Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Master Teacher Hype

Buzz word of the day: "Master Teacher

  • What would be a fair definition of that term? 
  • Who decides what a "master teacher" is?
  • Are you born a master teacher or is it something that can be achieved?
  •  How does one know if they are making progress in becoming one? 
  • Should master teachers make more money than others?
  • Should we accept anything other than a "master teacher" to teach our children?
  • What makes Finland's teachers Master Teachers?
  • How can teachers be trained to be Master Teachers?
  • Can the definition of Master Teacher change?
  • How many master teachers should be on staff at a school?
  • How many master teachers should a student have during the day?
  • Are we pigeon-holing a teacher with a label that can't be changed?
When the term "Master Teacher" is said, I get defensive. I wonder if I am considered to be one or even if it is possible for me to be one in the discipline that I teach...and now that I just co-teach, could it even be a label for an "out of the classroom" teacher? So I ruminate on the term a lot. I research it, I dwell on it. I want to understand it. What I have found is that the definition isn't set in stone. My favorite snippet on it comes from this blog: http://connectedprincipals.com/archives/1929 but I still wonder if it can really be identified easily and if boxes can be checked off and a label set: "Mr. Jones is a Master Teacher." It's been a while since I read the blog, so I am just going to "word vomit" what I think a "Master Teacher" should look like at a Christian school:

  1. Master teachers are ones that seek to teach the person, not the student. A master teacher knows their pupils because that is a priority to the teacher. This teacher gets to know their student through dialogue, watching them with their peers, listening to them speak, and "seeing" not just "watching" what makes this student want to be a learner. Master teachers can envision their student as an adult, or if they teach adults, as a degree holder. This teacher knows their students strengths and weaknesses and how it will effect them if things do or do not change in their lives.
  2. Master teachers look for ways to teach more than the curriculum. These teachers strive to help their students learn themselves through encouragement, pushing, and questioning. A master teacher sees the whole child not just a "subject matter" student in a desk. 
  3. Master teachers are champions for their students but are also fans of the schools where they work. They like being where they are, they add to the positive environment of the school culture. They follow their leaders and lead their followers in a positive manner. 
  4. Master teachers should teach everything from a Christian worldview. The answer shouldn't be "because I said so," but "because this is what the bible says and it is our ultimate guidebook." This doesn't mean that the teacher is close-minded and closed off to those that question Christian doctrine, it means that they lead, direct, listen, and acknowledge not as a Pharisee but in a loving, accepting, but firm Christ-centered culture. A master teacher looks for ways to weave the bigger picture into their daily lessons.
  5. Master teachers aren't afraid of change, nor are they accepting of change "just because." A master teacher should be a lifelong learner that is always looking for ways to make the learning experience in their classroom better. A master teacher should never feel like they have "arrived."
  6. Master teachers feel passionate about what they teach. They enjoy their curriculum. These teachers have a fire for their curriculum that is contagious and makes their pupils want to learn more. A master teachers ultimate goal is to ignite the desire for more learning in their pupils. 
  7. Master teachers try to meet the needs of every student in their classroom. This teacher wants what is best for each student- the easy and the hard ones. A master teacher looks for ways to build confidence in EACH student in the classroom.
  8. A master teacher is a good communicator. This teacher is not in a silo all day long, they are reaching out to fellow teachers, locally and internationally. They are reaching out to the lonely child and the disruptive child. They are reaching out to parents for updates. They are reaching out to administration to seek ways for improvement. A master teacher does not fear communicating with others.
  9. A master teacher assumes the best of his student until proven otherwise. This teacher starts with a culture of trust- that the pupil wants to and can learn. This teacher encourages their students to reach their full potential. This teacher helps their pupils to see what their potential is. A master teacher is compassionate.
  10. A master teacher is respectful of their coworkers, students, and administration. This teacher earns the respect of others through a safe environment. This teacher respects the needs of the student and realizes their ultimate goal is to have successful students.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Tech Comments That Cause Soapbox Moments for Me

So I find myself getting defensive about things I hear in educational buzz. I've also caused a few defensive moments over the last year as well. There are always new educational buzz words, ideas, "innovations" (see what I did there?). My top list of recurring things that are said that cause me to either bite my tongue, speak my mind, or shake my head (visibly or invisibly).

1. "If all you are doing down there is letting my kid play on apps then I am not for technology" also interchangeable with "Apps are no better than worksheets." I won't back down on this one. I do believe that there are teachers, schools, people that use educational technology wrong but blaming it all on "apps" is a very unfairly biased response. There are amazingly efficient and effective apps out there that aid in the learning process. While I will never be "about apps" I will always be looking for apps that might help my teachers reinforce learning. I'm not even talking about the "apps" and websites that help both teachers and students become more organized in their learning such as GAFE apps and LMS options. I'm going to name a handful of apps right now that I think benefits far outweigh the bad rap that "apps" get:

  • Handwriting Without Tears- Great app for helping primary students practice handwriting skills. What's special about this app? It forces the student to trace the letters in the right way. As a left hander, what a benefit that would have been for me as a kid when I was doing my "R" different from everyone else but the teacher couldn't see it as she worked the room of 21 students. 
  • Sushi Monster, Math blaster, Chicken Coop Fraction game, etc - What could be wrong with a student working on math facts in a way that keeps them engaged? No more rote memorization of facts but learning math facts by repetition just the same. Some are even smart apps that meets the student where they are and challenges "just enough."
  • DoInk Green Screen, Google Docs, Keynote, and a handful of other presentation apps (http://techhelpful.blogspot.com/2014/01/preparation-apps.html) that allows a student to share information in ways that are most intriguing to them.
  • Kodable, Lightbot, Lightbot jr, Scratch jr, Hopscotch- Coding apps that cause students to think logically, creatively, and enhance their problem-solving skills. All things that will help a student long term whether they decide to become a computer programmer or not.
2. "Elementary students need to focus on the basics and not on technology." First of all, I agree- if any teacher is focusing on technology, they have missed the point. Technology is a tool in the educational process not the end result BUT it is a tool that allows our students to do things they never have done before. Technology allows every single moment in the classroom to be an extended opportunity to research deeper, learn valuable lifelong digital citizenship skills on the fly, and create a learning environment with more availability for the teacher to have one-on-one and small group instruction time. Technology is never to become the reason we teach but if it can effectively allow both the teachers and the students to learn more productively, there should never be an age limit on this. Screen time limits, yes. 

