Total Pageviews:

Friday, August 18, 2017

Total Eclipse...A Lasting Memory


For the past 2 weeks I have had Bonnie Tyler's song "Total Eclipse of the Heart" running through my head. If you are too young to know the song, that's a shame. But the reason is clear to me why it's become an ear worm...a total eclipse of the sun will happen Monday within 20 miles of my home. A total solar eclipse is a really big deal and every single day I get another email about it from fellow educators. It's exciting times for the area I live in.

Many schools are out that day and our school has an early dismissal. Thousands of people are suppose to come to the total eclipse path. News agencies have actually suggested that people gas up for that because of potential traffic. At our school, it will only be the third day of school for students but we have already started teaching about it. One of our amazing lower school science teachers created a wonderful display explaining it from a Christian worldview for our students to see and she also created a video to go along with it. Alice Sikkema's passion for science is evident and her desire for students to understand this phenomenon is contagious.

As I reflect and look forward to being able to experience this solar eclipse I am reminded of another time in my life. 1979. I was standing in the hallway by a window in Crestmont Elementary School in Northport, Alabama looking down at a piece of paper and watching the shadows of the eclipse through a pinhole on a piece of card stock. This was way before the days of Amazon Prime, NASA approved glasses, and the internet. I remember being told very strongly "DO NOT LOOK AT THE SUN, YOU CAN GO BLIND" but I looked. It was too mysterious not to try to catch a brief peek and honestly, the paper version of it was bizarre for my elementary mind to wrap around.

Just like now, I remember it being a really big deal to my teachers. I remember being told "this doesn't happen very often." Quite honestly I feel like I'm having a Mark Twain moment in my life, He had Halley's comet I've been around long enough and in the right place often enough to witness 2 total solar eclipses.

I'm writing this post to just affirm in you that I still have very vivid memories of this taking place in my life as an elementary student some 38 years ago. I remember discussions in the hallway with fellow students, I remember the disruption of the ordinary this moment brought to our school, I remember the intrigue of taking a risk and glancing up wondering if I truly was going to go blind from it. I remember not believing that was true. I remember wanting to know more about that and how long do you have to look before it does something to these cones and rods I supposedly had in my eyes that I have never heard of. It sparked wonder and a desire to learn more in me. I share this with you to say If you are an educator or parent, don't let this opportunity for learning slip away. If it sparks questions, let your students dig deeper. Sometimes the best teachable moments aren't in the lesson plan for your grade level. Sometimes the pacing guide needs to be put aside. This phenomenon is a great way to open conversations about being a global student as well. For many of us school is just getting started, we are setting expectations but it's ok to deviate. From one little girl from Northport, Alabama that decided a solar eclipse just made her want to learn more... I give you permission to teach the current moment. ;)

Friday, August 4, 2017

On Task Device Usage

A few years back I "did the edtech circuit" talking about best practice of classroom management of devices. Our school had chosen not to buy additional software options for monitoring, etc so we created a system of expectations for our students that was the same from class to class. At that point iPads were the only device being used in our elementary school. This blog post is a repeat for iPad users but I'm now adding ideas for chromebooks because we are doing a 1:1 chromebook rollout for them this year. There is much overlap in best practice to keep students on task, good classroom management is fairly device agnostic. What I will say is that if a teacher struggled with classroom management before devices were available then the appearance of devices can actually magnify this issue. If you are a teacher that feels classroom management is hard for you being diligent in consistent expectations regarding technology is imperative.

1. Seating arrangement. I blogged on the subject of seating arrangements with practical desk set up ideas in May of 2013. I still believe wholeheartedly in the importance of creating a culture where a teacher is not stuck at the front of a room when devices are being used. The best way to insure on task behavior is engagement of the lesson and movement of the instructor. I've seen teachers own this. Spending a little time explaining expectations of movement into different seating arrangements can allow you to transition between whole group, small group, and debate all in a 45 minute class seating with very little interruption. Creating settings where you can see the screens while students work is a very easy way to create accountability of on task behavior as well. For one teacher in my elementary school this is as easy as teaching one group of students at the front of the class while the second group works on their computers with their backs to her so she can see over their shoulders while she teachers. She simply asks them to sit on the opposite side of their desks.

Not all schools have flexible seating and I believe there is great value in it but remember that the comfiness and sometimes secludedness of flexible seating isn't always a good combination for a student that is tempted by off-task behavior. Remember to work the classroom often if your students are secluded while engaged with technology.

