Sunday, August 21, 2016

1:1 Reflections of a Fifth Grade Teacher

Last year I asked Craig Lubbers, a fifth grade teacher at Chattanooga Christian School, if he would share his thoughts on our first year's 1:1 implementation. Quite honestly I'm thankful that he waited until this year to share, I appreciate and resonate with his thoughts...

My continuous journey of 1:1 Implementation by Craig Lubbers:

Two years ago, my school made a decision to go 1:1 in 5th grade and to fall in line with our Middle School and High school.  While I was very excited when I heard the news, I have to admit that I also felt a bit nervous.  As a 5th grade teacher I would describe myself as someone who embraces technology and sees the benefits of its use in the classroom and who can also see how it can be used to help enhance the educational and learning experience for our students.  While I see myself as someone who embraces technology, I also would describe myself as someone who has not “fully” implemented it “yet”.  Why is this the case?  I feel like it is mostly because of three reasons.  One, change can be both challenging and difficult at times.  Two, becoming a grade level and school that is 1:1 is a process and it takes time.  Lastly, I believe that one must come to a point where they understand fullycompletely experience it, and observe the benefits of 1:1 in order to fully embrace it.  I would like to explain each of these three points further, while offering both insight and encouragement.

As educators, we are constantly experiencing change in our profession.  Some of the change we experience can be perceived as unnecessary which causes us to be reluctant to it. In reality,much of the change we are introduced to is extremely beneficial and allows us as teachers to enhance, strengthen, and expand our craft as teachers so that we can best serve our students.  As teachers, we often encourage our students to think outside the box, to take risks, to dig deeper, to try new and different things, and to think about what they do and how it affects their learning.  As an educator, shouldn’t I be the model and example of what it means to be a lifelong learner.  Our world is changing.  Things all around us are changing that should influence, affect, and change our teaching methods including; culture, best practices, curriculum, and yes – technology.  Our students are changing and the ways that they learn, interact, receive information, and experience things are changing as well.  We do not have to change everything - all the time, but we should be constantlyself-reflecting and asking ourselves, “What changes can be made that will help enhance the learning process and meet the needs of my students?”  We all will continue to go through change in our life and the growing pains we experience willhurt, but keeping in mind that the end result is where we observe students reaching their full potential, experiencing learning at a higher level, are fully engaged in the learning process, and grow into becoming individuals who have reached their full potential. Going 1:1 has had a couple of growing pains, but over time it continues to provide new and exciting ways for students to be engaged, receive knowledge and information, create and manipulate things to remember what they have learned, as well as experience creative ways of expressing themselves and what they have learned!

Becoming a grade level that is 1:1 is a process and it will take time.  I have not fully implemented 1:1 to the level and degree that I would like.  Yes, and this is the start of my second year.  Many of the methods, routines, and procedures that I implement in my classroom also have taken time.  I often use the example of my daughter and her learning to ride her bike to help illustrate the learning process.   Three years ago, my daughter came to the point where she mastered training wheels.  It was now time to take the training wheels off!  As a teacher, I knew that she first needed some guided instruction before independent practice, so I decided to hold the back of her seat and run behind her as she experienced peddling and balance without the training wheels.  Needless to say, this worked very well for my oldest child as he caught on almost instantaneously, but this was not working for my daughter.  Holding on to the back seat, offered a feeling that was different from riding solo.  The result was that every time that I would let go, she would swerve off to the side of the road and fall.  After several attempts and scrapes, my daughter was ready to quit and go back to the comfort/support wheels.  I reminded her of the time that she didn’t think she would ever be able to ride the bike with training wheels.  We decided to keep going.  After a few more attempts and scrapes she eventually caught on.  It was not easy, at times very uncomfortable, and it didn’t go the way she anticipated.  So often, when things don’t go smoothly or if there are pumps in the road then it is much easier to punt, throw it out, and move on to trying something new.  Yes, there is a time and place for punting, but I believe that the true rewards and accomplishments in life require some sweat, some tears, some feelings of uncomfortableness, a few scrapes, and overcoming defeat in order to persevere and come out on the other end achieving what you set out to accomplish.  My daughter can now ride her bike as well as the average 8 year old, but it doesn’t mean she doesn’t still fall at times.  Recently, she had a terrible accident that I observed and thought was going to end up in the ER.  Instead, she got up, wiped off her tears, and kept riding.  I was amazed and it was a lesson for me as a teacher.  Full implementation of 1:1, just like anything of significant value or of minor and major accomplishment, will take time, is a process, and will require refining, adapting, reflecting, questioning, tweaking, and maybe even some tears.  There will also be times when I think “I’ve got this” and the next day I “fall”.  My advice and encouragement is to stick with it, learn from past experiences, take risks in the present, and look to the future and be ready for glitches and further changes.  It is a process and it takes time, but it is one that I have just begun to reap the benefits of and observe tremendous growth with my students.  There will be more bumps in the road as I strive for “Full” implementation, but I know it will be worth it in the end!

