Thursday, May 31, 2018

The Value of Pausing

What is the function of a pause button? To hit pause means you still want to continue but you need a little breather. When you are watching a movie, maybe you pause for a bathroom break. When you are listening to a podcast, maybe you pause because something more pressing needs your attention at the moment. The point I'm trying to make is that to pause is very different than hitting stop.

In the summer I often take some intentional pauses for my own mental health. It can look very different based on where I am emotionally, spiritually and professionally. Right now I am in the midst of what I would call a "redirect pause." I am being intentional about attending events, reading resources and learning more about the negative impacts technology can have on us but I AM an instructional technologist. While that might not make sense to some people, I think it is very important that I always be aware of latest research that both positively and negatively represents technology and more specifically educational technology.

This week I had the privilege of leading some professional development sessions for our school system. At the end of a session about formative assessment I was asked two questions by one of the participants who has not been working in a technology-rich classroom but will be teaching with us next year:

  • Do you feel students are easily distracted by technology?
  • What are your biggest concerns about technology in the classroom?
So those 20 fellow educators were stuck there listening to my answers!

My answer to the first question was unequivocally YES. Technology is a disrupter but I firmly believe that the benefits outweigh its frustrations if we are intentionally using technology in a classroom that supports not only engagement but learning. I do believe technology in the classroom means that it becomes harder to teach in a traditional way. Classroom management is important when technology is present and you as a teacher are speaking. It is a natural time for students to drift off task. Teachers have to set expectations and stick with them. 

The second question pricked this part of me that never gets to speak. I mean my job is to hark the benefits of technology and show educators how to use it....what are my biggest concerns? I took a big breath and my answer was, "I worry about the siloing nature of technology. I worry about the way it is impacting conversations. I worry that technology companies have duped us into using their products and we haven't considered the consequences." I then said, "I do think educational technology companies are doing a better job of seeing their responsibility in the way they build their platforms. I also feel we, as educators, are able to discern what works best for us where it all felt like a whirlwind as we started trying things in the classroom." 

Today I attended a session by Dr. Larry Rosen during a Neuroscience & Education Symposium. Tonight I find myself dwelling on the way the different generations look at technology. We looked at research data that compared Baby Boomers, Generation X, Net Generation, iGeneration and Generation C. Tonight I sit here thinking about how to share technology information with the various generations that teach at CCS in a way that helps them to understand the dynamics of Generation C. It feels both overwhelming and exciting. 

And the one thing that could cause a myriad of crazy conversations is the concept of "tech breaks" during the schedule so that students can reconnect with the technology platforms of their choice in order to be less distracted from FOMO (fear of missing out) and constantly trying to check it when the teacher isn't looking. The research was amazing to consider. Thankful for this pause that helps me to see more about pausing. 

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Why Small School Districts Should be Leading the Way in Innovation

This year I have chosen to focus on the good. My one word for January was "perspective" and I have worked hard to see my surroundings through a positive lens this school year, to celebrate the things that happen in our school that makes us uniquely special and gives me pause to have pride in where I work. I've always been thankful for this school system, they helped me raise my two girls, gave me a sense of belonging, nurtured and challenged me into the educator I am today and continues to push me.

When I am being intentional about my perspective, it magnifies the thoughts and processes that roam inside my head. I've even been told I am overthinking things, which is a bit funny because I see myself more as too decisive and action-oriented these days because I was definitely an over-thinker in the past. Balance, always looking for my balance.

But I digress. The thing I really appreciate the most by realigning my perspective to positivity is the fact that I work for a district that can get things done. Things don't stagnate or suffer from paralysis of analysis. If the right people accept an idea that anyone has, things can get done around here. I think part of this is because we are a smaller district (a pre-K school of 1400 students) and anyone that needs to be part of a decision is within walking distance of each other.  I also think it is because we are a private school and the mandates that some of you have to deal with don't impact us.

