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.