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Sunday, April 23, 2017

Curation of Information: Harnessing the Beast of Ubiquitous Information

I have this crazy little habit that helps empower me every day for the educational tasks at hand. For the past two years I've taken part in the #OneWord movement and this year my word was "brave." As part of this year's word, everyday I have chosen some phrase and photo to put on Instagram to embolden myself for the day to be educationally brave to make a difference for students. Each phrase has #brave2017 in the comments. Some days I run across quotes that resonate with me, some days I write what is in my head, and some days I make a real effort to Google a theme or "educational quotes" and find something for the day.

A quote that I have seen over and over on multiple occasion is the one in the image above: "The best teachers are those that show you where to look but don't tell you what to see." It is attributed to Alexandra K. Trenfor. Out of curiosity one day I decided to see who exactly this person was because I felt this little nugget of wisdom was so powerful. Imagine my surprise when not only I could not find anything about the person but found that other people had been on the same search. There is a bit of irony not lost on me that educators on a regular basis repost this quote and put it on educational websites and it can't really even be checked for authenticity. I mean, when I posted it I continued to attribute it to Alexandra K. Trenfor but I don't really know if that's right or not.

That left me thinking about the overwhelming need for curation of information in today's world. When we want to quote a website, oftentimes it is downright impossible to find the correct citing unless one uses an online bibliography that searches it from the URL and sometimes even then we come up empty handed.

Today as I was sick in bed I found myself digging around the internet looking for information on some topics I've been pondering and I came across this video that was uploaded in 2007. It's titled "The Machine is Us/ing Us." It speaks into the fact that WE are the creators of the web by the things we post on a regular basis, like this blog for instance. I am putting information out to a worldwide audience that might sway someone towards or away from a certain way of thinking about education. The "machine" is us but at the same time the machine is using my information, thoughts, and clicks to develop itself further. It's both alarming and intriguing to think of the power every John Q. Public has in the world today.
That being said, how do we as educators guide students to make ethical choices in what they claim as their own information? How do we guide them to best discern what is good information? How do we help them critically think about what they read and to turn information into knowledge? Especially when we ourselves are struggling with it as well. We are bombarded by fake news, wikipedia, and find ourselves searching for discernment but I'll be honest some days I still don't know what is real or not (especially in regards to politics lately). We are being manipulated by our clicks as to what "real" is to us and yet we also have access to great information that allows us to learn anything we want to at the typing of a few key words. While we struggle with the shotgun method of information that comes at us regularly we must learn alongside our students how to best manage this resource. I don't want to be seen as a machine but I do want to know that I am adding value to the machine. I want my students to experience that as well. The ubiquity of technology cannot be ignored but it can be used for good.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Fact Checking Students

A few days ago I had a conversation with a fellow educator who is also a mother and said her son told her that there are 3-4 students in his grade that always "fact check" what the teachers tell them in class. Apparently when a teacher says something as "truth" when teaching these students use their devices to see what they can find on the subject. In some cases they have found information that doesn't support what has been said in the classroom.

I was quite intrigued by this as well as a little put off. My first thoughts were:

  • I wonder why they feel the need to fact check what they are being taught?
  • It feels a little disrespectful of the teacher's authority to be fact checked.
  • What does this teach me about today's connected student?
  • How can this be leveraged in the classroom for good?
For a couple of years now I've toyed with the idea of putting an Amazon Echo or Google Home in classrooms just to help teachers get beyond the "googleable questions" in order to be able to focus more on the critical thinking level of DOK/Bloom's Taxonomy. If it were my class it would layout something like this..."If I ask you, as a class, something that can be Googled to get a certain answer, stop me and let's ask Alexa." I think it could lead to more engagement of conversations, as well as discerning when to use technology for information versus when to use your deeper cognitive skills for the task at hand. 

I would never force a teacher to do this and so I'm still toying with the idea of "are these students being disrespectful?" or should we applaud their desire to be researchers? Obviously there are a lot of moving parts in this discussion like a) would this be considered an off task behavior at the time by the teacher? b) what is the purpose of their research? To prove a teacher wrong or to feel more confident? 

More importantly I wonder how I would take it in the middle of a discussion if a student questioned my authority by saying "Actually Mrs. Davis, this website says that really..." Beyond a shadow of a doubt I would hope that could become a teachable moment regarding both digital citizenship and research. 