3. "Technology causes students to make bad choices." Sin causes students to make bad choices. Technology is just the path some students use. We as parents and educators have a responsibility to be vigilant in guiding our students through this. I wholeheartedly agree that some things should be blocked from any possibility of reaching with ease but I also think the bigger issue is that we have to teach our students through examples and situations what the appropriate use of technology looks like. Will students do it wrong at times, yes. Just like God's chosen people didn't always follow His plan when their was a cloud to show them the way; but we don't throw the baby out with the bath water just because it's hard. If we are not teaching digital citizenship to all grade levels on a regular basis, we are failing our students.

4.  "The best technology to use in the classroom is __________." For every device out there, I can think of a handful of pros and cons for each. There is no "one size fits all" form of technology. Each device is a tool in itself but no one device meets all the educational needs of our students. I wish there was one that did, but there isn't at this point. When deciding which direction to go in technology usage, we have to look at the current needs and what's on the market now. We have to look at the cost/benefit of devices. We have to look at the age of the users. This is a no win situation because different people see different needs as the most important to be met. THIS is the hardest aspect to me because I don't have a computer lab to fall back on if I want to do something with the students and our current technology options don't allow. 

5. "Technology in the classroom is just a disrupter." If your students are off task, maybe it isn't the technology, maybe it's your lesson plan. When I was a student I had a pocket full of football shaped notes in my pocket that I would pass to my friends between classes to read during "boring" classes. If a lesson is engaging, students want to learn and be on task. Perhaps we need to rethink our teaching in order to keep technology from being a distractor. Perhaps we need to be firm in our rule of technology usage in the classroom using keywords and expectations. Perhaps we need to set up a culture of trust in the use of technology and work the classroom from every angle. Perhaps we need to try new methods of teaching that lends itself to students learning how to use the computer that will always be on them for the rest of their lives (the first generation that this is true for). Perhaps we need to be teaching the critical thinking skills needed for having the power of the Internet on them at all times. Perhaps we need to be asking "ungoogleable" questions.

6. "On-demand technology is causing a dumb generation." I see a bored generation. A generation that is wondering why it has to learn some of these things. A generation that has a worldwide audience for the first time in history and is wondering more about the true usefulness of things being taught that other generations took for granted. A generation that can learn whatever it wants to learn whenever it wants to learn it. At Christmas dinner this year I saw multiple tables of people looking things up on Google in the midst of conversations to make sure they had their facts straight. I saw my daughter using the Internet to learn how to create Christmas gifts for the ones she loved. I saw high school students tweeting that they were off task studying for finals because they were "playing" trivia crack. I saw my extended family sitting around a phone playing the "Trivia Crack" app against each other and learning things about art, history, entertainment, science, geography, and sports. I don't see a dumb generation, I see a culturally aware, just-in-time learning generation. 

(And this is me stepping off my soapbox).

Monday, December 22, 2014

The Best Ed Tech Moments of First Semester 2014 (drumroll please.....)

In ascending order, the best moments of instructional technology integration that I participated in this year:

10. Finally seeing keyboarding in the fifth grade curriculum again by means of bluetooth keyboards, iPads, and www.typingweb.com. We skipped a year of keyboarding instruction and our hardworking fifth grade teachers figured out a way to allow our 5th grade students to have keyboarding for 40 minutes a day, 2 days a week for the whole first semester. This is more consistent keyboarding than elementary students have ever received at CCS and we seem to be reaping the benefits of it.

9. Talking about the "lightbulb moment" of deciding what to do when faced with something inappropriate or negative on the Internet with elementary students grades kindergarten - fifth grade. I enjoy talking digital citizenship with my students and explaining how bad choices are "heart choices" that can effect us for the rest of our lives. We talk about the rights and responsibilities of using technology at our school as well.

8. Taking a trip to Harbins Elementary School in Dacula, Georgia with a group of our elementary teachers to see how their school integrates technology into their BYOT environment. It was nice to see the excitement in the eyes of the teachers there and to experience the spinning wheels of my teachers trying to decide what could help their classroom from what they saw. My favorite moment was a group session I attended with about 20 technology coaches that I found inspiring and helpful.

7. This year I have watched a teacher that was hesitant about technology feel comfortable enough with it now that she is running full steam ahead without me in her classroom. She allowed me to work hand in hand with her last year, this year she has done those same projects by herself. She also went to an Edcamp on a Saturday with me and came back with ideas that lead to my number 1 best moment below.

6. This semester our third grade was learning how to use a Bible concordance while doing research on Genesis 1. I entered the classroom deciding we would use www.biblegateway.com with the iPads and immediately saw that the browser version wasn't very iPad friendly. While the classroom teacher continued to work with students about subject matter, I very quickly downloaded the app version of Bible Gateway and we were ready to roll. What could have easily been a fail lesson, became workable by having a tech coach in the classroom with this teacher.

5. Watching teachers teach other teachers about technology. This year I have seen several teachers that use Doceri Whiteboard App teach other teachers how to use it. I have also seen an elementary teacher that used Moodle last year, teach another elementary teacher how to set up a Moodle quiz. These instances made my heart smile!

 4. I went with a small group of teachers to the STEM high school at Chattanooga State Community College and we saw first hand how students step up when a culture of trust is set in place regarding the use of technology with students. We learned how they spend much of 9th grade talking about digital citizenship and how important good skills are to a successful educational environment.