2. Key words.  In 2013 when my school became a more tech-rich school, I wanted to set expectations for student usage that didn't slow me down in the midst of a lesson. I also wanted to see these expectations used throughout our school for consistency in what our students could expect as well. I created the following graphics to hang in classrooms as a reminder to our teachers and students:
The Chromebook visual represents 3 ideas-

  • Traffic light. As students walk in or transition to a different part of the lesson, the teacher can say today red (no tech needed), yellow (we will use tech but wait on instructions), green (get going with your tech)
  • 45. This is asking students to close their device at a 45 degree angle to observe something else happening in the room. This prevents the need to sign on again but gives you their attention.
  • 1,2,3...all eyes on me. This is a great way to interrupt for more information/instruction but also insure students are listening. You might need to adjust the saying for older students. 

The iPad visual represents 3 ideas as well-
  • Flip. Devices are to be flipped over so the screen can't be seen. I start every class with a flipped expectation unless otherwise noted. This also is a great way to interrupt device usage for more information/instruction. 
  • Flat. This is an expectation that all devices are to remain flat on the desk until told otherwise. This is a great choice when you are in the front of the room for something because it allows you to continue to see the device screens to make sure students are on task when you don't have the ability to move around the room because of the lesson. 
  • Close. I like to start lessons asking students to close all open apps on their devices with a double click of the home button and swiping the apps closed. That way I know the only apps that should be open on their devices are the ones I've asked them to open as the lesson has progressed. If I sense off-task behavior I can easily walk by a student, double tap the home button and see if there is anything open that shouldn't be. I can also tell you that students are really good at opening and swiping apps to close them fast in order to check things. They learn this trick quickly. 
3. Accountability. Some districts have chosen ways to both monitor and control student access beyond filtering. For us, we have not done this for our iPads but we will be doing it for our Chromebook rollout with the addition of Go Guardian . I do believe there are other ways to help insure on task behavior as well. Using Nearpod to "create, engage, and assess" gives educators more control in the classroom and even the free version is of value. Recently I read of a school district that has their students create a PDF of their browsing history at the end of the day and email it to their teachers and/or guardians with a sentence or two about "what they learned today." While your email inbox might get full really fast, what a great way to create a quick formative assessment option and spot check for on task behavior! 

As I said before, the best way to insure on task behavior is to have an engaging lesson and to work the classroom as an educator. When I experience off task behavior during my lessons it causes me to take a hard look at the way I teach and what I am teaching. The days of 45 minutes of lecture from the front of the class are over if your students have devices (and really those days should be over regardless). If you are fortunate enough to have access to technology then use it to transform your classroom. Be firm with your expectations and your key word usage. Spend some time at the beginning of the year practicing desk movement, and key word responses. Creating a culture of expectation of change creates a culture of engagement. Put color coded washi tape on your floor and label it with a desk number to help students quickly adjust to your request to move to "debate, traditional, small group, etc" mode. Have contests between your classes by timing them to see how quickly period one transitions versus period 7. Don't get stuck in "devices are just a distraction" land. Create an environment that builds on their benefits! And lastly, don't be afraid to set a classroom acceptable use policy that clearly states the expectations and the consequences if things don't go as planned. 

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Living a "PLAN B" Life with a "PLAN A" Heart


It seems we all have a Plan A that we expect from life, expectations that we really want to happen and that we really want to achieve, but sometimes life has other plans and all of a sudden we are living Plan B.

Sometimes Plan B looks similar to Plan A and we adjust readily. Sometimes Plan B feels as meaningful and wanted as Plan Z. Life throws these crazy curve balls at us that we didn't see coming and all of a sudden we feel all we are doing is dodging bad pitches and wildly swinging back in hopes of contacting something that looks like normality.

As I sit here today my heart is heavy for several people in my life dealing with the ugliness of cancer or potential cancer. My heart feels burdened for the families that are living out Plan B that looks a lot like Plan Z...a plan they never would have chosen. It really puts things in perspective a bit for myself.

As I think about the next few weeks and school starting back and the things that are weighing heavily on me I realize how much of life feels like Plan A most of the time if I will just focus on the good and reflect on the positives.

As educators we often find ourselves throwing our hands in the air (mentally) and thinking "Well that didn't work!" or "Will they ever understand that!" or heaven forbid that fleeting thought of "I don't think that student can do this." We find ourselves living in Plan B because just like a reflection of the world we live in, our classroom is messy- its dynamics, its students, its teacher, and the families that are represented all live in an imperfect world. Let's face it, life is messy.