Should we embrace this behavior and have students feel comfortable in questioning? What are your thoughts on "fact checking" students? Should this make us rethink the way we are currently teaching if students have information at hand all the time anyway? Does this have the ability to make a teacher feel irrelevant or change their role?

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

When Fifth Graders Make Websites For Fun

Today our lower school principal sent me a text that said "Some fifth graders have something they want to show you." I was intrigued but also a little nervous. After I made it to the office I was given a slip of paper with a web address on it: There are times in your life you are just so proud and blown away by students and in this case I had absolutely NOTHING to do with this. Five of our students created a website to host comic strips they have created in their free time. I was so impressed that I interviewed two of the students (Aiden and Brody) this afternoon on what they had done:

Being a preK-12th grade school, we are currently working to create a profile for the technology skills we want a graduate to have. This endeavor that these students took on that wasn't even part of their curriculum is a prime example that we are no longer teaching the same type of students we have in the past! These students used classical art skills and creative writing skills and turned them into a contemporary format. 

When I look at the major headings of technology skills we are wanting a graduate to have I look at the why, how, and what these 5 fifth graders have created and I can't help but want to put a check mark by everything. And lets not loose sight of the fact that this was all because they wanted to! If you listen to their video you see we not only have innovators but also potential entrepreneurs on our hands. To see today's young students using technology creatively as positive digital stewards in a globally reachable world makes my heart happy. I helped them think about some digital safety measures they might want to take and they have already made those changes. Why? Because it's what they WANT to do with their free time. 

Read the following goals we are currently working on for technology integration student standards (that have been adapted from the ISTE Student Standards) and see what you think these students have accomplished:

CCS Technology Integration Standards for Students
1. Empowered Learner
As truth seekers students leverage technology to take an active role in choosing, achieving and demonstrating competency in their learning goals, informed by the learning modalities.

2. Digital Stewards
Students recognize the rights, responsibilities and opportunities of living, learning and working in an interconnected digital world, and they act and model in ways that are safe, legal and God honoring.

3. Knowledge Constructor
Students critically curate with responsibility and discernment a variety of resources using digital tools to construct knowledge, produce creative artifacts and make meaningful learning experiences for themselves and others.

4. Innovative Designer
Students use a variety of technologies within a design process to identify and solve problems by creating new, useful or imaginative solutions.

5. Computational Thinker
Students develop and employ strategies for understanding and solving problems in ways that leverage the power of technological methods to develop and test solutions with integrity.

6. Creative Communicator
Students communicate clearly and express themselves creatively for a variety of purposes using the platforms, tools, styles, formats and digital media appropriate to their goals.

7. Global Collaborator
Students use digital tools to broaden their perspectives and enrich their learning by collaborating with others and working effectively as Christ-centered critical thinkers.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Nitty Gritty of Technology Integration

Lately our school has been in a discussion of what technology integration should really look like. Some hard discussions have happened but progress is being made to better identify how technology can both support the learning in the classroom and prepare the students for their future. One of the things I keep hearing over and over in discussions is "I just don't know where to start." As an instructional technologist, this is where I feel my support comes in. Helping people find good resources and consider ideas for integration. The following slide presentation came about because I truly want to help others at our school to find ways to integrate technology in their classroom that allows them more efficiencies as well as empower our students to know how to use the tools of technology for learning endeavors:

               Technology Integration by Subject Matter

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Lessons Worth Remembering

What makes a lesson worth remembering? It's been a VERY LONG TIME since I was in a k12 school as a student but I have been spending time trying to remember actual learning lessons. I'll be honest, there are very few "lessons" themselves I remember anymore and what I have come away with is that in order for me to truly remember a lesson one of the following had to happen:

