Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Problem with Checklists

I'm guilty. I just opened up my iPad case and 5 different lists of "things to do" fell out of it. We all need a source for organization and for me, writing it on a note ingrains it in my head, but that isn't the type of checklist I am talking about in this blog. I am talking about "integration checklists." IF we say "you have to use this, this, and this in your classroom" we are doing two things:

  1. Stiffling the creativity of teachers that look beyond the things they have been taught.
  2. Placing criteria for tech use into a checklist of "done this" which never leads to "tech inteGREATion." 
My views on this have changed over the years. In year one of having 3 iPad carts in the elementary school, the "requirements" were two projects based on current units of study with the technology coach. I'll be honest, I think the idea had massive value in that first year to push some teachers out of their comfort zone with a bit of handholding or to support teachers excited about the thought of technology but nervous about implementing alone. Year 2- the same "requirements" were there but I also saw an influx of teachers wanting to implement technology in their "centers"- blended learning began! We are at year 3 now and we started the year with the same "projects" requirement but for a few grades mandatory implementation of tech-based math instruction has also been added. Now that there is a comfortability for most of the teachers the struggle is "we want more iPad time and more iPads." I find myself researching for them more than ever before because they are thinking outside the box at "what if" ideas. I rarely have to twist arms or remind them of the "requirements."

Where am I now in what things should look like in the future? I think we are ready to move to expectations based on standards. Currently I see myself perusing the ISTE standards for teachers and students. I see next year perhaps looking differently with what can be seen as a bit more freedom for creativity. Next year, perhaps, we will base requirements on standards with concrete examples from the tech coach on ways to meet those standards. 

It has been exciting to see teachers wanting more iPads and iPad time for their classroom. It's been exciting to see the revelation of what technology can accomplish in the elementary classroom as well. Not everyone is "all in" and that is alright but some of our teachers are all up in the R of SAMR. 

I'm thankful for transformational classrooms that I have gotten to be a part of the planning of implementation. I'm thankful for teachers that are owning implementation. And I am thankful for the hesitant ones that make me dig deep and force me to prove the worth- it's always good to be reminded why you do what you do and what you believe in. I believe in technology coaching collaboration, using technology to support learning, and seeing technology used for consumption, curation, connection, and creation on a regular basis that makes some students super excited about learning.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Elementary Typing Dilemma- I have probz.

3 years ago we ditched the elementary computer lab (which I still lament at times) and I changed from a "related arts teacher" to a "technology coach." Picking up the coaching model has had great results in the elementary school in taking giant strides in seeing technology integration. All grade levels use the iPad carts for some level of instruction (but that's a whole other blog post in the making).

The one thing that seems to have gotten lost in the shuffle between routine tech classes and "as needed" tech teaching/support is KEYBOARDING. Research shows that the best way to implement keyboarding is for students to get in 20 completely engaged minutes 3 days a week. Even when I was a related arts teacher, that didn't happen but grades 1-5 got anywhere from 20-35 minutes once a week for the entire school year back then.

We've had 3 years since the lab disappeared. In year 1, we just dropped keyboarding but by the end of the year it was obvious to me and to the teachers that this was a mistake. When a teacher assigned just one paragraph of typing, being in that classroom watching students hunt and peck like chickens and ask "Where's the question mark?" made my skin crawl, my eye twitch, and my pride yell "NOOOOO!" And as predicted, the next school year the sixth grade teachers begged me to find a way to put keyboarding back into the curriculum.

Last year I sat down with 4th and 5th grade teachers and thanks to their ability to see the need for keyboarding instruction, they figured out a way to get it back into the curriculum for 6 weeks. The problem is, they all had to give up valuable instructional time to do it. As flexible as this was of them, I realized it wasn't fair for me to limit their instructional time for this. And whether you believe me or not, keyboarding doesn't teach itself even if there are great technology resources out there. Most of this article resonants with my heart right now.

So this year I thought we had an answer and I was so very excited. Keyboarding would be brought into the Library/Technology Related Arts rotation but this just isn't happening well for a myriad of reasons, including my failure to follow up on a regular basis. The bottom line is the rotation schedule truly limits how much time can be used for keyboarding. When I look at what is best for our students, I have to be honest and say a love of reading is more important to me than fast typing skills. (It hurt to type that a bit though because it feels like I'm giving up).

