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.