3. I helped to create a blended learning rotation model environment for a lower level fifth grade math class which included the use of Aleks quick tables on iPad devices and Khan Academy using Samsung Chromebooks. I love seeing how it is helping our students become confident and successful learners. See http://techhelpful.blogspot.com/2014/12/its-not-me-its-you-looking-at.html for more details on this endeavor.

2. Watching how quickly a 7th grade advanced math class adapted to quirks in a website and worked together in a short amount of time to problem solve and get the task at hand done. I would teach until I was 100 years old if I could teach this type of motivated student all day long. It was an absolute joy to watch them enjoy learning and making things work. The use of technology in the classroom is raising a group of "troubleshooting" students that learn, adjust, relearn, and succeed.

1.  Seeing the creativity of fifth grade students using DoInk Green screen app to create video reports on various trees they had been studying in Science. Their creativity was amazing and their use of the green screen app has inspired me to look for other opportunities for use. The kids asked to come during their recess time to work on the project they loved it so much!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

"It's not me, it's you" - Looking at educational technology from the eyes of a student instead of a teacher

As educators, much of the time we look at how a 1:1 environment effects OUR classroom, how it disrupts OUR classroom, how we have to change OUR way of teaching and thinking because that's what we know firsthand but for the past few days I've been thinking on the positives and negatives from the student's viewpoint.

What does a student gain from the above scenario? 

1. Small group instruction that allows the teachers to have eyes on all 5 of the students papers at one time while they work the problems in this math class.
2. Small group instruction that allows the students to feel more at ease with saying "I don't get it."
3. Instructional technology that allows the teacher to have reports that immediately show what the struggles are for EACH student.
4. Instructional technology that allows the students to work at their own pace.
5. Instructional technology that let's students have some control over what they will "learn" or "review" next.
6. A classroom of movement that allows students not to get bored because of rotations set up in 15 minute segments.
7. Multiple teachers in a classroom that allow students to learn same unit from a different voice.
8. Ability grouping aids teachers in meeting the needs of more students individually.
9. So far, students are saying "this works for me" and grades are improving.
10. Math facts are finally being reviewed on a regular basis.
11. Math facts are being acquired.

1. Ability grouping - in theory, only as smart as the smartest student in the group.
2. Distraction of movement.
3. Cost and availability of multiple teachers in a classroom.
4. Cost of devices and software to create this blended learning rotation model.
5. Classroom size limitations.
6. Math facts review using technology is "boring."

While there are both advantages and disadvantages, we are seeing that this form of classroom is giving these students a positive learning environment that didn't exist for many of them in the past. Their grades are improving and their confidence levels are increasing as well. Fortunately this math teacher saw she was not meeting the needs of her students in the way she had traditionally taught and she looked for new ways to teach them. For these students, it is working. This teacher gave up the control of the "front of the classroom" and the learning environment became messy and somewhat noisy during rotating times but it is working. It isn't about her, it is about the student. 

Instilling a sense of confidence in a student that has historically struggled in school is huge. If we can do that, and help that student to see small, daily improvements, we have the opportunity to keep that student engaged. I look at my own college age child and I see what a little confidence has done for her. She graduated as an average student from high school not thinking she was good at school. So much so that she considered not even going to college. That being said, she just finished her first semester of college with all A's and B's. I realize there are many factors that play into this change but what I am seeing now is a yearning and zest for LEARNING. If we can help our students see the benefit of learning, we as teachers have taught them the greatest thing we can teach them....to become lifelong learners. 

I believe beyond a shadow of a doubt, the classroom demonstrated in this video, gives these students a daily dose of positive reinforcement. I want that for all of our students, every single day. I want to find ways to make that happen for them. I want to meet them where they are. I want to help preserve their self-esteem and to help them feel confident in their self-worth. I don't think technology is the way that happens, I think meeting each child's individual needs is the way that happens- technology just sometimes manifests itself as the tool to make it work. 

A series of FORTUNATE events that make me look like a good tech coach

Recently I've been asked, "How do you do it? You get in the classrooms and make people feel supported and they want you to come back!" I've been thinking about it. What makes my experience special? Because I do realize not everyone has the same positive experiences I do in this job description. So here is my top 20 things I think make a difference for me:
  1.  I love learning.
  2.  I love helping others.
  3. There are expectations set for the teachers I work with regarding technology usage in the classroom so I don't have to beg to be used - requirements are there that have to be met.
  4. I'm a people person.
  5. I believe in the power of relationships.
  6. I am not afraid to fail.
  7. I harness the power of social media for my professional benefit (mainly Twitter and Pinterest).
  8. I believe wholeheartedly that there is no such thing as a dumb question.
  9. I create a safe environment for my co-teachers to learn, ask questions, and grow in.
  10. The teachers I work with see the benefit of integrated educational technology.
  11. Elementary teachers use small group instruction time on a regular basis.
  12. Elementary teachers see the value of "play."
  13. I have the support and backing of my principal.
  14. I have a great working relationship with my curriculum coach who also asks the teachers "have you decided what your technology integration will look like for this unit?"
  15. There is respectfulness between myself and the teachers I work with daily. I work with amazing people.
  16. The wonderful PLN (professional learning network) that I have developed via twitter chats that help me think through issues and ideas.
  17. Professional development opportunities I've taken at TETC, GATC, and ISTE.
  18. Good listeners in my life.
  19. A desire not to be dogmatic about the way I think tech should look like in everyone's classroom.
  20. Grace.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Dear Teens: "FART" is still a bad word, and other words that could wreck your digital footprint

I've got a list...Part of me just wants to start typing the words that offend me but I think that kind of defeats the point of this blog. There are words that have become commonplace in the teen vernacular that are not accepted as acceptable in older generations. Here is the kicker- it's these older generations that are going to hire you one day.

So teens, when you call your friend the "n-word" or the "b-word", chances are you are offending someone. That someone might be considering hiring you one day. Someone that has stalked your Facebook, twitter, instagram, tumbler, vine or whatever is the latest, greatest social media pull to see if they think you are worthy of their organization. It happens, believe me.

