these questions, is it possible for me to say "this is the best platform for our school's future?" and be able to feel confident that I mean that for 5 years or even 10 years? I submit I definitely can't say 10 years and that is so different to what the culture of education has been up until this point. What does the role of contemporary tools have on an educational culture that embraces classical? How do we embrace change and need for change without being able to make promises that you might have to rewrite and re-enter your lessons, ideas and curriculum in mass amounts a few years out. Is that a terrible expectation? 
    As I dig, ask questions, pilot, and evaluate technology platforms in a typical debits/credits t-account in my head, I struggle with being part of decisions that might fall flat. Being labeled as someone that made a bad suggestion for the masses based on current information that quickly becomes outdated concerns me. What if I suggest a choice that makes us a Blockbuster in a Netflix world? I find myself worrying about how to best support the scope and sequence of curriculum at our school with instructional technology. I worry about remaining relevant in a quickly changing environment. I know what it feels like to try to make something "fit" that just doesn't fit. I see the value of the tried and true. While I love to have opportunities to trial cutting edge technology, I know the risks it brings to the table. I pray that I can be balanced in my desires and that I will be useful to my school because I strive to stay well informed. What educational technology names will be considered "classics" one day? I do not know. And dare I say, I wonder if it is going to matter?

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Finding Your School's Meaningful Language

Lately, our school has been revamping, rewriting and rethinking our student/parent handbook. This has led to some really great conversations that have shown the need to open the door for even more conversations...which I feel is always a good thing. The more voices, both horizontally and vertically within, and best practice viewpoints outside your district, the better the chance to get to a place where all can either "agree on" or "agree to disagree and strategize for the common good." I'm thankful for this period of uncomfortableness and for pushback. I'm thankful to be heard and to be in community to listen to other viewpoints.

During this time of decisions within our technology department I am also dealing with a dog in a halo cone due to surgery (innovation that is a disruption to reach a future goal) and a book that is helping me sift through my thoughts on analog behaviors (our desire as a human race to use all our senses and experience realness). Lump that with having the opportunity to hear Heidi Hayes Jacobs speak at Covenant College last week on the essential question of "How can we prepare our learners for their future?" and my mind is working 90 mph at any given moment with the feeling of conflicting ideas surging through me looking for resolution. I'll be honest, I love it.

One of the things I don't do well as an instructional technologist is assuring others that I am not trying to radically change every classroom in the world. I am just so passionate about what I learn about and the future possibilities I see that I come across sometimes as being a techno-fanatic. I can guarantee you that if you don't work hand in hand with me, you probably have thought that, and as much as I have tried to temper that opinion over the last few years, I do get excited when I see tools evolve that can make a difference in education. Right now I am über excited about two things:

  • Next generation chromebooks with touchscreen and the ability to run android apps.
  • Paper or paper-like options for computer input that is becoming reasonably cost efficient. 
Forgive me, I digress into a potential future blog post but I share that to say, that's how my mind works. You tell me things you want to do and I am looking towards the future of what that will one day look like. I look for streamlining of tasks, blending of current good pedagogy with contemporary technology tools, and creating a culture of future readiness for our students in a world where the job they may work in does not currently exist. I do get passionate about that, sometimes to a fault.  And that is where Heidi Hayes Jacobs put into words what I sometimes fail to communicate when I am talking with teachers. She has a cut the chase type behavior that makes me envious. She very succinctly shared that pedagogy falls into 3 categories: Antiquated, Classical, and Contemporary.
I love the wording of this. Much to my chagrin, this is what I've been trying to say but I often fill the void with too many words or with too strong of words regarding contemporary. There are things that are outdated or unneeded that we need to cut in our classrooms, there are things that are enduring/essential or well done in our classroom that do not need to be done away with, and there are things that are being created or learned that we need to create in the spaces of our classrooms. Three distinct categories of pedagogy that allow us to sort, filter, and critically look at options, opportunities, growth, AND stability. 

Words matter. As we discussed these 3 words this week, we realized that defining words are important for a sense of cohesiveness. Classical doesn't mean "classical education practices" in this case. We can't allow educational buzzwords to derail us from having a growth mindset. It is my desire to become better at defining words I use and asking others about their words. Assumptions cause us to posture around each other with no moving forward. Creating a culture of safety both horizontally and vertically in a district allows people to feel comfortable to share their views, concerns, and goals. It also allows us all to get to a place where we realize that all disciplines bring value to the conversation of how to best teach students. Feeling valued doesn't mean always getting our way but that you are respected for what you bring to the table. 

