Sunday, May 29, 2016

Blended Learning from an Edtech Perspective

Year one of the blended learning math prototype for the eighth grade math class is in the books. It has been a year highs and lows, confusion and accomplishments, making things work and figuring out what doesn't work. And that is just from my perspective, not from the actual teachers that made this prototype rock. 

Taking on learning a brand-new LMS that was actually a student performance system was a feat in itself. Adopting blended learning with students that were used to "sit and get" seemed like an impossible task at times. Navigating standards, modalities, checkpoints, and grading heaped extra fast learning on the part of overwhelmed teachers on a regular basis. To say they persevered would be an understatement for the year. Not only did they persevere but they owned and achieved far more for our school than anything a gradebook, NWEA testing, or administrative satisfaction can show. And yet gradebooks, testing and administrative satisfaction in the program were all evident as well. 

There are things that prototypes do that you don't expect.  This prototype created a culture of risk-taking that is not the norm at our school. This prototype allowed me to flourish in the idea of innovation by giving me authority and opportunity. This prototype gave Ed Tech a voice in academia more than ever before. 

But what really excites me about this prototype is that it proves that even the students you don't always expect to have the desire to succeed or take on their own learning will choose to set their own goals when they feel supported. The results of the student survey abundantly stated that the majority of students loved the self pacing aspect of this class. In the beginning of the year that wasn't even a goal but these three amazing teachers saw the value. The students loved the feeling of empowerment that voice and choice  in the path of their learning created for them. Students were setting their own goals higher than the teachers would have ever created and they were learning what works best for them in order to meet their learning objectives. Personalized learning happened. Every person in the class that filled out the survey left the class feeling successful in math this year. 

I am thankful for the opportunity I had to be a small part of this math prototype, I am thankful for the teachers that I worked with at CCS that jumped in with both feet and followed the vision but took it beyond where we ever expected it to go. The very essence of the word prototype means learning, adapting, revamping, trying, failing and in then creating a sample or model that could serve as an example for the future. I have no doubt that has been done. I also believe that many of the students that were a part of this prototype learned more about themselves as learners than they ever have in the past because they were stretched beyond their normal mode of learning. I believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that we have taught the students the process of recognizing how they best learn. 

The teachers of this class went into this prototype feeling ill equipped and overwhelmed by the change. They came out of the school year seeing the value, becoming passionate about the vision, and willing to take on more. I cannot wait to see what the future holds! Jennifer Matthews, Sara Davick, and Nicole McKinney thank you for not shutting the door in my face when I said "exit ticket," "lms," and "standards" over and over again. Thank you for supporting me in my role as well. All year long I stood amazed at God's orchestration of a team that brought to the table so many varied gifts that played a crucial role in the success of this year. Team work makes dream work!

Sunday, May 22, 2016


Visionaries. I believe God often orchestrates our life to get our attention with what's in our world
. I've had a really hard few weeks of self-reflection and future thinking swirled in with health issues and personalities. This weekend I've been at Blackberry Farm outside of Maryville, TN. I've been here several times over the years but this year I feel being here has both grown me and allowed me to see myself for who I am. Bear with me, to get to this point you must withstand some rambling.

Sam Beall was such an iconic visionary for Blackberry Farm. While I never met him, I sometimes saw him walking across the smoky mountain rolling hills, a dog frolicking along in his path and often one or two of his beautiful children in tow. As we have been coming here for a while, we have seen the results of his visionary leadership over the years. It amazes me that basically in the middle of nowhere exists a place that can pull politicians, movie stars, executives, and so many others from all over the world down a winding country road to spend time here. Granted it's not that it isn't worth it- It's a beautifully crafted experience but still, one must be beyond "good" to have a vision that creates the environment that causes people to want to be a part of the middle of nowhere Tennessee experience. 

Sam Beall tragically died three months ago in an accident leaving behind a beautiful wife, five children and Blackberry Farm that was in the midst of growing his vision. I don't pretend to know how the visions came about at Blackberry nor do I know who will carry out the family's plans for the future of this establishment but I want to share how his story got my mental juices flowing.
We tend to always walk some of the farm while we are here. One of my favorite places to go is the little church nestled in a picturesque cove tucked away from things. Yesterday as I went there I noticed something I had never seen before- a lone understated headstone inside the picket fence beside the chapel. As I gazed out the window I realized it belonged to the 39 year old Sam Beall who was taken early in life last February. It stood all alone in what I assume will become a future family cemetery and on it was a simple epitaph that included the words "our visionary" poignant. 

All weekend I've struggled with the fact that I often feel like a non-empowered visionary. This isn't an indictment on anyone. I was never hired to be an educational visionary. I was hired to be a technology integrationist. I'm 47 years old and I'm just learning this about myself. In almost every job I've had my frustrations come from me seeing better ways to do things (from my viewpoint) and not being able to  speak into it or be valued enough to share my viewpoint. Once again, that's no indictment on people who have employed me, it's basically because there would have been no reason to ask a part time computer teacher in an elementary school what she thought, or a staff accountant at one of the largest companies in the United States.

