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Thursday, June 1, 2017

Digital Tools to Mobilize a Community to a Goal




Today, as I was looking over the scope and sequence that ISTE has put out as plausible technology integration standards to support the ISTE student standards I found myself stuck on one standard and feeling the weight of the pros and cons stacking up equally on both sides of my brain as I wrestled with this idea: "Use digital tools such as blogs, websites and social media to crowdsource, crowdfund and mobilize a community toward a goal."

On one side I immediately swiped it under the doormat when the words "crowdsource" and "crowdfund" appeared. Why is this a skill that a graduate of our school must need to know? When I see those words I think of begging to support a cause for funds. And then the rumination began. I asked myself these questions:

  • Why is the standard there?
  • If we don't do it are we creating a disadvantage to our students?
  • Is this about exposure? integration? or even more...stewardship?
  • Are we just called to teach students how to navigate the internet or are we called to teach them how to add value to it as well?
  • As I forward think, is the internet always about taking or are we to give as well? Every click we make is monitored by an algorithm that learns us. How can I use that for good?
These questions led me to think about my own life. Do I crowdsource? Have I ever sought to crowdfund for a greater goal? YES on both accounts. I use social media to share the things I've learned via blogs to help others, I've asked people to join me at educational events like Edcamp Gig City and CoffeeEDU, I've asked people to support me in my JDRF walks to find a cure for type 1 diabetes, and more recently I've reached out to an entire city to help me find my lost dog. I've done this using social media, blogging, and various websites. 

I realized I am the epitome of this statement but the question that continues to ruminate in my head...should it be a REQUIRED skill? I don't like the terms "crowdsource" or "crowdfund" but I think there is value in the meaning of the statement. As I look at my job as an instructional technologist I see this as a way to use technology for a greater good. It definitely doesn't have to be to the extent I utilize it but if at my christian school it is a goal to graduate stewards of this world then technology and the internet can't just be seen as something to consume but also something to make better through our usage. The words "value added" come to mind. According to the dictionary value added means:

noun
ECONOMICS
  1. 1.
    the amount by which the value of an article is increased at each stage of its production, exclusive of initial costs.
adjective
  1. 1.
    (of goods) having features added to a basic line or model for which the buyer is prepared to pay extra.

Are we as educators truly teaching our students to add value to the digital world if we don't embrace mediums to do this? Even more, in a christian school setting aren't we called to it? Maybe I'm digging too deep and creating comparisons that only work in my head. But if all we do is take, learn, discern, and lurk are we becoming true stewards? As a steward we are responsible "for taking care of something, to arrange and keep in order in a way that glorifies God." Does this just mean personal intake? In our world that values collaboration and growing together I believe it means not just becoming fat babies off all the information on the internet but also exercising our right and responsibility to add to that environment as well.

I do struggle with the wording of the statement because I don't think crowdfunding is a particular skill that every student needs to know but I look at two instances in my life where crowdsourcing made a huge difference to me.

  • In 2010 after a very hurtful attack through the use of social media on myself and my donut business, a friend and educator, Jennifer Rimback, created a community support page for me on Facebook that helped me through a terrible week in my life due to poor digital citizenship skills of the masses in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
  • Just this year after losing my dog for a week, she was returned back to us due to a bombarding of social media and websites being shared over 500 times by people I did and didn't know. 

These were life changers. Is this a skill that should be taught is the question that keeps running in my mind?  Is this just something people should do if they want to but not be expected? I'll be honest, until today I thought so but as I have thought and rethought on this today and reflected on how much negativity we see on the internet, my mind has changed. Perhaps it is time to model appropriate and value-added internet opportunities to bring it to the forefront in today's world. Should it be crowdsourced? I don't know...but I do believe the power of the internet can be seen better through this choice. To experience the positive benefits of crowdsourcing exposure is a beautiful thing, take it from someone that has also received the opposite because of a donut named "Obama." 

Friday, May 26, 2017

The Power of Caring Educators

I'll be honest, it's easy to become jaded in education. New initiatives, students that don't seem to care, parents that question everything you do, not being respected in your field...it's easy to allow the stresses of day to day make you forget what made you want to go into education to begin with.