  • I had an ongoing relationship with the teacher. I remember lessons and/or teachable moments with teachers that knew me as a person- my biology teacher that I babysat for, my history teacher who was my friend's dad, my psychology teacher that I also was a teacher's aide for and we talked about life during that time, and my business education teacher that I went to church with. 
  • The lesson was not the norm. It was kinesthetic, hands-on, not "sit and get." I remember learning how to do a Rubic's cube in 7th grade math class. I remember dissecting a frog in biology. I remember my geography teacher pretending our desks were planes and we would look out different windows to learn where different countries were in relation to each other. 
  • It was a non-traditional way of showing my learning. I remember researching/creating my science fair project for 7th and 8th grade that was on the topic of the value of holistic herbal remedies. I remember creating an emergency first aid/wilderness box in 6th grade before a week of outdoor learning at Rock Eagle. I remember being asked to sing something to see if I could reach a certain octave to try out for a solo.
  • It caused an emotional response of pride or embarrassment. In 5th grade I remember my art work being chosen as a basis for the mural going down the hallway in my elementary school and I got to be pulled out of class to help paint it. I remember being chosen in 12th grade to take Accounting 2 even though it wasn't a class being offered and it would be me doing it on my own during a typing class that the business ed teacher was teaching. I remember being chosen to be on the 9th grade yearbook team. I remember taking 12th grade dual enrollment english and my professor recognizing an open letter assignment I had written and him reading it to the entire class because it was well written in his eyes, but I also remember that same professor leading a discussion on the wife of Bath in the Canterbury Tales and discussing the importance of her gap-toothed reference and me being mortified because I had a gap between my two front teeth. 
  • The class had good whole group dialogue. If a culture of safety in sharing existed, I remember those discussions. I remember the value of hearing the thoughts of my school mates. I remember sharing my own thoughts on subjects and believe it or not, I was shy. It took a LOT for me to add to conversations. 
  • If more than one of the above happened in a classroom I am more likely to have even more memories. For instance, I can remember word for word lessons in classes where I felt a connection to the teacher and felt empowered by the way the classroom dynamics were.
So what does this mean? As we are planning forward in creating both scope and sequence and lessons for next year, I find myself thinking on the value of recognizing positive achievements in my students, creating opportunities for learning that allow them to use different modalities of instruction, being intentional in knowing the students I'm working with and their likes/dislikes even if it is just about the lesson at hand, and creating a culture where students feel safe to be transparent in their learning- where failing is a learning opportunity and collaboration is safe. I don't remember ever having the opportunity to participate in project based learning or solving real world problems. I wonder what that would have done to my processing? 

And then I find myself asking...Should all lessons be memorable? Is there value in the mundane? What would students say? Can there be too much engagement sometimes? and finally...How do we define the process of "what makes a good lesson?" What role does technology play in all this today?

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

When Students Leverage Social Media to Plan Events

The ISTE Standards for Students are goals that have been vetted through thousands of educators to set measurable outcomes that have been decided would best prepare today's k-12 student for the use of technology in their future lives. There are 7 different broad concepts that are then broken down into subcategories. Standard #6 is listed below:

6. Creative Communicator
Students communicate clearly and express themselves creatively for a variety of purposes using the platforms, tools, styles, formats and digital media appropriate to their goals. Students:

  • choose the appropriate platforms and tools for meeting the desired objectives of their creation or communication.
  • create original works or responsibly repurpose or remix digital resources into new creations.
  • communicate complex ideas clearly and effectively by creating or using a variety of digital objects such as visualizations, models or simulations.
  • publish or present content that customizes the message and medium for their intended audiences. 

    This week I had the privilege of seeing this standard in action. The AP and Advanced Art students in our high school were tasked by their instructors with advertising the opening reception for their Spring Art Collection at a local art gallery in Chattanooga. Early in the week I started seeing this graphic show up on Facebook. Then I was asked to join a page with more information. Later in the week I saw Snapchat stories about the event, I saw Instagram stories and posts about it. There was Twitter talk about it as well. 

    These students creatively used the medium of social media to communicate with the people in their lives. They shared, reshared, and creatively talked about the evening using the Internet. Creating the graphic of actual work in the collection was a teaser. The objective was to get people to come to opening night and boy did it work! When I walked into AVA Art Gallery it was packed. It wasn't just the family members of these students present but the room was full of schoolmates of all interest groups. Athletes, scholars, teachers, grandparents, siblings, cousins, boyfriends, strangers, dramatic artists were all there to support this night and these students. Goal achieved. It was a great way to see students using social media as good digital citizens to share their learning in productive ways. 

