Wednesday, October 30, 2013

But that's not the way I've always done it and it has worked in the past!

As an instructional technologist, I adore seeing technology implemented well in the classroom. That being said, I do not feel like every single lesson can be made better with technology. As a learner, I flourish in an environment that changes. Boredom is the biggest cause for me to realize, "Oh wow, I have no idea what that speaker has been saying for the last seven minutes." Therefore, as a student, I benefit the most from a teacher that embraces the idea of Howard Gardner's multiple intelligences. If I find monotony in learning, I turn off...not on purpose, it just happens.

That being said, I feel like technology in the classroom allows teachers to vary their instruction and teaching style more easily. Therefore, I can usually find a way to help a teacher implement some bit of technology into a lesson plan; whether it be simply researching ideas with students using an iPad or creating a presentation of information using varied apps. I say all this to say, "I am a fan of technology usage in education!"

BUT, yesterday I struggled. For the past two years I have shared my files in one set way with my elementary students. They open their Google drive account on their iPads, go to "Shared with Me," find the file I've shared with them, they make a copy of it, rename it, and work on the file as their own. Yesterday, that didn't happen.

With all the new updates I realized in the middle of a lesson that students only have the ability to make a copy of a shared document using the desktop version, not the google drive app version. ARRRRGGHHH! So, like any good teacher does, I changed the plan midstream to make it work! ;) I had the students "select all" on the shared document, create a new document, and paste the original information into their new document. No big deal, right?

Well, it caused great angst for me. I was convinced this was a bad thing and we needed to contact Google. I mean, this is about collaboration and teaching kids skills for the future and heck, why would you take AWAY a beneficial thing with an update? Updates are suppose to allow me to do MORE cool things and fix all the bugs. I was struggling. Then someone that was trying to help me figure out a solution said, "Hey, copy and paste is a skill elementary kids will use for the rest of their lives. You just added 3 extra steps, that's all. But now you are teaching them how to copy and paste as well." I still grumbled about the change and said "this changes every single lesson plan I do!" I then reluctantly accepted the change as the "new normal" and headed home.

Then it hit me...I was the reluctant teacher that I'm constantly dealing with. I was the one that didn't want to accept the change even though it taught a valid skill. I was the one that didn't like the idea of messing with my lesson plans. It was an epiphany moment. We all have our "sacred cows" or our "fears" that keep us from seeing the benefit of the big picture. Sometimes something dashes our sacred cows and we have no choice. Other times, we try to protect and stand up on our soap box and scream loudly why we don't need this change.

This moment made me see myself in a new light. None of us are that different from each other in the teacher realm. We each have our comfort zones and fears that we do not want to give up or overcome. So when dealing with reluctant teachers regarding technology in the classroom, I just keep thinking "baby steps," "one lesson plan at a time," "one sense of technology accomplishment in a quarter," "one realization that this saves someone time," "one reply from a parent that they see benefits to using technology in the classroom." We don't have to bite off the whole enchilada at one time. Let the confident teachers run with it, support the non-confident ones in small tasks so that they can catch the spirit. Show them we care, listen to their concerns...more than anything- Make them realize changes aren't necessarily bad even if they aren't "the way we've always done that lesson plan" and be flexible. As a proponent of change I still need to be flexible!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Teaching Elementary Students The Importance of Time Constraints

One of my pet peeves as an adult is when others do not accomplish something when they say they will. This can manifest itself in many ways that bug me. For instance: Being late or not completing things on a stated deadline. Let me say up front, I am probably a little hypersensitive about this. I probably get bent out of shape about it way easier than I should but I feel like we, as educators, should teach our students the importance of meeting set goals (whether it is being on time or being prepared). I do believe in my own life this inner desire to meet this issue head on has served me well. Before I was a teacher, I was an accountant. Every job I've ever had I have proven myself to be someone that will get the job done. By teaching our students the importance of being dependable, we set them up to be better employees, leaders, spouses and parents one day as well. I do believe this cannot start too young.

So what does this look like in the classroom? I've realized over the years as I have taught that Sunday evenings as I am planning out my week and blocking off my calendar for projects that it is rare that a project takes less time than I have planned. In the past, this has always made me start to cringe and I start pushing the students harder and rushing them to get done. It was a no-win situation (even though there will always be some student that will need some extra time). This next statement is a little embarrassing to admit but I then realized that oftentimes I wasn't sharing the "big picture" with them. For instance, I spend an hour having them research and place information into a graphic organizer but never really tell them what the next step will be until it is time for the next step.

I am a girl that loves and thrives on surprises. I like when my husband has called on a Friday afternoon and said, "If my girls have a bag packed, we will go on an adventure." That excites me, but I have one daughter, when faced with statements like that is thrown into a tizzy (if you are southern, you get that statement). She HATES surprises, they make her nervous. It took me a long time not to just brush that aside. One year my husband planned our entire vacation, told us what to pack but didn't tell us where we were going. Every day we would hook up the camper and head to a new location with new adventures. I LOVED IT! My daughter melted down. Finally on about the third day my husband took her aside, told her the whole plan and she was fine for the rest of the trip. She is not the only person like that. We teach students every single day that need to have clear, precise objectives. Students that are not good at learning by the seat of their pants, waiting for the next educational adventure. Students that need to see the big picture. By not sharing the plan, I was not being fair.