As we move forward to both define what our goals are for a graduating student from our school system, we must also realize that expectations from each curricular discipline looks different due to standards, best practice, and prior experiences. Finding meaningful language helps define the culture, expectations, and future of both the educator and student subcultures within a district. Finding how to mold that language based on input from a variety within the constituency creates common vision and buy-in to best answer that essential question Heidi Hayes Jacobs started with:  "How can we prepare our learners for their future?"

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Digital Learning Day Reflections

Last Thursday Chattanooga Christian Lower School opened our doors for observations of technology integration. We had both local and regional educators come and visit our school for the day. Our teachers didn't do anything they don't do every single day, we just opened the doors to allow others to see it. We had 12-15 different educators visiting from 5 different school systems.

We started the day with a brief explanation of technology integration at our school and then gave our visitors an agenda
 of different things happening throughout the day that they could walk in and visit. I shared that they were welcomed to come and go as they please, that they didn't have to stay for an entire lesson if they wanted to go check out something else. We adopted the edcamp "rule of two feet" for this event. Our visitors were also given the opportunity to ask our students and teachers questions as long as direct instruction wasn't happening.

I believe our teachers do a great job on a regular basis at integrating technology into the curriculum of our lower school. Therefore, when I told them about digital learning day I didn't ask for anything special to happen, I just asked them to allow visitors when they normally used technology in the classrooms. For many of our visitors, technology integration wasn't happening really. It was more a stand alone class for technology. Our visitors were amazed with how seamless the integration was in the classroom settings.

As a technology coordinator I am left with some reflections from that day as well:

  1. I work with innovative teachers. Teachers that don't wait for me to tell them what apps, technology, and websites they should use. Many of our teachers seek technology ideas out by themselves. They often will ask my opinions but most of them rarely wait to be told what has to be done. I realize this isn't always the case in many schools. I'm thankful for the culture of acceptance of instructional technology at CCS lower school.  
  2. We are a collaborative lot. Our students don't blink when others are in the classroom. I love that this is the case. On a day when there were visitors at the school, it wasn't really that much of a disruption because we often have help coming in and out of the classroom. The days of a teacher being silo'd all day long are long past. There are student teachers, interventionists, technology support, STEAM coordinators  and observers that are all part of the village raising children.
  3. I am supported. Our Lower School Head, Chief Technology Officer and Curriculum Director were setting up coffee bars, checking fuse boxes, welcoming guests, and making me look good! The events we have pulled off lately couldn't be done without an amazing team. I'm thankful for the way they listen to my crazy ideas and support me in them.
  4. When your school is doing things well, you should celebrate it. Our teachers and interventionists look for ways to streamline teaching by leveraging technology. When I look at the 2016 ISTE Standards for Students
    and I stand amazed at how well we are hitting the bar on the standards that came out last year but are suppose to "last" 5-10 years. Our teachers are using technology efficiencies create opportunities to use the extra time for other things but also by using technology regularly they are empowering our students with skills that will help them for a lifetime. 

    5th Graders writing in Google Docs and uploading to

    1st Graders learning about Digital Citizenship with visitors observing

    Math Interventionist sharing about Moby Max

    2nd Graders doing creative writing in

    5th Grade Paperless Math Classroom

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Empowerment: A Dirty Word or Needed?

EMPOWERMENT. The word itself sounds ominous and risky. In a session today I led on "Creating Technology Expectations for your Educators" I realized I kept saying the word "empower" often. Empower your innovators, empower your tech coaches, empower your students. But what does empowerment look like? What's that really saying? I think it means words like "trust," "freedom," "support," and "rights." To empower someone in their role means all those things. It means believing they have the skill set needed to be in control of whatever it is you've entrusted them to do.

As a technology coordinator, to be empowered means that my school district trusts my knowledge of edtech to make wise choices for my school in regards to technology integration. It means they trust me to create avenues of learning that meet teacher and student needs regarding educational technology. As a technology coordinator I have been entrusted (or empowered_ with the task of being both a visionary leader as well as supporting the faculty, staff, and students in educational technology integration at our school but I do not make these decisions in a vacuum. 