    Sunday, April 2, 2017

    The crowd, the community, the connection

    The Crowd. As parents and educators we talk a lot about hanging with the wrong crowd. How many times have I said "Well if Jim jumped off a bridge would you do it too?" in a moment of frustration when students aren't making good choices? Usually when we think of going along with the crowd we think of negativity but this week I have been truly smacked in the face with seeing students from the positive side of following the crowd. 

    The Community. We, as humans, are all part of communities. For our students a community could be the school itself, their friend groups, their interests, their families. Most of us are in several different communities and our level of interaction within them varies based on our desires to be in association with others. 

    The Connection. This past week was one of the busiest weeks I remember in a long time. I had various "big things" all come to a conclusion this week. First of all 6 fifth grade girls that have been working on a "Play to Learn" Playground STEM design attended the awards ceremony. At the ceremony we also learned that two of our high school girls had joined the high school competition to design a future school/learning space. Both teams came away with wins and the older girls pretty much ruled the competition they were in.
     As I drove home that evening I couldn't help but reflect on the fact that both groups spent a lot of time thinking about their designs from an empathetic heart. Our fifth grade girls designed a playground that would include people of all ages and abilities. Our high school girls imagined a repurposing of a warehouse our school has to bring private and public school students together to learn authentically while tapping into local community resources for learning opportunities. Our school is surrounded by a low income area and these girls had a desire to create cutting edge spaces not just for themselves and our school but they were also mission minded in their goals. I was blown away with the underlying empathy that just naturally flowed from both groups.  

    On Thursday, I spent the day preparing for Chattanooga's first ever social event to support the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation...One Night for JDRF. As we planned all week for this event we realized we needed some volunteers to help it go smoothly. After contacting our community service director in our high school (Karen happens to be a Type 1 diabetic too), she found some girls to volunteer. There was nothing glorious about their jobs that night. They picked up garbage off tables and they walked back and forth endlessly to the silent auction table to help with the closing of the auction.
    Another sweet girl took photos all night for us. They didn't have to do this. There was no gain for them except that they either have Type 1 diabetes or they are best friends with someone with Type 1. These girls were mission minded, empathetic souls that wanted to make a difference and support their friends. 

    Saturday night the AP and Honors Art Students from our high school had an opening night of their spring collection of artwork that took place at a local art studio. These students took on the publicizing of this event (which is a whole other blog post) and the room was packed when I walked in. What I found amazingly wonderful was it wasn't just family there supporting their artistic family members, it was athletes supporting their artistic friends (just like those artists do when they attend sporting events.) Their was a sense of community in that crowded gallery that made my heart swell with pride. Our students have a great sense of supporting within their community. All week long I kept thinking, I'm so glad my own children have been part of this crowd! 

    We hear a lot these days about the soft skills that will be needed for the future workforce. Those skills include but aren't limited to collaboration, communication, initiative, and social skills. I saw all these and more being modeled in our students this week and I am so thankful and proud of the community of CCS and the students we have. Bravo! 

    Monday, March 27, 2017

    The Value of Googleable Questions?

    In 2006 my oldest daughter was in 4th grade and part of the curriculum was called "Daily Oral Geography." This is a well known geography curriculum that consists of weekly worksheets to teach geography. I remember buying Jessica this huge Atlas that was a bound book. We still have it because it was so nice. She could look up all sorts of maps to answer her questions. We spent a little extra for it but decided with another child 3 years younger, it would be worth it.

    I remember one night Jessica was working on her D.O.G. (Daily Oral Geography) as homework and she came downstairs and asked "Mom, it asks what the 5 oceans of the world are but I see more than 5, can you help me?" I looked at the atlas and saw what she was talking about. At that point in her school life, she didn't have easy accessibility to technology. She didn't own a smartphone or iPad because they were not yet invented. We had a family computer but it wasn't seen as a place to go to help with homework.

    I remember googling "5 oceans of the world" and one of the first hits was the actual worksheet she was doing all filled in by a teacher. I said "wow!" and Jessica looked over my shoulder and said, "YES!" to which I replied, "You can't just copy the answers." And she didn't. She worked hard to get her answers every week. It was a moment to teach good digital citizenship at my house but it also led me to start thinking deeper about what we ask of students. I didn't expect to find the actual worksheet on the internet and I'm sure her teacher didn't either. There is no blame in this statement, just a fact...I saw the world changing.