If you want a big dose of perspective start hanging out with educators from various districts. One of my most enlightening endeavors monthly is being part of our local #CHAedu #coffeeEDU where a few educators choose to spend an hour discussing education topics of our choice. This was the first place I realized how fortunate I was to be at CCS in terms of getting things done. I heard fellow educators in different districts, in different roles talk about trying to bring great opportunities to their school but not being allowed to or having to fight really hard for it because "it wouldn't be equitable between the different schools in the district." I guess I understand that on one hand but on the other hand if every school had empowered educators wanting to bring special stuff and being able to do so, does it have to be the exact same thing?

That being said, I think every sized district has its on perspectives that make it unique and valuable to education. If you want to make sure a tech rollout goes well, see what a successful large district did and adapt their concept to yours. If you can rollout tech to 20,000 students successfully, you should be modeled.

What I realize is that smaller school districts should be leading the way in innovation. There seems to be less red tape to cut through in order to create change. I would also say that in smaller districts there is more likely the possibility that the key players/decision makers wear multiple hats and the sphere of influence is more encompassing. This allows for informed decisions to be made quicker, with the word informed being the key word. In smaller districts, administrators often have multiple wheelhouses. This can be helpful when dealing with innovative strategies because the moving parts have a greater opportunity of working like a well oiled machine instead of a sticky cog.

A friend of mine who works in public education once said to me, "I think public schools could learn a thing or two from your school. You all have the ability of doing much with little." He was talking about funding, and he was right! When you know the funds are limited, you get creative in the ways you meet needs. I think it is the nature of the small district beast to have an innovative mindset.

I'm going to push this concept even a bit farther...I believe Christian schools have a responsibility to be innovators. We follow the greatest innovator of all- Jesus fed 5,000 people with 5 loaves and 2 fish! We should always be looking for ways to meet needs, it is one of the things we are called to do as Christians. We should be modeling for the world what meeting needs looks like, including in the classroom. In my opinion this means we should be looking at our constituency through the monocle of innovation (the place where needs intersect with passion) and individuality.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Student Led Professional Development

I've been at school since 6:45am.  I was anxious about my morning and the lofty goals I had. It's now 10:00am and I am basking in the glory of positive completion! This morning ended a 9 week elective opportunity for students that signed up for the "Lower School Tech Team" elective. This team has worked for 9 weeks to create an Escape Room opportunity for the lower school teachers that taught them about STEAM tools. These 8 students created lesson plans and how to videos and modeled how you can teach using an Escape Room as the lesson.

This morning all the lower school teachers had a staggered start to come in and allow the students to show them how to use Dash Cleverbots, Ozobots, Sphero Robotics, Makey Makeys, and Echo Dots in the classroom. Based on feedback from teachers in January, this was an area they felt they needed more training in. The students manned all 5 stations and had the teachers learn more about these tools. As someone that was both nervous about allowing students to lead the PD and hoping that it truly would be seen as beneficial, I truly enjoyed hearing the interactions and the "aha moments" happening as each grade level worked their way through the challenges. Every grade level got through the 5 challenges in less than 20 minutes and my hope is that the teachers will have walked away thinking about potential ways they can use these tools in their own classroom in the future.

The thing that I am most proud of is allowing these students to have the opportunity to be part of authentic learning. The problem put before them was "The teachers want to learn more about tech tools." These kids showed up at 7:30am this morning (even though on Wednesdays their day starts at 9:00am) and enthusiastically taught their teachers what they knew. They supported without "doing it for them." Every one of them left feeling accomplished, needed, and fulfilled in what they participated in this morning. Students want authentic learning and to share their learning more globally. The morning of sharing with the lower school teachers and the website they created for reference allowed them this opportunity. Remember, this was an elective. Think on that for a moment!

Monday, May 14, 2018

Echo Dot Kids Edition- For Education?