As I continue to experience 1:1 in my own classroom and begin to understand its value more, I am starting to realize more the significance that it has and how it can impact student learning.  I am realizing more the implications that it has and can have on the learning process.  I am realizing how much more I have to learn and continue to be reminded of how much more that I can be doing.  While I have completely supported 1:1 from the beginning, I have not fully understood what the end-result can and could look like.  I understand it more today as I have observed student learning over the last year, participated in some training, and continue to try new and different things in my classroom.  I also have the privilege of teaching my son this year.  This too, has already helped me see 1:1 in a different light.  In just a short time span of a week, I have been able to witness and observe my 5th grade son participate with 1:1 and learn what it means to be a digital citizen and how that relates to him being a more prepared and equipped leaner and person, be introduced to new programs such as his Google Drive, be motivated to be more organized and responsible as he set up his calendar and folders in his Drive, and then practice using “Show Me”, “Notability”, and “Google Slides”.   A quote from my sonduring the week was, “Wow, we are doing so much with Technology this year. I didn’t realize there was so much I could do on my device.”  The amazing thing is that we have only scratched the surface.  I know this will only be the beginning of what I hope to offer my son and the 5th grade students this year.  This year, it will be my goal to refine how I have used technology in my classroom in the past, to go out of my comfort zone and take risks by trying to do new things, to expand what I currently use and do on a regular bases, to use an app that I have never seen or used before, and to do a better job of sharing with others my experiences and what I have learned.   As an educator and life-long learner, I plan to stick with the process, to be ok when something takes more time than I would like, to be ok with feeling “uncomfortable” and knowing that it is probably the start of learning something new, to remember to push past those times of feeling paralyzed, and to being ok with not knowing something and ok to ask questions.  I am motivated to learn and grow as an educator in the area of 1:1.  I am comforted in knowing that I have an amazing staff, administration, and technology support team that will support me along the way.  The many faces of the precious students that I teach remind me of the calling, responsibility, and privilege that I have to offer my best and to help them reach their full potential.  I am excited about what I am going to learn this year and where the journey of 1:1 implementation will take me! 

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The STEAM dream with a dose of Instructional Technology

I'm at a place in the elementary school where I am seeing technology integrated more and more seamlessly every day. In the last few years it's gone from me sometimes pushing (sweetly) to get technology in the classrooms to ensure our students have exposure to technology as a learning tool to just seeing it happen where teachers find it aids their lessons. There are days I look back on and realize I was allowing technology to lead the curriculum instead of me focusing on pedagogy first- I'll blame it on being passionate about knowing it had worth. I think now it is fair to say we use technology as an instructional resource daily in the elementary school.

Over the years as we have progressed in the elementary school of incorporating technology in many different ways I have intentionally left off technology for technology sake. In this decision various gaming opportunities that have true educational benefit, coding opportunities, and robotics were put to the side as I focused on intentionally using technology for instructional purposes.

This year that has somewhat changed as we have received more funding through a generous donation from Conversant Group to grow our STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, mathematics) curriculum. We have begun to dream bigger. I am a firm believer in integration. I love when students can make connections to their world through the lessons they are learning in the classroom. This is happening and yet we are seeing tech for tech sake. We are now able to give our students more experiences in computer science in many ways. As I look around the classrooms I wonder which of the students might one day look back on these elementary experiences and realize that's when they knew they wanted to go into the world of computing.

I've worked so hard for us not to look like we were leading with technology that I find my self hesitant or nervous as we move forward in the direction we are going but in my heart of hearts I know this is a great step for our students. I continue to stand amazed at the way our STEAM endeavors have often seamlessly fit into our curriculum!

Friday, August 5, 2016

Ready, set, start.

As I sit here thinking about the last few days and the flurry of activity to get ready for the students to come on Wednesday I can't help to be both excited and overwhelmed. iPad carts aren't ready and not everything is up and running but plans are being made, teachers are working hard, and the love of students is evident. 

I've started this year trying to keep things in perspective in terms of the big picture. I've had some overly encouraging conversations, some amazing ego boosts both from within and outside my school community. 

I've met with and instructed some new teachers on tech integration. Would I like to have had more time? sure... But just like we should always be looking for the teachable moment with students, I will do the same to meet the needs of our teachers. 

My top goals for this start are:

1. Be intentional, timely, and helpful with my tech tip Tuesday emails to our teachers.
2.  Be positive and affirming of those I come in contact with. I plan to look for things to thank people for this year- both big and small and tell at least one person a day that they are appreciated, valued, and acknowledged in their work (students, teachers, parents...
whoever!) and maybe even let them know they are loved.
3. Keep learning and growing by trying new things that will help our students. There is a lot of new possibilities on the horizon for me to learn about this year.
4. Be timely in my responses to others and strive to see issues through the eyes of others.

My word for these next few weeks is STEADFASTNESS. According to the definition to this word is "sure, dependable, reliable, constant, unwavering. Steadfast, staunch, steady imply a sureness and continuousness that may be depended upon. Steadfast literally means fixed in place, but is chiefly used figuratively to indicate undeviating constancy or resolution: steadfast in one's faith." I want to be that spiritually, emotionally and physically for our school this year as I work to grow, resolve,  and adapt to a new year of learning with new people, with familiar faces, with the past to spur me through reflection, with steadfastness in mind.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

The frenzy of beginning

I always seem to be starting the new year wondering if I'm adding "the last straw" to overwhelmed teachers as they face the new school year with different expectations and a need to learn something quickly. I hold my breath as I plan how to share what this year will entail and I pray that I'm setting them up for success with the scaffolding and planning I've prepped. 

The hard part of starting new endeavors with teachers is that it usually means introducing the concepts the week before school starts when they are at their most frazzled! For the past two months I've been immersing myself in all things STEAM, PBL, and integrated units to best be the support I need to be as this new school year unfolds.

I am excited about these concepts and I hope my excitement is contagious as I extol to the teachers the benefits of PBL, the blessings of a STEAM grant, and the effectiveness of integrated units to wrap it all together. I stand amazed as I've seen the pieces come together in the last few days! 

As we plan and move forward to best meet the needs of the elementary students at CCS I am thankful for the team of educators I work with that come alongside, encourage, and challenge me to create a culture of learning that is exciting for all of us! It will definitely be a year of learning with our students... And I'm excited about that aspect. I think there is great value in students seeing that educators don't always have all the answers, aren't the smartest person in the room, and that they have things to learn about the topic at hand too. Perhaps that in itself will encourage some of our students to see the value of lifelong learning.