    This was 2006, 11 years ago. Educational technology was not even a strong game at that point. Out of curiosity I just now googled the same question and in 1.75 seconds I had 1,340,000 results with the first hit being them listed in bold with bullets. What does this mean to education?

    I find myself seeing this from several different angles:

    • Students becoming positive Digital Citizens. If you are a user of technology, you are a digital citizen- a participant of a community with rules and expectations that are constantly evolving. With educational technology comes faster access to information and opinions. In 2006 the ease to get to "facts" using technology was just the tip of the iceberg. Now that educators are seeing the value of students having authentic audiences, we are suggesting to students to create an online presence of their learning. No longer is it just facts that can be googled but also opinions of other students across the world. With the mapping of curriculum (which prevents gaps for students if they leave one district for another) being somewhat the same from district to district the ability to find answers to the assignments placed before students becomes easier and easier. More than ever before it is important for us to set well explained boundaries and expectations for our students. When is it ok to use technology for learning and when is it not? Teaching students the value of the process of learning, not just the end results on a worksheet for a grade is important because when I google "write my paper" I have 212,000,000 hits in .42 seconds. To think our students are not doing things like this is naive at best. Spending time in each class setting digital citizen expectations is crucial to helping students navigate and choose to be students of integrity.
    • Teachers asking intentional questions. More than ever before I think it is imperative that we look at education differently. Access to information is at the fingertips of our students (even in elementary school). When do we, as educators, ask easily Googleable questions? When do we allow technology to answer those questions for our students? How does homework fit into the easy accessibility of answers in today's world? What information is now "worth" memorizing? Who decides what required facts to purge in this day of easy accessibility? How do we make sure students are truly answering from their knowledge bank and not their ability to ask Google good questions? What's the value of worksheets in a world where you can find the answers and fill in the blanks in about 3 minutes? How do we make sure students are learning how to use tools beyond technology? When are shortcuts ok? When are they not? If Google can answer a question, is it a worthy question to be asking our students in preschool? elementary? middle? high? advanced?
    • School Culture changing to adopt more critical thinking goals. Does technology mean we should be rethinking the way we teach? In the past, the teacher was the giver of all knowledge. Now students are both learning and creating in their own way, on their own time. Does this mean we need to be looking beyond the practical and pushing students to critically think about that easily accessible information? Is this why project based learning, cross-curricular integrated units, genius hour, and personalized learning is becoming significantly more popular? Is this why schools are trying to shift away from grades-based learning to competency-based learning? Is there a better way for students to prove their understanding not just their compliance to educational norms?
    I'll be honest, even as an instructional technologist, I find the possibilities for education in the future mind boggling. I want to make sure we are being student centered as we adopt and adapt education. I don't want to throw out the baby with the bath water but I also want to know we aren't accepting antiquated ways of doing things "because we've always done it this way." And so I ask the question again..."what is the value of Googleable questions?" and "What new expectations should we be placing on students?"

    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 ├╝ber 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.

    Wednesday, February 15, 2017

    The Writing Process that Utilizes Tech Integration

    I've been thinking about ways to utilize the efficiencies of edtech and create consistencies for our students lately. While teachers may all expect MLA format at our school, do we also expect the same process in writing? I am not an english teacher but I do enjoy writing. Our school does a wonderful job of growing students that can whip out a paper in no time. It's definitely one of our academic strengths. I believe that is because we see writing across the curriculum, which is a wonderful thing. I also know that some rubrics are either being worked on or are in place to grade papers equally no matter what the subject matter. I love that. 

    I can't help but wonder how does technology support that well-oiled process because well...that's what I do...wonder about technology. So I am using this blog post to brainstorm possible ways to suggest technology be utilized both for efficiencies of the teacher/grader as well as to create efficiencies, standardized expectations, and additional learning opportunities for the students.
    Prewriting: That time when students are gathering together in their mind what this paper will say and look like. It's the prep stage. I'll always remember sitting in on a fourth grade teacher explaining the parts of a paragraph to his students as a hamburger. I had never heard that before and it has always stuck with me. We, as educators, work hard to help our students learn to write. For many students this planning stage might best be done through pen and paper. Why not allow students to plan using the Wave Rocketbook notebook that would back up to their Google drive? Or let them use some mind mapping tool like Popplet to organize their thought processes to decide which direction to go? Or let them organize their main parts of their paper in Google Docs and allow peer review feedback via comments? 