So many of my cohorts are expected to support but they are not given the empowerment of visionary leadership. It is part of my job to immerse myself in current edtech trends and have the knowledge of future edtech trends. Recently, a really amazing instructional technologist in Tennessee has left the instructional technology realm partially because she was weary from "the fight."

Empowerment is a big deal. It can be grassroots empowerment where coworkers view you as knowledgeable and seek you out or it can be top down where administration empowers an individual to make decisions and create opportunities. A lucky group of educators feels they are empowered in both directions. I've had that opportunity. It's a great warm fuzzy of truly feeling accepted for your worth. It's the sweet spot that comes and goes like most sweet spots do.

Empowerment is a word that the ISTE standards speak into over and over again. Student Standard #1 is "Empowered Learner," the first heading for the proposed Teacher Standards is "Empowered Educator," under the heading "Excellence in Professional Practice" in the ISTE Administrator Standards it says "promote an environment of professional learning and innovation that empowers educators..." Oddly, or not so oddly in my eyes, the ISTE Standards for Coaches does not mention the word empower once. I believe that is because it is assumed because the first standard is "Visionary Leadership." 

I don't think empowerment means a constructivist theory in terms of free reign. I think empowerment means within boundaries. I think the issue with technology integration is it is so all encompassing in all parts of education that it feels intrusive. And that intrusiveness has come quickly into the educational arena. It is my hope that balances can be found before more great educators get too weary to fight the good fight. 

Saturday, February 18, 2017

"Back when I was a kid" someone born in 1996.

I'm on a reminiscing journey lately. One of my daughters graduates from high school in May and the other turns 21 in May. As I think over their lives and what has changed with them I also find myself thinking about how much their worlds have changed.

Any mother with children has answered the question, "Hey mom, how old were you when...?" My favorite was when my youngest was in about fifth grade and she said, "Hey mom, how old were you when you got your first cell phone?" because she was arguing for her own with no success. I took great pleasure in saying "32." She was stunned. Of course, I didn't tell her that was pretty much the norm at that time, in fact I relished in the fact that it shut her down completely. I know...I can be mean.

But I've been thinking about things my 21 year old will say to her children one day about technology. In her lifetime things have exponentially exploded in the virtual world. So here is my "BACK WHEN I WAS A KID" List for her:

  • Back when I was a kid I didn't get my own cell phone until I was in 9th grade..and it was a flip phone- all you could do was make calls and text. Yes, I remember when texting started as a way to communicate. And I would get in trouble for going over my texting limit every month. Yes, there was a limit on how many texts you could send. 
  • Back when I was a kid I didn't get my first smart phone until I was in high school and then I would get in trouble for using too much data each month. Yes, there was a limit on how much data you could use. Oh yeah, you don't know what a phone is. It was a small handheld device that never left our sides so that we could be connected to others constantly. If something went wrong with it we were crazy upset. And yes, they would break, especially the screens. You have no idea how many screens your grandparents replaced for me and my sister over the years!
  • Back when I was a kid, we didn't use technology in the classroom. We weren't even allowed to use our phones to look stuff up even if we had one or to bring our iPads or laptops to school to use in the classroom. It was too hard for teachers to make sure we were on task.
  • Back when I was a kid I wasn't allowed to have a social media account until high school. My mom wouldn't let me. Yes, I did set some up without her knowing or I used a friends but I found out later she knew about them.
  • Back when I was a kid my parents didn't know where I was all the time. It wasn't until I got my first cell phone that they could "track me."
  • Back when I was a kid, I started working for the family business and your grandparents could  watch me at work via cameras but my car didn't have a GPS on it so most of us with older cars remained off the parental grid.
  • Back when I was a kid we used paper and coin money or a debit card to pay for things. If you lost either, you were out of luck and it became a big hassle.
  • Back when I was a kid we had to go to school every day and stay from 8:00-3:00 from kindergarten - twelfth grade. It didn't matter if you could finish your work early, there was a thing called required seat time. What's a grade? I'll explain that in a bit.
  • Back when I was a kid you took a class and if you didn't understand something you failed it. The class kept moving on and you might or might not understand the next unit but it didn't matter. There was no time for mastery of concepts.
  • Back when I was a kid you had these stand alone subject areas all day long, you moved to the next class because there was a bell that told you to do so. You sat and listened and followed the procedures for each class and did homework. You got a few "electives" but most of the school day was based on required subjects you had to take.
  • Yeah, back when I was a kid there was homework. Stuff you were expected to do at home after going to school all day and if you didn't understand it in class it often meant you did that homework wrong and got a bad grade on it the next day. Yeah, homework sucked.
  • Back when I was a kid there were grades. What are grades? Oh, that was a letter ranking you received on work you did based on your understanding of the work. A's were the best and F's meant you couldn't move on to the next grade. Yeah, there were two kinds of grades- I'm talking about a ranking grade for work done right now. Yes, it was confusing.
  • Yeah, there were grades. Back when I was a kid we went to school with kids the same age as us. We were placed in age groups our entire education career. It wasn't based on when someone mastered things but when they were born. 
  • Back when I was a kid tv's had big backs on them and were shaped like a box and you couldn't watch anything you wanted to, you had to watch whatever was on the channels at that time.
  • Back when I was a kid you trusted the news most of the time but that changed when I was in high school and college.
  • Back when I was kid there was no such thing as touch screens, you had to use a keyboard to input anything. What's a touch screen? You know it's the thing Granna Julie uses when we go visit used to be called a laptop.
  • Back when I was a kid, wearables were just becoming a thing. My first wearable was a fitbit that would tell me when I got a text or call and it monitored my movement but that's all it could do.
  • Back when I was a kid we had mandatory summers off from school but in college I could choose to go to school in the summer to get ahead.
  • Back when I was a kid in school we had to memorize facts, lots of facts, and we were tested on whether we got them memorized.
  • Back when I was a kid we learned cursive. What's cursive? It's a kind of writing style that was used. Yes, it's why you can't read the notes dad and I write for each other that we don't want you to read.
  • Back when I was a kid we wrote on paper for everything and we read everything on paper. It felt different from today's paper and couldn't be saved in the clouds. If you lost your homework, you really lost it and yes, the dog could actually eat your homework.
  • Back when I was a kid you had to drive a car yourself all the time. They couldn't drive for you at all. And they didn't warn you if you were about to have a wreck.
  • Back when I was a kid almost everyone had set work days. 8-5 was expected but most people worked more hours and you had to be at the office with everyone else.  Few people worked from home.
  • Back when I was a kid social media was just beginning. Many people created terrible digital footprints for themselves back then because they didn't realize it was going to follow them for their whole lives. It would be nice if there was a "do over" for that period in history but there isn't.
  • Back when I was a kid parents, teachers and kids were learning how to navigate the powerful world of technology together. It was all new and changing rapidly. 
Yes, things were different during my lifetime. You should ask Granna Julie about black and white tv's without remotes, cars without safety things like seatbelts and air bags, and parents not knowing where their kids were all day long.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Through the Eyes of a Future Educator

Seniors at our school have the honor and opportunity to participate in a semester of community service. They are given different opportunities to take a look at including student aides in urban elementary schools. My senior daughter recently wrote this journal post regarding her experience on the first week of her placement.

I suggested she keep this post as a reminder in college when things get tough. I also thought it was a great reminder to those of us that have been doing this a while. Do you remember why you went into education? Do you still experience that thrill? Read her post below:

As I walked through the hallway a girl ran up to me and exclaimed “I want her to be mine!” and I just so happened to actually be hers. As soon as I met my kids they immediately attached themselves to me. The love and care they showed to me in the first 30 minutes I arrived was more love than some of the high school relationships i’ve endured for a total of four years.
    Everyday I walk in the classroom they all jump out of their seats and tackle me with hugs. To feel wanted and needed as soon as you enter a room is something to be cherished. As I look around the classroom I have begun to try and figure out what kind of homes these sweet precious souls come from. It hurts my heart to see ones who have clearly not bathed and don’t have clothes that fit right- seemingly, those kids are the ones that cling to me the most. To not be able to do anything but love on them for an hour hurts my heart because I wish I could do so much more.
    I struggled recently in trying to figure out if I wanted to be a designer or a elementary school teacher. But as I enter the classroom every other day and am immediately covered by laughing children exclaiming, “WE MISSED YOU!” I have no doubt about what I am called to do. I am called to teach these minds that are so eager to learn and love. And I feel honored to have been called to such a redeeming career. Everyday I leave my class in a better mood than I came.