But then there are educators that are different. Ones that both value the relationships with their students and see the challenges of everyday as purposeful. I've seen many of those teachers over the years but in the last couple of weeks I have experienced two educators that truly challenge me to be more like them, to look at being an educator as missional.

As my role has changed over the last few years and I spend less time in contact with students I have less chance to be relational with them. But because of the two people I am about to share with you I want to make sure I am not overlooking those opportunities to be a caring educator.

The first person I want to share about I have never even met in person. Principal Todd Jackson of Sequoyah High School in Soddy Daisy, Tennessee has a heart for students. He leads a school that gives a student a "hands on" education. Many of these students haven't succeeded in the traditional academic setting for a variety of reasons but they can leave Sequoyah equipped to either go straight into a career or further their education. While I have never met Mr. Jackson, I have seen his heart for students. Last Saturday, my nephew Tanner graduated from Sequoyah High School. As Mr. Jackson stood up to speak to those graduates he was obviously overwhelmed with emotion in that moment. He couldn't hide it. As one person yelled from the audience while he was trying to hold back his emotions before continuing on in his speech, "that's a man who cares!" It was evident in that moment but it was also evident to me because this man had been investing in Tanner regularly. He had invited him to his farm and had Tanner work with him, hand in hand. He made a difference in Tanner's life. Tanner left for basic training on Monday and Mr. Jackson played a huge role in getting Tanner to that place. He is an educator that values the importance of relationships.

Secondly, is a teacher that retired from Chattanooga Christian School and someone I had the honor of working with for many years. Not only was she a co-worker, she was a teacher and tutor to my oldest child. Mrs. Pat Wilson was always a relational third grade teacher. Teaching was more than an 8-3 job to her. She would attend baseball games, recitals, and special events of her students often throughout the year. She always invited the students to her house for a party each year. She saw teaching as being in a covenant with the children she taught. She valued them in and out of the classroom. Last night, my youngest daughter got home from her senior trip to find a stack of graduation congratulation cards on the counter. In that stack was a sweet note from Pat Wilson encouraging Kendall for her future and congratulating her for her progress. What makes this unique? Pat wasn't even Kendall's third grade teacher. But she was Tanner's. And she has already asked for his address to send him a message while he is in the Army. This is what relational education looks like- even from a retired teacher.

I want to be more like these two people. I am a very passionate instructional technologist and I want all students to feel like a success in their educational endeavors. I do believe educational technology has the ability to help teachers better meet individual student needs. But the truth of the matter is, no matter how automated and effective edtech becomes there is NOTHING that will replace the power of caring educators. So to all of you that model this daily, thank you. For those of you that know there is room for improvement, like myself, take up the challenge with me. I am thankful for educators like these two that show me how I can better myself in an area where I hadn't even realized I was lacking.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Future of Education...and the role edtech will play


Sometimes I feel like I know things other people just don't get. I know that sounds vain, but this has nothing to do with my intelligence and more to do with what I do for a living. I'm an instructional technologist and anyone in my position worth a grain of salt has to be aware of what is down the pike...and I know, or at least I have an inkling. And I'll admit it both excites me and scares me.

Yesterday morning before heading to the Tennessee STEM Innovation Summit that I am currently attending, I sat in on a meeting where we announced to our middle school that we were going to pilot the LMS Canvas for next year. Let me just say that they are a great group of educators that have a strong sense of adaptability that is amazing. I believe it has a lot to do with the fact they are teaching middle schoolers that want to be treated like children one minute and adults the next!

One of the questions that was asked was "Why not Google Classroom?" and quite honestly for some of our teachers I do believe it would be the best solution for what they are currently doing. But here is the part where I feel like I am "in the know." Education is not going to remain in it's current state. The digital revolution is happening. Integrating technology will no longer look like presenting with a visual that might even be locked down on all the 1:1 devices. Digital revolution means meeting individual student needs with more feedback.

The last few years of tech integration have been messy. That is definitely no lie. The tool has been there and edtech company's have raced to create platforms to meet classroom needs. Some have done it well and some resoundingly have not. School's have adopted, adapted, trashed, and rethought the process of education over and over again. At our school we have looked in the framework of what is antiquated, what is classic and should be kept, and what contemporary way can we do education better?