My desire is that my fifth graders leave elementary school typing 25 words per minute or faster. If they can do that, they will be able to type faster than they can write and in our 1:1 environment, that's imperative. Maybe it will just happen this year with my fifth graders because they had 6 week so f instruction last year and they all have iPads for instruction this year with required to bring keyboards. I just don't know!

Do I need access to more technology? Do I need a stand-alone keyboarding instruction time? Do I just ask parents to have students practice keyboarding as part of homework (I HATE this idea)? Do I set minimum typing wpm expectations for grade level and leave it up to families? Do I force it? Do I let it go? Do I limp along this year and come up with a better plan for next year? I don't want to lose what the coaching model does for our school- if I start teaching it weekly it has the potential to change what I have worked hard to achieve for the last three years.

The struggle is real and the answers aren't clear. Any suggestions/ideas are appreciated!

Monday, September 21, 2015

The Problem with the Expectations of GREAT THINGS

I'm guilty of expecting GREAT THINGS. 
I'm guilty of always looking towards the next GREAT THING. 
I'm guilty of getting fed up with people that don't want GREAT THINGS.
I'm guilty of not being open to the GREAT THINGS of others.

I have to start this by saying I have not read Jim Collins book, I am just familiar with this saying "Good is the enemy of great." In and of itself it doesn't sound like the above four statements would be detrimental to a technology coordinator's some extent it is what makes me look for better/different/new innovation. BUT, it also creates inside me this sense of lack of achievement. If my goal is always GREAT THINGS then it is hard for me to applaud the steps of "good," or to acknowledge the risk of "try," or to accept the possibility of "failure." This really isn't fair to myself or to the environment in which I work. Add to that my perfectionist tendencies and if I'm not careful I am walking a fine line of "GREAT THINGS ACCOMPLISHED EUPHORIA" and "JULIE IS BURNT OUT FROM TRYING SO HARD." There was a time when I 100% aligned myself with the saying, "Good is the enemy of great" but now I am seeing things differently, and in some ways that scares me.

Here is what I have learned this year about my infatuation with GREAT THINGS:

  1. GOOD might just be the stepping stone to GREAT. Last week someone said to me, "we may not be where you would like us to be Julie, but we definitely are further along than we were 4 years ago." That person was right. My goals for my school are beyond where we are but we are efforting yearly to get to the GREAT. So maybe, just maybe, GREAT is always an "in process." GREAT is always a moving target? 
  2. There is value in consistency. In my attempt to always try the "next best thing" I could make the whole idea of technology usage overwhelming for both the teachers and the students. If I am constantly introducing new ways to present, no one feels proficient on anything- they just have enough knowledge to be dangerous. Consistently using and teaching a handful of apps/websites allows us to get to great use of them instead of just good use. Does that mean I should limit a student's creativity of wanting to use something in particular? No, I will always believe in the importance of allowing students to own their path of learning as much as possible if they have that desire.
  3. Absolutes make me cringe. Out of necessity, I am trying to wrap my head around doing things differently than I normally would. Adjusting MY plans to make things work for the greater good of the students and the teachers. In doing this, it really makes my skin crawl when I hear people not willing to be flexible and see that their way may not be the best way. I'm learning that GREAT THINGS sometimes means allowing other ideas some breathing room. People who use absolutes like "students can't do this with that" or "there is no need for that" or "that idea won't work" without letting things breath and ferment before reacting makes that little gnawing place in my stomach need more Tagamet on a regular basis. 
  4. Protecting the potential for GREAT THINGS is important. Finding balance in what to "fight" for and what to let go is important. Deciding what's worthy is hard but not allowing those worthy things to be overlooked is harder. Being open to other's GREAT THINGS and keeping mine in perspective is my goal though. Agendas do not serve the greater good of our students.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Personalized Learning Misconceptions

"Personalized learning doesn't mean there aren't learning goals and benchmarks it just means it isn't cookie cutter "

The above quote came from me during a recent Twitter chat I participated in as people very hippy-like said "give students control over their learning," "no one wants someone to tell them what to learn."