As we start this school year with goals we want to accomplish and new ideas that have been made priorities for us, let us be gracious to remember we are all living in a Plan B world. We all have burdens and barriers that make learning hard and teaching hard. We all work with people who have expectations that impact us as well...chances are their expectations have become Plan B as well, in order to create an environment that works with everyone else's needs.

Life is not perfect but it can be perfectly ok when we allow ourselves to accept Plan B and make the most of it. It means to keep plodding along. It means to remember that co-worker or student you are working with day in and day out that just rubs you the wrong way may actually be living out a Plan Z life right now, be patient and forgiving. It may mean a lesson plan bombs because you just don't feel equipped to do what is being asked of you but you have the ability to fail forward. Learn from the moment and turn that bad situation into something that causes you to grow into a better you. You may have seen your class roster and are already thinking "Oh no, this is going to be a hard group of kids" but rise to the challenge of a Plan B year and prepare yourself to do your best.

My youngest daughter and I went to her college orientation last week and on the way up there Kendall said, "Mom, I'm going to thrive in college." Yes, her word...thrive. I said, "That's good to know!" I love that she is a Plan A kind of thinker. I also know she knows what it's life to feel like life seems unfair because at age 11 she was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes...believe me, that August day 7 years ago was a Plan Z feeling day. But she's pushed back, she's living the life she wants to live and she isn't giving in to the alternative plans that were pushed on her.

My challenge to myself and to the other educators out their today is to keep your Plan B days in perspective. This might not be the path you thought you would be going on but it doesn't have to be a bad path, just choose to keep moving forward. We rarely grow when we are comfortable. Be willing to accept, adapt, adopt when need be. We live in a fallen world and we are all impacted by that.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

3 Ways Tech Can Negatively Impact Classroom Learning


As an instructional technologist, I am always looking for tools to aid in the learning process. I believe wholeheartedly that when integrated well technology adds engagement, opportunities for advanced/deeper learning, and possibilities for teachers to be more relational. That being said, I also believe that technology can become a babysitter and the idea of putting access to the world in the hands of students as a babysitter is a little unnerving to me.

This blog post is to help teachers think critically about the way they integrate technology. The following are 3 ways that technology can negatively impact classroom learning:


  1. Not choosing the right resource for the job. Think of all the decision making going into choosing a textbook. If you are using technology as part of instruction, the same level of digging deeper to see if it is a quality app or website needs to be done. Common Sense Media does a great job in helping you decide if an app or website is a good choice through their review portion of their website https://www.commonsense.org/education/reviews/all . There are also probably people on your campus or in your school district that can give you some suggestions on good edtech choices...do you have a tech coach? math coach? literacy coach? curriculum coordinator? Ask them what they would suggest for your task at hand.
  2. Not using educational technology intentionally. There is a big push, and rightly so, towards station rotation blended learning. Walk into a classroom that has access to technology and you will often see subjects being taught in small groups with at least one being a tech-based option. This is a great way for teachers to work with smaller groups or individuals in order to help students fill gaps or personalize their learning. Be careful of the culture of this type of classroom though. Set the classroom up so you can make sure the students using technology are on task the whole time they are in the technology-driven rotation. If not, you have just decreased their math learning time by whatever time they have spent in that particular rotation. If you are not being intentional and checking to see if they are truly on task each day, you are undermining yourself. This might mean starting the year with a volunteer working the room while you teach your small groups. It definitely will mean explaining to your students that every rotation is as important as the other. Which leads me to my third point...
  3. Not looking at data. Orange may be the new black but Data is the new teacher homework. We aren't use to looking at data daily but whatever amount of time you used to spend grading papers every night, now use it to look at your student's daily data. This data allows you to see the gaps and reassess to best meet needs THE FOLLOWING DAY. With the advent of intuitive assessments that adjust to students knowledge, we can meet the students where they are but this is only good if it is being monitored and used. 
There are many teachers not using technology as a true teaching tool in the classroom and more for creation and curation but if you are tapping into this gift of technology by using the tools that support your classroom teaching, make sure you are not lazy with the way your are utilizing it. It's easy to look around the room and think, "they must be making progress, everyone is on task" but you have immediate feedback in the form of formative assessments using technology...utilize it to feel confident you are meeting needs as best you can.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

QR Codes for Class Night Sign Ups?