I believe we are going to see major changes in formative assessments and I believe that schools will have to adapt to them because they will be game changers. This morning I saw this:

Zoomi, a performance optimization data analytics company, and Canvas by Instructure today announced a partnership that integrates Zoomi's powerful predictive and prescriptive analytic tools with Instructure's innovative and award-winning learning platform. This new relationship will empower educators to greatly enhance learning and increase student achievement and proficiency.
Central to the partnership is the analysis of behavior patterns, based on Zoomi's existing algorithms and analytics, that can predict learning outcomes with greater accuracy and adapt pathways.  These insights paired with Canvas, an adaptable and customizable state-of-the-art LMS for K-12 schools and higher education institutions, will provide students with personalized learning programs that can immediately impact achievement gaps. Zoomi's analysis of cognitive, motivational and behavioral data allows real-time, automated, AI-based personalization of content for a truly individualized learning experience.
"Learning institutions choose Canvas for its flexibility and ease of use. And now with the addition of Zoomi analytics, content developers and educators will be able to tailor learning to the preferences of each student," said Caroline Brant, Director of Client Success at Zoomi.  "By providing content based on the specific strengths and needs of individual students, educators are able to maximize student comprehension and engagement."
"The partnership with Zoomi allows us to provide our customers with deeper, actionable insights into student performance," said Melissa Loble, Vice President of Partnerships and Platform at Instructure. "This enhancement to Canvas will provide the online learning community with new ways to improve teaching and learning."
As schools, we must decide what disciplines this will impact in our classrooms. We must decide how far will we allow AI (artificial intelligence) into the educational setting and more importantly into our world. Boundaries need to be placed by our culture to make sure it is morally and ethically used but that being said, the next step in logic branching questions is an exciting time. 
I love that education is working towards personalization so that we can meet all students' needs. This is the future of education. To what extent remains to be seen. Technology will always be a tool but it also has the ability to be a medium of learning itself. How are educational institutions going to leverage this in a way that benefits the relational aspect of education that is key to creating lifelong learners? 

Sunday, May 21, 2017

The Power of the Senior Walk

It's happening at schools all over the place this time of year. It's the senior walk...or at our school the "senior run." I have seen multiple ways this plays out- with cap and gown or without- the power of the Senior Walk is obvious if you are observing it.

This tradition started at our school as a prank in the high school. Seniors would band together on their last day and run through the hallways  (sometimes causing destruction). The run had been banned but lately it has been embraced. Three years ago when my oldest daughter was a senior I asked our Upper School Student Life Director, Karen Smoak, if the "lifers" - those students that had been at CCS for all 13 years- could come in their cap and gown and visit our kindergarteners. They did and those kids were in "wow" mode. And as only Karen can do, she took the senior run and that idea to the next level.
Our seniors have "community day" as one of the last days on campus before exams. This is a day where they just hang out together playing games, relaxing, talking, and having a picnic. At the end of the day they participate in the senior walk/run. It starts in the lower school where all the students come into the hallway and celebrate these students and then goes through the middle school and ends out the front door of the high school.



I happen to have been in the lower school this year as the students did their walk and saw the excitement and starry-eyes of those elementary students as they watched these students take their walk with smiles, tears, hugs, and pride. For some of us teachers, we have had the honor of teaching those students and watching them grow at our preK-12 school. The students then went on to the middle school where the pace picked up a bit and then on to the high school for the SENIOR RUN, a little bit of chaos with principal Forrest Walker leading the way through the entire experience.
Looking at these photos show you the value that's placed on these seniors. Their accomplishments are being valued by our entire student body. But it's not only about the seniors. It's about those underclassmen as well. These students are seeing the importance our school places on finishing high school. These students now have something else to look forward to. Many of these students have never attended a high school graduation but they will always remember watching older students that they have seen play sports, work in their classrooms, join them in all school pep rallies, and perform in various artistic endeavors at school being honored. It's a chance for our institution to grow a sense of expectancy within the hearts of our students- from the very youngest to those just a few months away from being seniors themselves- there is a sense of belonging. I love this tradition and how it has evolved from something the high school administration dreaded into something that instills both a sense of hope and longing for the other students and pride for our seniors. Watch out world, these seniors graduate on Saturday and they are ready to make a difference!