And you know when you retweet something that is from an offensive name...even though you weren't the original tweeter, because it shows up on your feed, my generation is offended by it. Does that seem unfair? It probably does to your generation, but there is truth in this blog post and I feel you need to know it.

Now lets talk about your passive aggressive behavior of subtweeting. You know who you are (see what I did there?). My generation sees that it is subtweeting and you are showing a bit of a character flaw with this move. Oh, I've done it. So I'm sharing from knowledge here.

Last but not least, acronyms. While LOL seems sweet and happy, you know you use some that can be offensive. Some are downright naughty.  And guess what...the adults know what they are, just because you've used an acronym doesn't mean you haven't stated your true feelings. Yes, we will judge you for that too. Social media isn't the place to air out dirty laundry. For your future self's sake, think twice and post once.

Oh, and my least favorite acronym of all is OMG. It's become so commonplace that people rarely even think about what it really means. That's God's name in there and you are taking it in vain (see Exodus 20:7).

You are probably rolling your eyes right now. You probably think I'm being an overreacting old lady. You might be right to some extent but I am not the only one. I share these things so that maybe you'll consider before posting in the future.  Your future you might thank you one day.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Teaching the Teachable Moment We Never Wanted to Happen

When I was in 5th or 6th grade, my family was headed to my grandparents' house and we were driving on the Interstate through Birmingham, Alabama. All of a sudden on the side of the road was a completely naked man. I was 11, my sister was 8, and we had NEVER EVER seen a naked man. My mom yells, "girls, don't look!" We've given her a hard time over the years about her looking back to tell us that. I remember the moment being completely awkward. Lots of questions started flying. "Why was he naked? Why was he on the side of the interstate? What should we do?" and then my baby sister had some even more awkward questions. They were all answered by my parents. We talked about different possibilities of why he might be like that, we talked about his anatomy, we talked about many things that we would have never had talked about had that event not taken place. I remember that moment vividly because I learned more from that moment from my parents about sexuality and drugs and bad choices people make than any other time previous. It was authentic learning to me in that moment. Did my parents want to teach my little sister and me all that right then? No. Do they wish I hadn't seen it? Yes. Was it out of their control? Definitely.

I hear from many parents and educators that are paralyzed with fear of the possibility of their students seeing something inappropriate on the Internet while using technology for school use. This fear causes them to question whether the positives of technology in the classroom are greater than the possibilities for negative exposure. I get that. When my oldest daughter was in upper elementary school, Facebook hit the world beyond college students head on. Social media became a big player for the first time. I myself had been part of Facebook for years as a college student while I worked on my masters and had seen it in action. I was the uber protective parent to her. No Facebook, no cell phone for texting, no other social media. Instead of teaching her how to use it all appropriately, I immediately locked it away from her until high school. Over the years I would find she had set up accounts in secret, used friends accounts, etc. I was losing. Every parent has to find their own way for each one of their kids and all children are different. For me, I decided to change my parenting tactics.

I remembered the story about the man on the Interstate as social media became more and more part of the norm of  teen years and I had this thought: My parents didn't say "We aren't going to drive through Birmingham anymore. We are going to blindfold the girls when they are out in the big world. We are going to become recluses." I decided to change my view. Slowly, I allowed her to have some social media accounts with her knowing I would be monitoring. She was also given a phone in 9th grade. Her sister reaped the benefit of my change of mind...she received a smartphone in 7th grade and social media accounts as well.

There have been times I have had to sit my girls down and talk to them about misuse of technology. Inappropriate posts, too much texting, associating self-worth with number of likes, posting too much personal information, joining websites that made them vulnerable to predators. These are real world issues they will deal with the rest of their lives. We talk about digital footprints and about other peoples' mistakes. I feel I help them become good digital citizens by giving them the freedom to make mistakes but also the accountability of knowing mom is going to check up on you. It's messy parenting, but it is productive.

As a 21st century parent and educator, our home and school networks have safeguards in place to protect my children and all students from inappropriateness- both intentional and accidental access. Will our students see or deal with something we would prefer they didn't have to? Yes. Do we wish we could prevent that from happening? Definitely. Is it a teachable moment? You betcha. In the elementary school we start teaching digital citizenship skills in kindergarten. Every single year we talk about the "lightbulb moment" that cartoon characters have when they remember something. I tell them if you come across something inappropriate you have a choice to make and that I hope the "lightbulb moment" will remind them of our classes on digital citizenship and the positive way to deal with negative digital information.

We can live in fear of the unknown and set up a culture of mistrust or we can be vigilant in our ways to protect our students as best we can. We can teach digital citizenship on a regular recurring schedule. We can teach them in challenging interactive ways that makes them not want to be off task while in our classrooms. Sound easy? Not always, but learning is an amazing endeavor. I believe the benefit of technology includes student empowerment, connectivity, innovation, personalized learning, and accessibility. All of these things are certainly positive aspects of learning for all of us but such an important part of making current students future ready.


Wednesday, November 26, 2014

My Name is "Innovative Technology" and I've been around a LONG TIME

"I've been around a very long time. Perhaps I was a stick to be used as a walking staff for Adam of biblical fame. Later I came in the form of fire and changed the dynamics of cave life. I then became a pencil- a sliver of graphite stuck inside a slender piece of wood. Most lately I've been a handheld computing device known as a tablet; but watch out, my future of 'wearable technology' is on the rise and ready for change!"

All these innovations have things in common- they have revolutionized the way we accomplish things. They have eased a strain in our life. They have opened the door to something new. 

With any new innovation, people find different sides of the fence to take. Do the benefits outweigh the detriments? Shall we be early or late adopters of the innovation? 

We question, we criticize, we applaud, we adapt, we balance from good to bad and back again in our thoughts of "Is this really a good and helpful thing?" All of these processes are relevant for each of us to get to a point where we decide "is this acceptable or not?"