One of the things I'm quickly learning as an instructional technologist is that teaching parents how to use technology you are using in the classroom eases their mind a bit and gives them a sense of understanding. In our elementary school we use QR codes quite a bit to help students easily access information, websites, and videos as part of their learning and sharing.

As I started thinking on this, I decided why not introduce parents to QR codes on the first day of school? Our teachers have sign up sheets outside their doors each year for our PTO to access for volunteers as well as the teachers themselves. What if instead of a pencil hanging there, there were QR codes that linked to a sign up on Sign Up Genius? I use the free version of Sign Up Genius and I love it because it is real time for whoever has the sign in credentials, it has pre-made templates to help in whatever type of sign up you are trying to do!  Here is a how-to video on creating QR codes for yourself:

So here are a few things I think would be neat to use QR codes for school:
  • Teacher introductions. Create a quick video of yourself with fun facts about you and post it outside your classroom door. 
  • Instructions. Busy teaching a small group in a rotation? Create a QR code for the other groups so the students can hear you giving them instructions for each rotation when they get there.
  • Weekly updates. Create QR codes that are dynamic (can change to a new place) and do your weekly reminders and updates.
  • Student sharing. Have students create QR codes to link to something they have created regarding their learning and post them outside in your hallway as a gallery of learning.
  • At the front door. Create a QR code that tells visitors where they are and what the process is for entering and visiting at the school.
  • At various places on campus. New cool building or football stadium? Create a QR code for telling others about the pride you have in these things and how it will be used for the betterment of your students. Both home team and visitors will be able to learn more about your school. 
  • Sports teams. Put a dynamic QR code on your school t-shirts that links to your roster and season stats. 


Thursday, July 13, 2017

Wonderful Ways to Make Educational Graphics

Created with Canva

Canva - I love Canva so much that one day I tweeted about it and a stranger said, "Wow, are you getting paid by Canva? If not you should be!" Canva allows me to quickly make graphics for the top of handouts, for blog posts, for Twitter posts, for creating business cards, etc and I don't have to be a great graphic artist to do it because of all the templates. I have always used the free version of Canva, although I will say that is getting harder to do as it seems harder to find free graphic options on their platform but I do it! Create your free account today and give the things you create a more polished, professional look. The graphic above was created with Canva.

Typorama - Do you often take photos using your iPhone or iPad and want to turn them into a graphic? I do. I could always upload them to Canva but Typorama has become my recent "go to" when creating graphics from photos on my phone. They also have an endless free supply of stock photos that are easy to search by keyword that allows me to make inspirational graphics for my instagram edu account https://www.instagram.com/juliedavisedu/

Google Draw - Looking for a way to create diagrams and charts? Google draw is the bomb diggity! With a grid on your blank canvas and the ability to constantly save and backup to your Google Suites accounts, Google Draw is a natural for creating things like school maps, seating charts, scientific method steps, etc.

Red Stamp -
Made with Red Stamp
I will be honest, I didn't even know there was a website for Red Stamp until I started this blog post. I've always used the iOs app to create my personalized cards. Red Stamp is a great way to send a thank you note digitally to students and families, create party invitations, encourage someone, etc. Are you in a 1:1 environment? Imagine yourself daily affirming a student through a personalized Red Stamp card. Everyone loves "mail"!

Created with CariCartoon
CariCartoon - Most of the things I use are free but I just couldn't resist this iOs app for $1.99. You upload or take a photo of your face and it turns it into a cartoon. I've used it to create buzz for speaking events and as a way to create safe versions of students on the web that protects them.

Sticky AI - I haven't used this iOS app yet except to play with it but I see if becoming part of my graphic arsenal. Tony Vincent (learninghand.com) recently shared about it on Instagram. It allows you to turn selfies into stickers that you can upload to messaging platforms or save them and use them anywhere. what I like is the fact that the app automatically detects the background of the photo and cuts it away...something that takes forever to do in the past.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Tech Connecting With Next Year's Students



As a student, I remember getting letters in the mail in the summer from my next grade level teacher. I remember thinking "No, not yet!" but I also remember liking the fact that he or she reached out to me. With the advent of technology, it's even easier to reach out to your future students. Here are three ways to start working on your classroom culture, learn about your students, and introduce your students (and maybe even yourself) to some classroom edtech tools that you will be implementing in the school year.