Misconception #1- Personalized learning doesn't mean a free for all within an organized learning environment such as "school"; It means educators guiding the path of learning for students but allowing those students to have more control over pace and passions through a variety of different levels of choice. Depending on the needs of the student and the environment, it may not mean complete control over pace and passions. Blended learning can look differently for different situations.

Misconception #2- Personalized learning means less teacher interaction. I think it would be safe to say that more than ever before, we are seeing the individual student's needs due to our blended learning classroom. More small group instruction and data from technology-based applications means knowing what makes your students tick, what is their struggles, and how their day is going more than ever happened in a traditional classroom. Personalized learning means instructors have to know the person.

Misconception #3- Personalized learning means students easily adapt to this mode of learning- not necessarily. For most students, they have learned in a traditional way in schools. Teachers stand in the front, give information, students curate the information, practice it doing homework, are tested on it and regardless of knowledge gained- the next lesson begins. Personalized learning means helping that student learn concepts until they learn them. Pushing them more, expecting more, "making" them be in control of their learning. It's a hard change to more personal accountability for some students. It's not easier for some kids, especially in the beginning- change from the norm is hard.

Misconception #4- Personalized learning means a teacher isn't needed because a computer can replace the instructor. Great personalized learning happens when novices at learning are guided by instructors that care. I watch our instructors searching for best resources, interacting in small groups with likeminded students, and creating videos for students to watch again and again for multiple step problems. I see them care if these students progress. I see them lament on the lagging ones- on how to meet their needs. I see them struggle with the fact they might have a student outpace them and become more dependent on other things for instruction. I see our instructors keep an eye on these personalized learners to make sure true learning is happening. That can't be replaced in a classroom.

What About Blended Learning?

As we are now 4 weeks into an eighth grade math blended learning prototype at our school we are hearing things, we are experiencing things, and we are learning things. We've started, adjusted, moved forward, and camped in place for a few days. We've listened, we've researched, we've visited, we've adapted. These are things teachers do in any class- whether traditional or blended. Good teachers adjust their teaching to their students needs. As a technology coordinator, this is what I have learned 4 weeks in:

1. A need to explain expectations well. Our students are submerged in a traditional school environment, this model of learning is very different for them. Being in control of their pace, learning that homework doesn't necessarily happen with pencil and paper, and using time in class wisely have been either new concepts or concepts being leaned on more heavily than ever before. Some of these kids seem to have the "mind blown" look in their eyes as they enter into a collaborative-based learning environment with strange looking desks, 3 teachers in a classroom, stations, and technology.

  • We thought we would just let these students be "self-paced" and we may eventually get there but we quickly learned that eighth graders need CHECKPOINT EXPECTATION STRUCTURE. Perhaps it's because it's all new but we have set some progress check points so that we can make sure they are on track.
  • Some zeroes had to be placed in the grade book to remind students "this is for real." They are adjusting, but just like a traditional classroom some kids lag behind based on bad priorities of getting things done- not just ability. Those things are being addressed.

2. Pacebreakers are seen quickly. The ones that struggle to understand and the ones that can just go on ahead show themselves and their learning can be adjusted for much earlier in the classroom than in a traditional environment. Coming up with a plan has been a bit more tricky because this is a prototype and there is no "plan" for those with the ability to zoom beyond Intro To Algebra within the year and we have to keep the stragglers on target to finish the class in the school year as well.
  • Having 3 adults in the classroom has made it easier to small group instruct those students that need additional help. The adults have also taken advantage of some available daily RTI time built into the school day.
  • Using technology has allowed students to move ahead a bit from the pack as well. In a traditional setting, these students would be sitting there waiting for the teacher to address the issues for the majority of the class and they wouldn't have had the ability to do anything but wait and possibly aid their friends in peer-to-peer tutoring. These students can also have the ability to go a bit deeper with projects or tasks that show critical thinking of concepts beyond the norm.
3. A base for good resources is a must. Giving teachers time to create their own videos, places to go to look for additional resources, and a flexible budget to adjust to standards is needed. For instance, we have been using Khan Academy as one of our main technology-based instructional options but the upcoming unit doesn't seem to have as many good videos and problems as we have had for the last 2 units. We plan to adjust by buying something. 
  • Last year, before the project was actually being implemented I spent some time looking into various technology-based options. This list came from that research but I find it to be ever changing with the hardest problem being me finding the time to research more and more. 
  • Using something like or to take a pre-made video resource and allow the teacher to personalize it is also a great way to personalize resources for a certain environment.
4. Standards-based assessment with blended learning could open the door for true personalized learning to happen and for future teachers to know exactly where the gaps are for students next year as they could see "this student is not proficient in these concepts" or "this student is proficient beyond the concepts of this class, dig deeper!"