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Educational "Air Time"


Over the last couple of weeks I have really started looking more deeply at the way technology can enhance different learning theories and instructional practice. I realize that has made me hypersensitive to critiquing teachers and teaching styles in a way that I don't want to be. Needless to say, I'm trying to look at methods from a non-marginalizing approach and make the assumption that every teacher is trying their best to meet the needs of their classroom goals and individual students.

That being said I am currently feeling a little overwhelmed with some things that have played out lately regarding academic roles. Believe it or not I was a quiet high school student that rarely would have added value to group discussions unless I was point blank called on because of my shyness. (I  know...you are wondering where that girl is and wanting her to come back occasionally). I mostly made A's and B's as a self-motivated student in above-average ability grouped classes. I was a listener and got what I needed to make the grade but I did not really enjoy high school. High school did not feel relational to me for the most part.

As I have been looking at teaching methods I find myself wondering what are we doing to pull out students like myself. I know there are strategies for pulling in the outliers but do we use them? Is there a reason our students feel like outliers? Is it a perceived intelligence issue? Language issue? Apathy issue? Shyness issue? You have to know who your students are to fill the needs. And of course for me, I'm wondering if digital discussion boards in an LMS might be a solution to give the "quietest student a voice" a quote about technology I often requote from Jerry Blumengarten.

On top of all this I helped lead Edcamp Gig City this past Saturday and when I'm looking at the feedback I can't help but think...even teachers don't truly understand how to best engage in group discussions. The overwhelming majority of the feedback from the 125+ attendees of  Chattanooga's 4th annual educational unconference was positive but the complaints all had to do with people taking up too much "air time," being dogmatic about their views, leading instead of facilitating, and griping about their world instead of speaking about disadvantages with hopes to find a solution by sharing. If educators themselves aren't good at this, that worries me a bit. When someone feels marginalized they shut down. That is the worst thing to happen in education. What skills can we use to prevent this from happening without seeming condemning and causing the opposite person to feel marginalized? And of course, as an instructional technologist I am digging and wondering how can educational technology best support the socratic method, small group instruction, lecture classrooms to best meet the needs of all students, or can it? What are your thoughts?

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Semantics in the School House


Possibilities for instruction are changing in education faster than ever before. As I have said before, how we define what words mean can seem both passive and aggressive to many teachers in the same room. The connotative meaning of "technology integration" can have varying degrees of expectation associated with it from the eyes of all stakeholders- teachers, administrators, school boards, students and parents. What one teacher sees as "enough" someone else might say "it doesn't even scratch the surface." When one teacher might say "I'm equipping them with future ready skills," someone else might say "they have too much screen time in that class setting." Who is right? Is someone wrong? Or are we nit picking the semantics?

How does a school move beyond the semantics/connotations of individual ideas of what "best practice" looks like to an acceptable use profile that all stakeholders can wrap their heads around? Lately, we have been working on just that at our school. I find myself looking at sentences word by word for interpretation purposes and I'm wondering if like the Louis Armstrong song "Let's Call The Whole Thing Off," I'm digressing on tomato versus tomahto.

I do believe frameworks are important as a guide to get everyone on the same page. I also believe there is value in breaking frameworks down into smaller bite size pieces, making it easier for people to see the goals. And to be honest, the more I dig deeper into these ideas the more I realize mindset of what technology can do in a classroom has to be recognized and considered first. Articles like this one in Edtech Magazine and research like this by OECD makes me mindful of how important it is to define the tomato and tomahto as well as to teach student's balanced use inside and outside the classroom.

Balance doesn't need to happen just in the classroom regarding screen time but also personal usage. We are in a society today where people are applauded for their passion or ridiculed for it depending on what society deems as appropriate. An athlete that becomes drive to train all the time and breaks records is applauded but someone that collects things to the same level of passion is called a hoarder. Helping students navigate balance goes beyond the idea of technology, it is a shift in what we should be teaching in general. Many of the things in regards to technology are like that. Looking at this deeper lately I am seeing the ubiquitous nature of technology and how it overlaps so much of our world. Getting more people involved in the semantics seems both worthy and needed. I don't begin to think I have a lockdown on all the moving pieces.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Finishing Strong by Taking Chances?