  • SeeSaw is a great student driven digital platform that allows students to upload content to share with you, their class, and even their families. Create a free account, share the class codes with the families, set the settings where you have to ok anything before it's posted and have the students do things like:
    • Tell you how to pronounce their first and last name via a handwritten drawing of their name with voice over
    • Tell you something fun they have done this summer via a photo upload
    • Tell you one thing they want you to know about them via video
  • Flipgrid is another way to have students use video to share something with you, think of it like the Brady Bunch opening. Check out this flipgrid I made to introduce the tool to some of my teachers this past school year https://flipgrid.com/1448e8  Perhaps you could use flipgrid this summer to:
    • Introduce one of your first units and ask students to share one thing they already know about the theme (pre-test)
    • Get with your grade level teachers or out of classroom teachers and introduce yourselves this way to the entire grade level
    • Ask students to dress as a character of a book they have read this summer and do a quick book talk.
  • Google Classroom Are you a Google Suites school? What a great way to create an "assignment" in Google Classroom and have students learn the basics of class communication and organization that is associated with all things googly!
While each of these things reach out to your future students, it also quite possibly reaches out to their parents as well. Introducing these tools to both students and parents at the same time creates an opportunity for parents to learn about the tools right off the bat! Don't require your students to participate...but if they want to, keep it up and start your relational learning of the students and families you are going to have the pleasure of working with ASAP. 

Thursday, June 29, 2017

My #ISTE17 Takeaways



Rachelle and myself
Traveling alone to ISTE this year gave me lots of time alone with my thoughts and my learning. Meeting up with my friend Rachelle Poth on the last day led to one of my greatest moments of reflection. When we talked about the things we had done during the week it was very different from each other. Rachelle presented multiple times (and I must say she's amazing at sharing her classroom stories) and I was there as an attendee only.
For me, that moment was a realization that ISTE meets needs in many different ways for many different personality types. It's easy to get lost in the crowd if that is what you want or to be in the middle of everything learning AND social. I was "all in" for learning this week and here are my takeaways to learning more about:


  • Google Applied Digital Skills- Yes, I did stand in a 30 minute line for a 30 minute session to learn more about Google's new Applied Digital Skills curriculum.
     A free, stand alone curriculum that can be found at https://www.cs-first.com/en/apps. Our school recently started looking at the scope and sequence of digital skills we want our students to have by the time they graduate from our school. What I love about this curriculum is that many of these skills could be mastered with these very relevant curriculum ideas that 13+ year old students would both enjoy doing and benefit from. 
  • Snapping, Gramming, and Scoping Your Way to Engagement-  
    Shaelynn, Steven, and myself
                              
      Educators Steven Anderson (@web20classroom) and Shaelynn Farnsworth (@shfarnsworth) created an interactive learning opportunity that challenged me in how to reach students, teachers, families, and constituencies with the use of social media. I've often used social media to share the story of our school using the hashtag #ccslearns but I'll be honest, I think my assumed audience was almost always my professional learning network. I am currently reflecting on how I can use it more to reach broader in my own school community. Steven's sharing of data shows a window of opportunity to reach our families and share our stories in a platform that will be looked at. As most schools can attest, the percentage of emails sent and read by families is small. Why not meet them where they already are looking? And as I've heard often but don't know who said it, "someone is going to tell your story, shouldn't it be you?" 
  • Big news from Wonder Workshop: Challenge Cards- Dash and Dot are some of our favorite  robots to introduce robotics to preschool and elementary students. What a great opportunity to meet Charlotte this week- she's the creator of the new "Challenge Cards: K-5 Learn to Code Starter Pack" that hit the market in September. I had a little look at the cards and can't wait to add them to our curriculum. These cards "meet both CSTA and ISTE standards are aligned with Code.org's Computer Science Fundamentals series." (store.makewonder.com)
    Charlotte of Wonder Workshop 
  • Creating Interactive Professional Development Opportunities- This idea has been growing in my head since Edcamp Gigcity but attending a session by Michele Eaton solidified in my head how I want to do this. I plan to introduce one tool every 2 months to our teachers (I'm working on curating those tools now) via an interactive introduction that they can access at any time. My hope is that in the two months the teachers will try the tool in their own classrooms.
Obviously there were tons of learning moments at ISTE for me both in and out of the conference center, it's like learning from a firehose, but these are the top things I am excited about!





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



Friday, April 28, 2017

Looking Ahead



I love when I'm given the opportunity to work with great educators to collaborate for greater good. What an honor and a privilege to be part of next week's 5-part series from four other bloggers that I greatly admire! You don't want to miss this next week as we each share ideas on how to be both strategic and intentional with finishing out the school year even though testing is over.