I've been fairly pumped about the Echo Dot Kids Edition coming out. My pre-ordered one came in this past week and the 10 minute video at the bottom of this post is me unboxing and digging into its capabilities. I was beyond excited about the safeguards the Echo Dot Kids Edition would offer an educational setting. I immediately asked it questions I would hope it wouldn't answer and my brief synopsis was that it did feel much safer to use with youngsters. I did like the fact that when setting up profiles for children it asked the age of the child but also allowed me to override and set stricter settings if I wanted to do so. I have yet to really dig into all the suggested apps for the kids edition but I believe any parent or educator could find multiple reasons to see this as a benefit to learning. One of the things I like the most about it is that it gives young students access to information and learning without screen time issues.

The thing I was most excited about was using an Echo Dot Kids Edition during center time in our elementary school. The safety net of creating user profiles for kids that didn't allow them to intentionally or unintentionally order things off Amazon with my credit card was a huge plus to me.

I couldn't wait to create my first Amazon Blueprint Skill to quiz students at one table while a teacher was engaged in a small group activity with another set of students. I created my skill about STEAM tool knowledge and immediately asked the Echo Dot Kids Edition to open it. It wouldn't. I tried it on one of my other Echo Dots and there was no problem at all.

So here is the deal according to Amazon, because my Echo Dot Kids Edition is set up for a child named Joe Charger, they cannot access my Blueprint skills because it is seen as a different user (even though it uses the same Amazon account). This was a huge disappointment to me. So much potential that just slid away. I was ready to place them in every classroom if it had worked! I will say that the Amazon Troubleshooting team was a big help and they listened to my wants and said they would pass my concerns along to the Amazon Developers.

I know the goal of the Echo Dot Kids Edition isn't for educational purposes but for parent controls but it is SOOOOOO close to being a product that could be amazing in the educational technology realm. So Amazon developers, if you are ready this...I want to be your guinea pig! Thank you for the tool you've given us so far that makes adults feel a little more piece of mind in regards to voice user interface. I look forward to seeing what the next step might be!

Friday, May 4, 2018

When Google Expeditions AR Pioneer Program Visits Your School

This letter went out to our families this week:
Yesterday CCS had the incredible opportunity to participate in the Google Expeditions Pioneer Program. Twenty different groups of students from Kindergarten to 12th grade were able to use augmented reality tools to enhance the concepts they are currently learning in their classrooms through engagement, visualization, and manipulation. This software is not available to the public as Google is perfecting its product, and we were honored to be selected to experience it and give feedback! 
Augmented reality is best described as the process of layering a computer-generated image over a real-world view (think of SnapChat filters). Our students worked in groups of 2-3 using a Google phone attached to a selfie stick to see 3D manipulative visuals ranging from objects associated with a coral reef, to a hurricane, to Da Vinci's inventions! 
The opportunity to participate in the Google Expeditions Pioneer Program provided both teachers and students access to technology-based tools that have the ability to bring abstract concepts to life and give students a deeper understanding of the world beyond the classroom. When students have the ability to look at a bumble bee up close and then enter its body to see how it is formed, that sparks questions and enriches learning!
Google created a safe, non-threatening, fully supported culture for our teachers to be trained to use this technology. Then the teachers were able to introduce this new way to enhance the teaching and learning in their classroom with continued support from Google while they piloted the product. It was an excellent experience for everyone involved!

Julie Davis, our Director of Instructional Technology and Innovation, interviewed with WDEF News 12 this morning and explained CCS's participation in the Google Expeditions Pioneer Program. Click here to watch the interview. 