So I've come to this point where I'm trying to figure out why I was able to balance for 10 years and now every year is a struggle to find my self value. I think it's because as a classroom teacher of technology I had some semblance of control and ability to map the path I felt best met my students needs. Now I'm dependent on others seeing the vision I have and they don't always see it nor should they be expected to see it. 

I don't pretend to be a Sam Beall, Steve Jobs, or Sir Ken Robinson but I believe a visionary personality just exists in some people. The road my life has taken hasn't allowed me to follow that career path because of choices I have made to fulfill the role of support staff as a wife of an entrepreneur and a parent of two girls. 

But here I am at 47 years old with a semi-administrative role in a school, with much achieved over the past three years in leading, creating, and supporting educators in a way that integrates technology to help meet learning goals for our students. There is no shame in the tech integrationist game thus far. But I strive for more. And that's where the balance causes me emotional and physical unrest. This weekend I was able to see the first step... I'm a visionary personality that either must bloom where I'm planted, resign to internal angst at times, or just keep my head down. 

As I read back over this post I can see where it seems a bit vain from a reader's standpoint- declaring yourself a visionary. But bear with me, I'm 47 and just realizing this about myself in this weekend. I won't bore you with all the details but I realized others have seen this angst in me for a long time but I've been too bullheaded to realize the stress I often take on is not mine to own. I'm thankful for a weekend of the scales falling off my eyes but I am uncertain what that means for me forward.

Friday, May 6, 2016

What Should First Year Teachers Know About Tech Integration?

I recently participated in a #TnTechChat Twitter chat moderated by @TeachTnTech regarding Technology skills needed in preservice teachers. For many of us in the chat we felt that new teachers are not necessarily entering the workforce equipped for a tech-rich classroom. There were a few higher education professors in the discussion that gave a bit of insight into how slowly changes in curriculum often happen in higher Ed courses.

At the end of the chat I shared the following tweet: "I know I'm biased but I think teacher prep students should be aware of blended learning, value of PLN and recent buzzwords to explore." Apparently this tweet resonated with many educators on Twitter because it got an over abundance of love. As this week has progressed I find myself thinking on the subject a lot, and this blog post is a more thought out list of technology knowledge I think preservice teachers should be aware of before entering the workforce:

Blended learning. Technology allows for teachers to have more small group and one on one instruction, something all teachers find value in. Understanding the dynamics, classroom management and benefits of blended learning needs to be on the new teacher's radar.

Technology-based formative assessment options. For centuries teachers have learned the value of formative assessment. Whether it be on the slate or white board or just casual questioning, all teachers love the ability to have feedback after a lesson. There are many different ways teachers can now easily ascertain in real time the learning happening in the classroom. Apps and websites like Kahoot, Socrative, Go Formative, or using school-based LMS quiz solutions allows for more knowledge based on individualized students. I believe this is a game changer for education and can't be ignored.

The value of professional learning networks (PLNs). The collaborative value that Twitter, Google plus, CoffeeEDUs and various other educational online communities bring is invaluable. It should be part of the curriculum for a preservice teacher to learn how to leverage these PLNs for their future learning when they are out of the classroom as a student. PLN's are a great way for teachers to remain lifelong learners.

Buzzwords. I'll be honest this is the one that I have mixed reviews on. I don't believe that every buzzword should be adopted or even considered in every school, I also realize buzzwords don't necessarily have any proof of their effectiveness. I do believe pedagogy trumps technology every day of the week and that technology should never lead instruction. That being said, I also think there is great value in new educators at least being aware of recent buzzword initiatives in education. This hit me at an Edcamp last year when topics of discussion were listed on the board and hands went up all over the room asking things like "what's a makerspace?", "what's augmented reality?", "what does PBL stand for?" While any school they go to may not implement any of those buzzwords, they need to know they exist; and maybe even the pros and cons of these different  teaching methods and tools.

Classroom management skills for a tech-rich environment. I believe a new teacher should enter the work place with lots of ideas to keep students on task, engaged, and learning when technology is present. I think teachers also should have a plan of what to do for off-task students- knowing that individual schools might have their own set of standards of expectation.

How to read website and app data retrieved from student learning and how to value that timely information. So many teachers grade papers for hours on end. As a rule we know this has been a major component of a teacher's day. Technology can change this. If students are using technology such as adaptive learning software options, teachers now will spend less time grading papers but must spend their evenings looking at the results in the technology-based learning. This is a change in teacher culture. If teachers aren't careful, technology stations in a classroom just becomes a thing to do. If we aren't looking at results for assessment purposes, the chances of it being valuable use of instruction time is small.

Experience with someone modeling good technology integration in the classroom. Many times teacher placements happen where preservice teachers never have the opportunity to work in a classroom with much technology or with a mentor teacher that values it. This may be my most aggressive point but I believe every preservice teacher should have one placement that allows them to see what good technology integration looks like. I believe it must be an expectation of the mentor teacher as well.

Technology in the classroom is not going away, in fact companies like Google and Apple are creating opportunities directly for education. As time goes on more and more ways to meet student needs via technology shows positive learning results are happening. Ignoring this side of prepping teachers is not a future ready mindset. We must grow forward to best equipped these future educational technology leaders.