Most inventions that are labeled "innovative technology" end up revolutionizing the world- some slowly, some so quickly our head spins.

While most of us probably don't know someone that sees the use of a pencil as a bad thing, there was a time when it was concidered a novelty. Most people couldn't read or write anyways and there were questions about whether it was a good idea for the "common man" to have these skills.

What is it we fear about tablet devices? Lack of control...certainly. But even deeper than that is a fear that resonates inside of the heart of a teacher...what if I'm no longer seen as a master of this subject? What if the world no longer needs people who are super knowledgable of subject areas? What if what we have strived to be good at, proven to have an above average understanding of, can all be ascertained from a days worth of well written 3 minute videos on YouTube? What becomes of us?

This is one of my underlying fears, I'll be honest. Two years ago my classroom went away and now I work hand in hand with teachers integrating the technology I used to teach all by myself. In theory, if I'm truly good at what I do shouldn't I eventually teach myself out of a job when all my co-teachers become proficient integrators of technology without my help? 

What must I do to protect my livelihood? What must I do to stay relevant? ADAPT, ADOPT, LEARN, STAY ABOVE THE EDGE OF NORMALLY ACCEPTED PRACTICE. I must morph into what the world of education needs based on the tools at hand. I must take opportunities to learn more, dream more, do more. My overall goal is to meet the needs of my students in the best way possible. I must remember that. Are changes scary for me? Yes. Are changes necessary for me? Always. Do I sometimes miss the safety net of my classroom? Often. Can I be a benefit to the education system of the future? Without a doubt. Does that mean technology is the only way? Never. 

We need to be open to new ideas and new innovations always. After recently visiting an innovative STEM school in the area, one thing stuck with me that the principal of that school said, "I don't hire people that I know are good with technology. I hire teachers that are excellent in the classroom but are always thinking "there's got to be a better way to _________."" 

I want to be a great teacher always looking for great ways to teach. I want to be open to innovative technology. I want to find the appropriate balance to meet needs well but not just for the sake of using technology. I want to use the best practice regardless of the tools before me. I want to feel confident and trusted as a teacher. I want to be respected for the knowledge I do have- I need this from my students, parents, peers, and administration. I want to be a help and a benefit as a teacher. At the end of the day I want to know I made a difference with the tools at hand.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Becoming A Confident Instructional Technologist

Truths about Julie:
  •  I don't like it when people don't like me.
  •  I don't like it when I think people MAY NOT like me.
  •  I don't like it when I say something that might make people THINK ABOUT not liking me. 
Yes, as you can tell these are ME issues. I realize I can't make everybody happy all the time. I'm aging and striving to be less of a "people pleaser" in my life (a healthy balance is needed).  I realize I often make decisions from a fearful perspective although most people don't see my outgoing, sometimes outspoken personality that way. I am an enigma, wrapped in a riddle, surrounded by mystery. Or at least my often competing personalities feels that way at times.

That being said, after dealing with some technology issues this last week that were not pleasant for me, I realized that I am often not standing my ground regarding Instructional Technology usage in the elementary setting for fear of push back. I have thought long and hard on this issue last week and this week and decided it's time to make a change. (Any time I am faced with an uncomfortable situation I ask myself what I can learn from it- underscored and bolded). 

I believe in the power of gaming and that creative thinking apps would, could, and should benefit our elementary students. BUT, I haven't "lived that." I'm currently coming up with a list of creative thinking apps to add to a folder on all the iPads in all the carts in the elementary school. These apps will include coding opportunities as well as games designed to improve students' critical thinking and creativity skills.

I see these apps being available to be used during recess time when it is rainy or too cold to go outside. I see these apps being used by teachers as an incentive for getting something else done, etc. I see these apps being used during center time on a regular basis in some of our grade levels. The opportunities are endless and the research of positive effects are widely proven. 

Will I get some pushback? Probably some...but I have decided to stand firmer in my role as an Instructional Technologist. I've decided to give my teachers more opportunities to use technology in the classroom with this outlet. I have decided to stand firmer and be bolder. I'm not going where no man has ever gone before, but in my community I do feel I little bit more pioneering than ever before. 

These aren't new ideas, I was using these apps and teaching coding when I had my own classroom two years ago. The biggest difference is that now every technology decision that is made is more closely scrutinized. I'm down with that. Let the mind blowing critical thought begin!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Social Media and Dating- A Good or Bad Change?

I was having a conversation with my daughter, who is in college, that has me thinking. We were having one of those rare moments when she was SHARING with me. In this little mother/daughter chat on the sofa she said, "Guess who asked me out? Someone we both know and have known for a very long time but I didn't go to school with. He's a year older than me." I didn't know who it was but the following conversation after she told me who the gentleman was has me thinking. It went like this:

J: "It was __________."
Mom: (A bit surprised) "Really? What did you say?"
J: "I don't know, it was weird, I don't really know him. I told him I didn't know what I was doing tonight."
Mom: "You've known him since you were like 7, but you're right you don't know him well. How did he ask you?"
J: "He sent me a Facebook message. I don't know, I just don't know him well, maybe if S (another mutual friend of the two who is a girl) went with us, I would go.
Mom: "I doubt he wants to hang with both of you. Sounds like he wants a date with you."
J: "But I don't even know him."
Mom: "But that's what dates are for, to get to know someone.
J: "Mom, that's not the way I do it."
*Scene closed*

I walked away wondering why it seems so different from when I was in college MANY, MANY, years ago. I think the answer is...Social Media. Social media gets a lot of bad publicity but hear me out, I think this might be a positive in the world. Today's teens and 20-somethings are getting to know each other BEFORE they go out on a date via communicating using Facebook, Instagram, snapchat, or "fill in the blank." This is where the attraction often begins, the flirting begins, BEFORE the first date. 

Couldn't this be a good thing? Young ladies and men not opening themselves up to being with a date they don't know very well, like we did in my generation. Sure, some things are probably lost in translation of using the Internet but it sure feels safer to this momma. Of course, I'm not saying that all relationships follow this pattern but thinking about my own kids and their friends, I see this happening a lot. 