Now that you know about our experience, I wanted to share my ed tech takeaways from this experience. If you have the chance to pilot a tech tool at your school, do it. It was hard work to get all our ducks in a row on short notice but how often does this type of opportunity come around? Here is why:

  • Empower the early adopters: The teachers that are interested will sign up and it is a great way to get feedback on a concept without sinking straight into it through a purchase. I believe it's important to slide new ideas in the back door so it is less overwhelming for those that are wary of "the next great thing." Let your early adopters have the opportunity to be challenged first. 
  • Effectiveness of tools: In this case, it became immediately evident to me how a good lesson plan can be created around augmented reality by watching teachers in action during this pilot.
  • Explore cost free: There really isn't much risk by trying out something like this. If the product is worth the hype, you have multiple users clamoring for it. 
I hope to be able to find other opportunities for our teachers to try new concepts in a stress free environment. The beauty of the Google Expeditions AR Pioneer Program is that not only was it introduced to the teachers but immediately they were implementing it. I now have 20+ teachers that have experience with augmented reality in the classroom and have that concept in a tool belt for their future. 

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Alexa Blueprints? The Possibilities for Education are Growing

A few months ago I stood in front of a group of voice user interface programmers and said, "I wish the interface to create a skill for Alexa was easier so that my students and my teachers could quickly create their own skills." Some people said, "It is easy!" and one in particular heard me and we have been talking back and forth ever since about what this platform would look like and what it could do. Roger Kibbe (@rogerkibbe) even sent me a link to a potential input/user interface page for students and it was so intuitive and happy looking! I believe with all my heart he is on to something amazing. 

Then this week Amazon came out with its own page. It's called Alexa Blueprints and it works simply and beautifully by using templates to create opportunities for people to create their own Alexa skills. This video is of me using the website for the first time to create a flashcards skill for first graders to learn their shapes based on definitions. That was the first concept that popped into my mind because our students had just done a STEAM time with robots to help them learn their shapes. 
So I created this concept yesterday and had all evening to think through the educational implications of using this in the classroom. Things to think on:
  • I can see this being a great tool for teachers to use to create a center for learning in their classroom but you can only share your skill with those using the same Amazon account so a teacher can't say "look for my skill to help you study for this test at home, etc." Each student would have to make their own skill using their parent's Amazon account...which I can tell you from recent events at our school isn't a wise decision to give out to minors.
  • Falling under the same issue, I would love to have my students create their own skills in class but
    • They can only use an Amazon account under the age of 18 "with involvement of parent or guardian."
    • The risk of letting them have access to my own account to create skills seems too great.
  • I continue to be a little leary of using Alexa in the classroom due to the instant access to information that could be used inappropriately by students by asking innapropriate questions. This week when Alexa Blueprints came out Mark Tucker (@marktucker) reached out to me to let me know it was out there and also to tell me that he thought it would work well with an Alexa Voice Remote. I didn't even know those existed. I must dig deeper at this capability. And FYI here is Mark's Youtube explanation of the new Alexa Blueprints platform.
So there are things that I would love to see:
  • Teacher accounts for Alexa that allow teachers to feel confident with using these devices in the classroom without fear of some student ordering 42 packages of Tide pods on teacher's Amazon account. Could there possibly be Alexa accounts that are not tied to a credit card?
  • Teacher accounts for Alexa that allow the teachers to both create skills that could be shared with all their students so that the teacher could create opportunities for learning outside the classroom for their students using this device.
  • Allow teachers to set up users under their own teacher account so that it could be used in a language arts classroom (for instance) and the students write their own stories using the templates available. 

And I know I have mentioned it before, but as an educator if you ever have the chance to speak outside your educational realm, do it. The connections I made at the Alexa Conference have allowed me to be more tuned into the possibilities of Voice User Interface than I would have ever imagined. Thank you Roger and Mark for keeping me updated on potential new things!

Sunday, April 22, 2018

When In The Midst of Teaching You Know The Learning is Big

Friday I was working with my elective group- 8 students...7 from fourth grade and 1 from fifth grade all wanting to be on the CCS Lower School Tech Team. These 8 kids are awesome. They are smart, witty, creative, and self-motivated. It's an easy group to be with and enjoy.