I'll be honest, when I was asked to blog on the topic "Testing is over...What now?" I jumped on the chance to be a part of this series because it's a group of amazing educators and I love to blog. Unlike the rest of them, testing seems to have less impact on my private school than at their public schools. There is no tie to funding and there is less stress on our teachers based on test results. While we do not do the state testing, we do have students take the NWEA test. I've sat in an office where an administrator has looked at test results by standard and realized "our students haven't gotten to that yet." There is an understanding in our school that we are going to teach to the end of the year. Managing that is probably a little bit easier to do with a preK-12 school of 1200 than some of these larger districts my friends are in.

Regardless, there still seems like there is burnout in the air and a sense of finality approaching. So what are things we can do to use this time to finish strong? You'll often hear me talking about risk taking and creating a culture where it is safe to fail for both students and teachers. The important thing is you fail forward. In other words, when you try something but it doesn't work you don't say "oh well, that was a disaster!" but "that didn't work, what can I do to value the concept forward and learn from what went wrong and make it better?" That's failing forward. What a great time to take those chances! I challenge you to look for something to try that might make these last days less monotonous. The nice thing is you have some great guinea pigs ready for you, you've trained them all year long! 

I want to share five things you might try in your classroom in these last weeks to take a chance on creating something valuable for the future (yours, your current students, and even your future students):
  1. Genius Hour or 20% Time...This is a creation of the Google Company themselves. They allow their employees 20% of their work week to learn about things that they are passionate about. What if you allowed your students some of this type of time with your watch care and guidance? It doesn't have to be chaos. Have students create Project Plans and collaborate to make them better. Then have students create project logs after every time they work on the project. Also, if you want it to be more structured, have it support a certain unit you have studied. Flexibility within boundaries but allowing students voice and choice.
  2.  Google Classroom...If you are a district that has been using the Google Suite apps in the classroom  for a while you are probably already leveraging Docs, Slides, Drive, Forms, and Sheets. Now is a good time to try Google Classrooms to see it's efficiencies! My friend Matt Miller from #ditchthattextbook created this blog post that is helpful in both understanding what it will and will not do, as well as giving you some ideas on how to implement it. You aren't a Google school? What LMS does your district/school/coworker use? Create a lesson using that to try it out. 
  3. Coding...I'm a firm believer that coding can support any curriculum due to the fact that it naturally teaches sequencing, coding gives access to technology, gives students a life skill, and coding teaches thinking. This blog by Vicki Davis gives you some great ideas for creating coding opportunities in your classroom no matter what you teach and what grade level you teach it in. Don't have access to technology? Make sure you look at the unplugged options at code.org.
  4. VLOG...Not all students are good writers but all students have things to share. A VLOG is the video equivalent of a BLOG (weB LOG). Allow your students to VLOG about some topic - you choose it or let them. Start somewhere simple like by using Seesaw Learning Journal. If you aren't already using it, it allows you to give your student a new platform as well. The free version will meet your needs just fine! (Make sure you follow Christopher King's VLOG on day three of this series (tomorrow) to see what a VLOG can do!
  5. Edcamp Style Learning...I am a huge fan of the unconference model of professional development that the Edcamp model brought to education. This will be year four of my involvement with Edcamp Gigcity in Chattanooga, Tennessee. But what if we gave students sticky notes and asked them what they would like to learn about? What if we created stations in our classroom that would allow them to learn from each other about those topics? It might not could be as wide open depending on the age you teach but I do believe it could be structured edcamp even for the youngest of students. 
These are just a few ideas that I think teachers could toy with here at year end. These do not take a lot of prep time or learning time on your part but have the potential for adding either depth or efficiencies for your classroom's future. And lets be honest, there are so many reruns of Lion King we want to sit through. Take these ideas or create your own but FINISH STRONG! Want to learn more on this topic? Make sure you look over yesterday's post by Mick Shuran that can be found at http://mickshuran.com and as I mentioned earlier, tomorrow's VLOG by Christopher King can be found at http://firesidechats.blog/


Monday: Mick Shuran http://mickshuran.com