It's the time of year where we educators are weary! We hope that our blog posts next week will inspire you to look at this time as an opportunity. Make sure you bookmark these blogs and get ready to be blown away. Not only do I think these are some amazing men but they represent the great state of Tennessee so well!

  • Monday: My friend Mick Shuran, principal of West Middle School in Tullahoma, Tennessee will share his thoughts at http://mickshuran.com I love the passion and excitement that Mick brings in any education discussion he is in!

  • Tuesday: Straight out of Chattanooga, Tennessee I will be sharing some things that I think might be worthy of trying during this time when there is safety in failing but with a mindset of "failing forward" http://techhelpful.blogspot.com/

  • Wednesday: Christopher King, a fellow instructional technologist, who is also from Tullahoma City Schools system shakes up the stage in true "introduction of new tech tools fashion" with a VLOG (that's a video based blog) that can be found at http://firesidechats.blog/

  • Thursday: Moving around the state a bit more, Jacob Dunn is a Social Studies chair from McMinnville, Tennessee and brings such great value from the classroom perspective. He evens the rest of us out because he is truly in the trenches. His blog can be found at https://cultivateedu.com/

  • Friday: Thomas Fuhrman is an innovative, deep thinking principal at Jere Whitson Elementary School in Cookeville, Tennessee and I can guarantee he will end our week of posts with nuggets of wisdom! His blog can be found at https://tfuhrman.wordpress.com/


Get ready to for a week of intentional helps to end the school year strong and teach until the end! 

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Student-Centered Education?



Buzz words run up my spine when they are thrown around. I'm not saying I don't see value in the concepts but there always seems to be cyclical educational buzz words that become in vogue for a while and then go out of style. Because of this, these words all come with connotations to each of us and what I have found is we don't always respond or think the same way because of our own interpretations. Student-centered can be one of those words. To some this means a Montessori approach to education where teachers "encourage independence, freedom within limits, and a sense of order." (http://amshq.org/Montessori%20Education/Introduction%20to%20Montessori), for others can mean just being mindful that the purpose of education is not about the education itself but about the student. Of course there are varying ideas in between. I do believe in the value of school systems having their own meaningful language so that everyone is on the same page.

That being said, I've had a few things happen in the last couple of days that make me really think about what I think Student-Centered should mean. As a huge fan of personalized learning, I believe that plays a big part in what I think the education process should be. Creating opportunities to meet the individual student's needs instead of the class as a whole is the future of education through the leveraging of technology. But student-centered is something much more basic to me than that. When decisions are being made in the context of impacting our students directly, I believe it should always be run through a screen of "is this product/person/pedagogy/plan good for the student?" Sometimes in today's world we see decisions made that make it easier on the institution or teacher. When ideas are put forth it is the natural instinct for us to ask "how does this impact me and the way I teach?" I know I struggle with not going there first when dealing with change. I also know I have made choices that actually have been harder for me as an educator because it was what I thought was what was best for the students. Student-centered also means growing that child through opportunities that might make a process harder in the long run for me as an educator. For instance, allowing voice and choice in how they share their learning, or creating opportunities for students to represent the voice of their peers in strategic meetings regarding school policies. Student-centered for me also means asking a kid, "how could I have made that lesson better?" and valuing their feedback.

This really hit home big to me today when I found out my oldest daughter was sitting in one of her final exams that she had stayed up late to study for and the professor tapped her on the shoulder and said "you have an A, you don't have to take this exam." Happily, Jessica jumped up and left the test but she texted me and said "I wish he would have told me I didn't have to take it sooner, but it was a nice surprise!" I asked her why she didn't know and she said he hadn't posted all the assignments before the exam so she wasn't 100% sure where she stood. Quite honestly I was ticked. This is a kid that is taking a full load in college and working 30+ hours a week as a manager in our family donut shop. How student-centered was the fact that she had to study for the exam, then show up, and be in process of taking the exam before knowing she didn't have to take the test?

Everyday we teach students that are being molded into their future adult selves. Allowing them some autonomy, creating visions with them, guiding through mentorship, and teaching them how to become lifelong learners without us there is imperative because they are constantly bombarded in a world that doesn't value anyone very well. I think it is key for us to always be asking ourselves if the decisions we are making today by procrastinating, having a fixed mindset, or having our own agenda are truly what is best for the student. Students are the reason we chose to go into education. As a brilliant coworker Matt Monahan said, "teaching is a great way to value people over things." My prayer is that I am ever mindful of that statement.

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 snopes.com 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.