I find myself working harder to show the big picture. Being a technology coach this year means that most of the things I am doing with the classroom teachers are project-based. I am trying very hard to give my students a timeline these days. For instance, this week I researched with fourth graders but I told them next week we will place our research in a Google document and then we will have two weeks to create a presentation of that information. I have decided I will even start writing this timeline on the board as we start. As we were researching yesterday I walked around and said a few times, "you probably should have a few more of your graphic organizer bubbles filled out at this point in today's research time. I find myself wondering where the line is between pushing too hard and teaching the skill of time management. I do not want to add undue stress to a student's life but I find students often start "researching" and forget the task at hand.

I wonder what is the best way to set these goals and teach this skill. Any thoughts?

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Apps and Shared Ipads

Currently I am in charge of a rolling cart of iPads that is used for several grades and classes. Most recently, we have been doing the same project for all three classes across a grade level. One thing I have quickly learned is that you have to have a plan if a project is going to take more than one seating to complete.

In the past, I've enjoyed using the free version of the graphic organizer 'Popplet' with my students but realized that it cannot have multiple projects going on at the same time…and this dawned on me in the midst of seeing back to back classes one day. Oops! I needed a plan.

So here is how I combat this issue…
I now look for apps that allow multiple projects to be going on at the same time. For instance, Idea Sketch is a graphic organizer that allows students to log in using their name before they start a project so the same iPad can let 3 different students from my 3 different grade level classes to be working on the same day. I now have a graphic organizer answer to my problem (even though Idea Sketch can be a little quirky when attaching lines). Toontastic is a presentation option also allows multiple projects at the same time.

Next, when doing projects I've also let different classes present "findings" using different apps. Next week, all my fourth grade classes will fill out a graphic organizer with information found about southeast states during one class time, the next time they will enter that information into a shared google document saved as their own document after their information is inputted. The next class time, one class will use the app Toontastic to share information they found. Another class will use Tellagami to share their information. The third class will use Morfo to share their information. These are three completely different apps but each are very creatively based and will allow the students freedom in choosing how they want to share their information.

Sharing a rolling cart of iPads has it's advantages and disadvantages but so far there always seems to be some "work around" that allows me to use the iPads to their full potential.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Technology and The Unique Child

The other day I was shucking corn in my sink for supper and came across this:

I immediately felt a blog coming on. I had been living this visual out for weeks. If I were to title this photo, I would call it "The Beauty of Uniqueness." When I looked into my sink I saw the 3 perfectly formed ears of corn that acted and looked just like they were suppose to act and look. Then my eyes fell on the other ear, I personally found beauty in it's inability to line up, it's chaos formed kernels that seemed a little large and misplaced soothed me somehow. On the other hand, my youngest daughter walked by and said, "What's the matter with THAT one?" I responded a little indignantly and said, "Not a thing, there is beauty in difference." She replied haphazardly, "I don't find it pretty" and she left the room.

So, it got me a teacher of technology, I often see the "unique" student blossom when using the tools that I push around in a cart all day from room to room. In my case, I seem to see that the more non-social, lower achievers truly find their niche when using technology for learning. Perhaps it is because they can interact with their devices without fear of ridicule or judgment. Perhaps it is because technology is often their escape and so it is a natural fit for them for educational purposes.

What I see is a need met and an opportunity taken. I see the student that might be a little unique who may not look or act like the run of the mill student excel with technology. I see this student realize that technology can be an equality maker. Oftentimes the "geek," the non-social, the slower learner, is the kid that other students are looking over their shoulder and saying, "Wow, how did you do that?" Or maybe for the first time ever they are the kids that are keeping up in class due to assistive technology options. Technology gives them confidence.

This photo shows me the beauty of uniqueness. Maybe it is because I am the technology teacher that sees an otherwise non-school oriented child blossom. Maybe it is because down deep I've always thought I was more like that fourth ear of corn. Maybe it is because I know that all four of those ears TASTED EXACTLY THE SAME. Maybe it is because I want to use my training to tap into opportunities that have seemed impossible in the past. Maybe it is because I have two children that really do not enjoy learning and I love to learn and can not imagine someone not wanting to be like that. Whatever the reason, I hope that technology will continue to evolve to help meet the needs of the unique and the not so unique students.

I look forward to more "smart apps" that react to students answers and to challenge students where they are. I look forward to augmented reality apps that changes reality with virtual graphics to help us think deeper, solve bigger, and dream endlessly. I look forward to giving my students choices using technology to create "projects" based on their likes. I look forward to being open to new and different every single day...I look forward to teaching the next Bill Gates or Steve Jobs (definitely two unique ears of corn) and leading them to understand their uniqueness as a member of the body of Christ.