Maybe just maybe this generation is using social media in positive digital citizenship ways when it comes to getting to know potential love interests. That possibility makes me smile. I know that as a mom I often call my kids on some of their social media choices but I'm very interested in seeing how this generation balances it with their "real life," how they learn from their mistakes, and the overall effect this life of constant "contactability" will look. 

Photo from Home By Design (Design Publishing) Dec/Jan 2015

Friday, November 14, 2014

When Did The Shift Begin And Why?

For 9 years at my school I was basically a "silo" teacher in my little computer lab seeing every student in the school one day a week for keyboarding instruction and whatever happened to be the latest thing I felt I needed to teach our students for success. In those 9 years I never ONCE had a parent or teacher come and question anything I chose to do in my classroom with their students. In fact, most the time they didn't even ask what I was doing.

BUT the culture has shifted dramatically and I sit here this morning wondering WHY? When and why did the use of technology in the classroom become something that is inherently questioned? Why does society assume the worst about it instead of seeing its benefits now? Why does society assume the teacher can no longer manage technology? Each week I feel like I have to constantly find a balance for the "trusting parents" vs. the "hyper-vigilant" parents regarding technology. Every week I feel like I make someone mad. It's not a fun place to be but it seems to be a necessary place to be. In our elementary school, our students as a whole have LESS time with technology now that we are using tablet devices than they did when they came and met me in the classroom this week but I'm questioned more than ever.

In "my perfect world," my elementary students would have scheduled technology class once a week where they would be taught digital citizenship lessons along with basic technology skills constantly throughout the year. That "perfect world" would include me having time to observe in classrooms to make suggestions on how to infuse technology into lessons already being taught. It would allow me to make sure best-practices are in place in all classrooms.  It would give me opportunities to teach teachers new technology "stuff" on a regular basis as well as co-teach with teachers willing to give something a try.

In my "perfect world," my elementary students would be gaming- yes! I said it...gaming. They would be using critical thinking games/apps on a regular basis. They would be using intuitive software that would help them feel like successful students because their educational needs would be met where the student was at that moment. In my "perfect world," teachers would be encouraged to use social media as an asset to their classrooms and any technology would be acceptable- including cell phones.  *GASP*

BUT the world is not perfect. I push, I pull, I tug, I tow with the amount of time I have, the resources at my disposal, and the attitudes of our community. Every teacher feels overwhelmed at times and today I feel that way. Sometimes I get stuck on the potential and forget to see the current growth. Sometimes I feel I've had to justify the school's (and my own) position so many times that I begin to shake my head and wonder "IS IT WORTH IT?" I know I can't make everyone happy. I'm living that daily but I would like to think that I am making a difference; that parents, teachers, students, and administrators are seeing the positive results of technology used well. Will there be issues? You betcha but I am convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that the attributes technology brings to education far outweighs any detriment.

By teaching students HOW to learn instead of WHAT to learn we are opening wider the door for lifelong learning. By creating a culture of inquisitiveness we are teaching these students how to reach into their back pocket for the rest of their lives, grab their computer in the shape of a smartphone, and search the web for anything they don't understand or want to know more about. THIS is the first generation that truly can learn on the go; lets embrace that wonderful gift and allow them to enjoy "just in time" learning!

I know my "perfect world" is not the same as other people's "perfect world" and so I seek balance. I know I need to lead and teach in baby steps regarding technology. I know I have a responsibility to help others understand best practices, how we work as a community in deciding how much and what kind of technology we use, and to be available to help when someone is ready to take that "next step." Some days it is overwhelming. Other days it is so wonderfully done that it puts a smile on my face and in my heart. Those are the days I realize my "perfect world" is based on attitude and intent as much as any long term goals I might have. Regardless of what my dreams might be, the ever-changing fluid nature of instructional technology will never be "perfect" but it will always be worth it in my eyes.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Hardest Thing About Being a Technology Coach For Me

I don't have a classroom. Students don't come to me for instruction. I co-teach with in-classroom teachers on subjects that they want to infuse with technology. Most of the time I have great leeway in helping those teachers decide what type of technology they want to use and what apps should be taught or offered for certain projects. I appreciate the fact that my co-teachers allow me to try new things with their students, but I miss having time with my students (especially the one on one bonding it allowed) and being able to do things on my own. I realize that the structure we are in now is best for the place we are now, at our school. My co-teachers feel they can call on me to guide and support them as they venture into using technology more regularly. This can only be a positive in terms of using more technology for instructional purposes across the board (and yes, I see more technology usage in the classroom as a positive because it leads to individualized instruction); but I miss being able to have my "own" agenda. Now don't take that wrong, I am not trying to deviate from curriculum or teach inappropriate or subversive technology. I miss opportunities to try out new things I've heard about to see if they are truly as good as people are talking about. I miss my "guinea pig" moments.

In the past, when I was part of the related arts rotation, students came to me once a week for instruction. It wasn't the ideal way for technology instruction but the consistency allowed me to do things that I just can't do as a technology coach anymore. I miss that. Now, every single time I try something new in the classroom with a teacher it has the potential for "realness" to be all up in the lesson. Playing around with an app as a teacher and teaching an app to 24 students is very different and can have remarkably different outcomes. Now before you shake your head and say "Psssh, she teaches apps." Yes, I do. I try to teach new apps to students all the time, not because I feel like every project should just be done one way, but as an elementary technology coach I see part of my job as filling their technology tool belt with different options for later on in life. That being said, we do a lot of app-smashing projects and as the year floats by students are given options on how they want to do a project. It doesn't matter what means the end results are made with because they are graded by a rubric. So don't judge us technology coaches so harshly for teaching apps or websites. Somebody has to do it!

This year I am trying to find a solution for missing out on that exploratory instructional time. Do I start an elementary tech club after school? Do I find some teachers that might be willing for me to take time to just try things occasionally? Do I use a teacher's aide to play with an app that I am considering and just watch to see what questions they might have? Do I just go for it and see what kind of realness happens?