  • Using a new LMS called Edify has had its challenges but what we are seeing is what value there is in standard-based assessments. We now know what concept a student still isn't getting with a quick look instead of just seeing a grade. While we have not been able to use this to it's full potential, I see amazing capabilities. 
  • We have to start with the standards and work backwards, not start with a curriculum and work towards the standard. Expecting teachers to work from a curriculum forward greatly increases the amount of work they have to do to reap the benefits of standards-based learning.
  • With standards-based learning, the next teacher would know exactly what concepts a student struggles with not just "Suzie is historically a C+ student." Standards-based learning is a longterm continuous key to personalized learning for each student throughout their educational life if handled appropriately. While we aren't "there," I want us to be there and reap the benefits! 

Looking forward to what this means for the future!

Thursday, September 3, 2015

The only good things that can be spread too thin are mayonnaise and cologne

When thinking about this blogpost I tried to come up with some positives that happen when we spread ourselves or others "too thin." The only thing I could come up with that genuinely sounded like a positive to me was mayonnaise (a little goes a long way with me) and cologne- no one wants to sit next to gold chained, third shirt button undone, too much Brut cologne wearing Ricco Suave. So there is my list- two things that are better spread too thin: Mayo and cologne.

But what happens when we feel spread too thin? We've all been there- when there isn't enough daylight in our day, when we are required to be 2 to 3 places at once, when our priorities don't matter because the loudest cry gets the most attention, when we feel like we are putting out fires all day instead of directing our agendas methodically. What ultimately happens to our precious agendas, ourselves or others when you're having days where there is just too much to get done? I mean we live in a culture where productivity is an admired part of life. We push ourselves and others to get things done to prove we aren't lazy because being busy is a sign of being a "go-getter," someone you want on your team.

But there are negative ramifications that we tend to want to ignore:

  1. If we live in that place of constant busy, something gets ignored at all times. Something that should be a priority. Sometimes it's family, sometimes it's aspects of our job that are important but can be placed on the back burner. Sometimes, for educators, it's losing the vision of why you are doing all this in the first place. Busy makes us have tunnel vision.
  2. Increased likelihood to lose it. When that student says "Mrs. Davis, Mrs. Davis, Mrs. Davis, Mrs. Davis" 4 times in a row while I am currently helping another student- stress happens. Stress has different effects on different people- I get migraines, binge eat, lapse into the blahs and get cranky. I get stuck in negative thought patterns and eventually I start shutting down in areas of my life. It works on people differently but we all know our signs of being underwater. Those of us that see the signs do something. We vent, we run, we blog, we find a path to let it go at the end of the day and thankfully God's mercies are new every morning and we try again. 
  3. We don't appreciate the little things. We get stuck on feeling undervalued, under compensated, or underwater and we forget to see the good things going on around us too- Like a classroom full of fifth graders using technology seamlessly that IS going right, or a teacher/friend that pulls you aside and says "we do appreciate all you do for us and we think you are doing a great job," or the smile and wave of a student in the hallway when you walk past them. 
I'm there right now. There is more to do than I can get done in my allotted time- life is pulling me in every direction. Things that once felt very in control now feel very out of control. Expectations aren't clear, communication is lacking, my attitude often sucks, and I feel like a squeaky wheel. It's not who I want to be nor is it someone people want to be around.
  •  I'm trying to find my balance. I know some of it will just get better as the school year moves along, it always does. I am also trying to make sure correct priorities are there.
  • In the immortal words of of Elsa from Frozen, I'm trying to "Let it Go" each day instead of pooling it all up and holding onto it and allowing it to change me for the worse.
  • I am choosing to be a team player and not overstep or under step my responsibilities.
  • I'm trying to be a difference maker.
And tomorrow is a new day.