Friday brought a smile to my face that hasn't gone away (despite the fact I whacked out my back getting out of the floor when working with 2 of them and haven't recovered yet)! You know that moment as a teacher when you are working with a group but you are also listening in and scanning the room to make sure everything is going as planned? It's an innate teacher sense...that ability to know what is going on even when you are fully immersed in the conversation at hand. I had 4 different things going on in the room at one time. One student was creating an instructional video on how to use Ozobots, two young ladies were creating a maze out of cardboard to look like the Titanic, I was introducing two other gentlemen to the Sphero SPRK+ robot, while I overheard three other gentlemen troubleshooting a Makey Makey to turn it into a piano. It was in that moment that I found the smile that I can't let go of. Each group was gleefully working together to create an Ocean-themed Escape Room experience for their teachers using STEM tools. Students were on task, active learning was happening and leaders were emerging.

As a rule, I tend to be a "finish what you started" type teacher. If a student picks something to learn, do, read, etc I encourage them to give it a complete chance. I don't force it, but I strongly suggest it (and this might even look like guilting them but that isn't my intention and I try not to push it that far).

We meet for 45 minutes on Friday afternoon for one quarter. Friday, we all had our plans we had been working on and all of a sudden some kids wanted to switch what they were doing. I let them. I was even surprised at myself. One student even said, "but what about the Scratch thing? Who is going to do that?" My answer was, "We will get to it if we get to it." (If there had been a mirror I probably would have looked into it to see who that was speaking). But here is what I learned from being flexible on Friday...

This is an elective. There is no grade and no sense of WE HAVE TO COMPLETE THIS IN ORDER TO GET THROUGH THE PACING GUIDE. These students chose to be with me. I don't take that lightly. I want them to enjoy this process. In fact, the lone fifth grader really didn't want to be in there after he realized he was the only fifth grader but since he had an injured foot, none of the other electives were really a good fit for him. He stuck with it, and I chose to empower him because of that.  In fact, I just sent an email to him and cc'd his mom because of what happened Friday. I'm even going to leave his name in here for you because I'm just so stinking proud of him:

I want to thank you for sticking it out on the tech team elective. I know you were a bit disappointed because you were the only fifth grader that got that elective but I want you to see what I see because of you...

You are a leader. Friday when you were working with those other fourth grade boys they were listening to you intently and you were teaching them about the Makey Makey. It was an amazing moment for me. I love seeing students teaching other students! Because those fourth grade boys look up to you, they were 100% into learning more about the Makey Makey. I couldn't be everywhere in the room at one time but I tend to listen in to everyone's conversation. At one point I heard you troubleshooting and saying "Oh wait, she said we could use the metal on a pencil." Your hands-on approach to figuring the issue out without a teacher's help is just what I like education to be like. You have an inquisitive nature that will serve you well in life...especially since you have such a teachable spirit. 

Thank you Noah for being you. You have risen to become my "right hand man" in this group and I appreciate that about you. I've sent this to your mom as well because mommas always like to know that other people see how amazing their kids are too!

Mrs. Davis 

So I guess I am sharing this for 3 reasons:
  1. To suggest that you get out of your own way at times. Who I am as a person and teacher often thinks that one of the most important things to teach is perseverance. Friday, I let that part of me take second place and what I saw caused smiles. You are never too old to learn. Here I am at age 49 and I decided because this was an elective I would be more flexible in the plan. 
  2. When students get to choose their learning, they are engaged. I had a plan and we will still get there but the truth is, allowing my students to adjust and switch made for one of the biggest edu-smiles I've had in a long time. 
  3. Know your students. I have some really strong-willed guys in this group but instead of forcing them into a box to finish this process, I've let them each flourish in a way that they both enjoy and are successful at doing. For one kid, it's allowing him to do his thing by himself. For another, it's letting him become a leader, for two girls it's allowing them to be together, for other students it's pairing them based on their skills. That can't happen if you don't know your students gifts and talents. It often takes a while to see what they are. Once you do, don't stick to your grouping guns just because that's where you started, be willing to help each student shine!