Regardless of the answers to the above questions, I love the fact that part of my job is to always be looking for new things. It fills a basic part of who I am. I never get bored with my job because it is always evolving and changing. It can sometimes be overwhelming because I also can never just pull out an old lesson plan, but for now, that's just fine. The hardest part is less continuity with the students, both professionally and personally, that's now a void that I struggle with filling. Teaching faces occasionally verses teaching names and personalities weekly is a big adjustment for me.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

What I learned at #ISTE2014- I am a little fish in a big pond.

I am a little fish in a big pond. I thought I was special. I thought I had the DL on how to make technology work in a school setting- to encourage, to support, to coach teachers out of their comfort zone, to show the benefits, to be honest about the limitations, and to change my K-12 world one teacher at a time. I'm not special. I attended ISTE with 14,000 educators in Atlanta all wanting to make a difference by using technology in the classroom. It was an overwhelming experience.

I am a little fish in a big pond. I saw vendors "courting and wooing" big name educators in hopes of getting endorsements for huge school districts. I sat in my room in the evening while vendors were offering special evenings for educators. I wasn't invited...It felt much like high school all over again. ;)

I am a little fish in a big pond. I realized (and knew this already), that we really aren't doing anything cutting edge at our school regarding technology.- we are adopters and I am thankful we are doing what we are doing. I was awed by Gwinnett County, Georgia's push for BYOT in elementary schools. I was blown away by the amount of Augmented Reality workshops and posters that were out there. Nothing I'm doing is cutting edge, even though it might feel that way to me because I have been a first implementor at my school.

I am a little fish in a big pond. I got a little down, maybe even mad, as I saw the technology support that these big public schools often have because of great funding. We just don't have the funding to do that type of thing at my school, even though we are the largest private school in Chattanooga. We are dependent on enrollment and supporters, and there are always other very important and needed things vying for money at my school.

So what did I walk away with after I got over my initial feelings of inadequacies and not feeling like I was as special as I thought I was or that I wanted to be?

A. I am a fan of a technology. I do not believe technology is the end to a means, I believe technology is a tool. I see the benefits as I teach- students collaborating, students engaged, students organized, teacher workloads decreased so that more one on one can take place in the classroom, immediate feedback to help teachers, parents, and students plan, teach, support, and learn. I find myself having to stand up for my love of technology in ways that amaze me, with my own co-workers and complete strangers. Teachers feel threatened by technology. I want them to feel less threatened and more supported.

B. I am a innovator. I want to be a part of things that are cutting edge. I want a makers space for students to be creative, via cardboard box models or 3d printers. I want to do things that causes students to have to answer questions that can't be googled. I want to be a part of teaching students critical thinking skills. I want to dig deeper and see what bits and pieces I've learned and heard about would best meet the needs of OUR students in the elementary school. How can we reach every student? What forms of teaching does THAT student respond best to? How can WE help that student feel like a confident learner?

C. I want to bloom where I am planted. I struggle with being content where I am, which kind of makes me a pain because I am always pushing for more. I want to be the best support as a technology coach that I can be to my fellow teachers. I want to be the best teacher of technology that I can be to my students. I want to take technology to the next level at the elementary school, but not in a fearful climate, in a way that the teachers feel supported and confident in this process.

D. I want to set goals for myself and my school curriculum. These include:

  1. Thoroughly defining what my job description is and how it can best help my school (i.e.- writing down what a tech coach looks like at CCS elementary school) and share it with my co-workers so they can feel confident in what they can expect from this role.
  2. Immerse lesson plans in digital citizenship so that my students realize technology can exacerbate a heart issue quickly. Talk about digital footprints and show grace and love to those that struggle with using technology inappropriately. Teach students to set self-discipline with the amount of time they spend with technology (and perhaps teach myself).
  3. Get keyboarding back into the curriculum.
  4. Ask for us to go BYOT in the elementary school sooner than planned with a push in 3-5th grades starting with simple classroom blogging opportunities.
  5. Find software, apps, options that gives teachers immediate feedback and students a feeling of accomplishment because of intelligent adaptive programming that differentiates to meet the needs of the student constantly.
  6. Be hands on- find "guinea pigs" that want to try something new in the classroom, to work with their strengths and build. 
  7. Incorporate project-based learning opportunities, including cross-curriculum subject matter, in order to make student learning more authentic.
  8. I want to be more flexible and openminded. To know I do not have the DL on all things technology in the classroom. I am truly a little fish in a big pond, but I want to be a rainbow fish. ;)

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Freedom to Choose and Goals for the Future

As a technology coach I find it important to teach and explain different ways for my students to CREATE using their devices. This school year I have "taught"at varying levels: Keynote, Popplet, Padlet, Haiku Deck, Pages, Google Documents, Sock Puppets, Tellagami, StoryKit, Stop Motion, Toontastic, SCVNGR, Picstitch,  Moodle, Edmodo, QR Code usage, and Noodlebib to various grade levels and/or teachers. I teach apps and websites so that students and teachers have choices.

The more I teach in this role of a tech coach, the more I realize my job is two-fold. First, it is my desire for technology to be used in the classroom in a way that it becomes interwoven in the day without a lot of thought put into it. As we embarked on this BYOT 1:1 adventure in the middle school and now having 3 iPad carts in the elementary school, I feel like this has been a year of legwork. I feel like I have learned much on how to be a better help to the teachers and the students next year. I feel that I have helped many of the teachers with a toolbox of tools and ideas to implement in the future. I feel I have introduced many CREATION options to students for future projects. It is this last thought that leads me to this post...

I am a fan of giving students choice. When they can choose how they want to present information, they take more ownership in their presentations. So this year, I have explained to them what some apps do that others do not. For instance, StoryKit allows students to write a "book," while Haiku Deck allows students to make a presentation. The same topic could be presented with both apps but it is important that they know the strengths and weaknesses of their options and the audience they are trying to reach. 