    Drafting: We are a school that uses GSuites. The ability to create their first draft in Google Docs adds so much robustness to the writing process because of the ability to give immediate feedback as soon as a peer or teacher makes suggestions. The ability to see past correction histories in the process can help writers maneuver forward in creating a very good paper. The beauty of self-saving Google Docs is there is less pressure to work on the fine tuning and more ability to just GO while writing. Research shows us that in the process of paper writing creativity is stronger when typing due to the fact that the brain works faster than we can physically write. The act of "writing" slows us down. While I don't believe technology integration = typing papers in class, I do believe the efficiencies of faster creation and a teacher working the room either virtually in a document or reading over a student's shoulder is a huge benefit to today's classrooms. 

    Revising and Editing: There are multiple ways that Google Docs aids the revising and editing stages even before anyone other than the author lays eyes on it. For instance, teaching students to turn on the editing options (to the upper right of the paper) as they type allows them to learn as they go. 
    One of the more recent features of Google Docs that can help students in researching is the "EXPLORE" feature that allows a student to access a web browser within the Google Doc to quickly look up things to support their writing. This can be found under the Tools tab on the tool bar.

    While talking about research, here is where others might disagree with me but I think we are at a time where it is more imperative than ever that we help students learn what plagiarism is and we allow them to make corrections before they actually "turn in the paper."  When I was in high school (a long time ago) I think it was easier to realize if you were plagiarizing or not. I went to a library to gather a limited amount of resources and I read through them. Because it was a limited amount of resources, it was easy to remember what I read verses what I inferred from what I read. Today's students can pick up their device and have access to oodles of information on any given topic. I think it is easier than ever before to plagiarize and not even realize it. Look at all the hot topic media reports of various celebrities and politicians being called out for plagiarism. I know this is a judgment on my part but I wonder if it is truly intentional plagiarism much of the time. 

    By expecting students to import their papers to something like before turning it in for grading, we help our students become aware of what plagiarism is in the process. Not only that, we put the owness on our students to correct grammatical errors before they get to the teacher (this works unless you are actually grading for grammar obviously). The point I'm trying to make is this can become an effective teaching tool in itself and make for efficiencies for our teachers. I do not think running a paper through a self-checking software means it is a good paper. I do think it can be part of steps that could ensure a paper is well written though.

    Rewriting: Teachers being able to give feedback during the revisions stage (after going through something like via Google Docs comments allows the teachers to see if corrections to suggestions were actually made or just ignored. Instead of having multiple papers in front of them of drafts, this makes for efficiencies as well. On the student side, to be able to click "resolve" in the process of rewrites creates a neatness of process for the student. Dare I say receiving suggestions or questions from a teacher via comments instead of pen marks potentially written all over a page is also both easier to read for the student and less overwhelming when doing final writes?

    Publishing: In the past, a "published" document basically meant a teacher and maybe the students in the class got to see the finished document but in today's world the ability to allow students authentic feedback from the world at large is both an amazing ability and meets the ISTE (International Society for Technology Education) standards for students in multiple areas in regards to educational technology. What if our students added their paper to a blog? Shared their paper with a prominent author on the subject of their paper? Created an opportunity for authentic feedback by emailing the paper to scientists, historians, or others they feel might connect with what they have said? 

    To repeat the process I think might best meet both student and teacher needs in integrating technology into writing:

    1. Students receive rubric for assignment when the assignment is explained.
    2. Students create mind maps in their planning stages, either by using digital paper or online graphic organizers.
    3. Students draft their paper in Google Docs and utilize both the editing options and the explore options during this process.
    4. Students upload the paper to to look for both grammatical and plagiarism issues and then rewrite after receiving the results but before sharing with teacher/grader.
    5. Students share document with teacher/peers for review and feedback. Comments in Google Docs are used to make the process of corrections more streamlined for students.
    6. Expectations for publishing are in place for (x) number of papers a year for every student.

    I know I am not an English teacher so I wonder what parts of this seem worrisome? A burden?....Thoughts?