As teachers, how do we allow freedom to choose and still grade fairly? RUBRICS for grading. If we give our students rubrics with required information needed for their presentations, it doesn't matter if they choose to create a clay panorama, a podcast, a Toontastic cartoon, a slideshow, or poster art. They can meet the requirements in the manner that most appeals to them. When students feel they have choices in creativity, they own their projects more. 

So this was a year of filling their toolboxes with different app possibilities. We did a little app-smashing (morphing two apps together to create presentations), we learned the pros and cons to different apps (sometimes the hard way), and as always we learned from each other. 

I am very excited to see what next school year will be like. I have goals in place:
1. MORE classroom management training for the teachers so they feel more comfortable with the devices in their classrooms and I feel more comfortable not being in control. ;)
2. MORE time teaching students research skills and how to curate information.
3. Bring keyboarding back to the 4th and 5th grade curriculum.
4. Teach and integrate digital citizenship skills and lessons for preK-5th grade.
5. Finding opportunities for classes to collaborate with others- next door or around the world.
6. Spend more time in each grade for more projects.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Addressing the "Closeness" of Information for Student Research

From 1945-1957, my father went to grades 1-12 in rural Alabama. He was born to parents with a high school education who had amazing work ethics, a desire to be the best they could be, loads of common sense but limited "book smarts." For my father, to gain knowledge beyond his parents, he had to go to school. The youngest child of 5, he was the only one that went on to college and then graduate school because he saw the benefit of "more information."

From 1975-1987, I went to K-12 grades in both Alabama and Tennessee. I was born the daughter of the above father with a masters degree in Education and a mother who didn't quite finish her undergraduate degree in education. It was instilled in me that anything other than a college degree was not an option. I went to school to learn, I received some "book knowledge" from my parents as well as at school. In 1978 my "information world" was expanded. A man knocked on our door to sell us a burgundy set (with gold leaf) of Worldbook Encyclopedias. My parents bought them and they were placed in a prominent spot in our den. I would often pull one out and flip through the pages (while laying on our shag carpet in my bell bottom jeans). All of a sudden, as an elementary student, I no longer had to go to school or watch a National Geographic special to learn something about the big world I lived in. "Information" had come to my home. Mom and dad no longer had to take me to Northgate library for research. I had a source always at my fingertips.

From 2000-2014, my daughter went to PreK-12 grades in Chattanooga, Tennessee. She was born the daughter of a mother with an undergraduate degree in Accounting and a father with an undergraduate degree in Business Administration. Her mother went back to school when this daughter was in first grade to earn a licensure to teach Business Education and then almost immediately worked to earn a Master's degree in Instructional Technology. This girl saw constantly that education was deemed important to her family. In her lifetime, the worldwide web has exploded. She has no remembrance of a time when there was not a computer in her home. She only remembers cell phones being a part of everyday life. For her, information has always been readily available to be known. At age 18, she has an iphone 5c in her pocket at all times, her own iPad, and access to laptops at home whenever she needs them. She is a digital native. When she wants to learn something hands-on, she searches youTube for a video (for example: when she replaced her iPhone's cracked screen by herself, or when she taught herself to knit). When she has a research paper, she googles for sources. Information is always at the end of her fingertips ready to be had. She is a digital native but right on the cusp of knowing it's there but not really knowing how best to utilize it for her advantage.

I struggle with the fact that we, as educators, have not equipped her as well as we should have to prepare her to be a lifelong learner with the tools at her fingertips. Students 3 years younger than her will have a better understanding of the power of the Internet and how to navigate, but for Jessica, she is in a limbo group. As an instructional technologist, I will share with her some tools and tips to help her in college. I will set up an Evernote account for her even though she prefers and learns better by "writing" her notes. I will teach her the benefits of how to take photos of her notes and upload them to Evernote to help her become a more organized student. I will tell her about apps to help her make flashcards, graphic organizers to help her gather her thoughts before writing a paper, citation devices that will help take the angst of incorrect MLA citing away. She struggles with math, therefore she will have a Khan academy account to help her when she struggles. I will put tools in her toolbox that will aid her for her future. She will pick and choose which of these tools truly help her and she will use the ones that do.

We, as educators, have a responsibility to equip all our students for success. Technology often alleviates so much of the burdens and angst in the education process. We have to teach good digital citizenship skills. We have to show students how to look for good resources, where to look for good resources, and beyond that, how to cite them easily without issues. The ease of closeness to information has opened the door quickly to us, but we must respond in kind. We cannot drag our feet as educators. We must prepare our students to see this as a tool and not just an overwhelming struggle.

I love the following quote from a TED talk attributed to Diane Laufenberg in the book "Getting Smart" by Tom Vander Ark, "Our new closeness to information forces schools to think of themselves not simply as places to get information but as places where children will be challenged and guided in new ways to use information. As more skill-building and content-sharing activities are offered automatically, schools and teachers can increasingly focus on the important stuff: critical thinking (what does this mean?), coherence (where does this fit?), and application (what could I do with this knowledge?)”

Friday, January 24, 2014

Preparation Apps

I've spent the last month researching preparation apps...having a shared set of iPads sometimes limits which apps will work for an ongoing project. If students in a class use Tellagami (for instance), and don't quite finish their project and then I take the iPads to my next class to do a Tellagami project, the first project has to be deleted to do the next project...ongoing tasks are not an option for many preparation apps. So I have been researching which apps allow me to carry on, which apps give me a significant amount of time to share my content, which apps have a "sign in" for creations, which apps are free to do this and which cost money.

In my perfect world, I would like to give my students free reign to use the medium of their choice when doing presentations and just grade via a rubric. This concept allows for student creativity and sparks their natural interests. This is not always an option though. Below is a link to a spreadsheet of apps I have used regarding presentations and some helpful information regarding those apps. Have one you want to add? Go ahead!

List of Preparation Apps