Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Requiring Edtech

I'm in an edtech conundrum. I've been looking at student and teacher standards posted by the leading educational technology society in the world (ISTE). While my edtechie heart says "Yes, finally!" my realistic teacher heart says "These are too technology centered to become widely accepted." It doesn't surprise me. The balance of what looks like edtech integration and what doesn't is a fine line I have been trying to interpret for years! Add to the fact that it is a fast moving target. Technology changes tend to be fast yet we are in a slow moving industry - education. Technology is always changing and the relevancy of what I should be can easily be outdated from year to year at our school.

Educational technology is a fluid thought- new hardware and software floods the market constantly. Once edtech rolls off the assembly line it is somewhat outdated. It's just the nature of the technology beast. So how does the edtech culture create standards for usage that should last at least 5 and no more than 10 years and it be both relevant and cutting edge at the same time? Better yet, how does my technology department come up with a philosophy of instructional technology integration and integration expectations in this ever changing culture? Should we create expectations that lead to growth or should we set minimum expectations? Should the technology department at my school be making these decisions in an edtech echo chamber or should the curriculum leaders also be a part of these ongoing discussions and decisions? Silo thinking rarely leads to meeting the needs of the vast, just the viewpoints of the few tend to be represented.

The next heavy weighing conundrum in the ever changing world of edtech is how do we decide on what's best for our school in a flood of so many choices? I get hung up on the idea of whatever I choose may be less desirable a month from now. How often is changing and reassessing necessary and needed? And how do you find the balance between status quo to prevent extra work on teachers and moving forward for the greater good? Because regardless, the front end of new technology adoption always leads to more work.

I want to support and lead our school to get the most out of technology but I also want our teachers and staff to know I support their need for consistency as well. The conundrum is ongoing in my head for my school but as I assess and reflect on the changing ISTE standards with others in my PLN, I realize I am not alone. There is both comfort and frustration in that.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

When the Tragic Happens

Yesterday afternoon while doing a very normal thing of getting my hair done after school and checking local social heart lurched. I found myself refreshing a local news source's Twitter feed feverishly as reports posted about a horrific bus accident in Chattanooga carrying 35 elementary school students from local Woodmore elementary. I immediately started pleading with God that there would be no tragedies but after seeing the photo of the crash site I realized that probably wouldn't be the case. As of now, there are 5 confirmed fatalities ranging from kindergarten to fourth grade and 6 children still in ICU.

As a teacher, this weighed so heavily on my heart. It would be a lie if I said I don't often imagine worse case scenarios regarding our students. I imagine what I would do if their was an active shooter on campus. I imagine what I would do if a tornado hit our school instead of miraculously bouncing over it like it did a few years ago. It's part of who we are as teachers...we have been entrusted to care for our students. Therefore children aren't just students, they are our babies.

I don't work in that school or that school district but my heart feels wrenched in two as I think of what those teachers, administrators, students and families are going through right now. Chattanooga knows how to come together in the face of tragedy. We did it just a few months ago due to a terrorist attack. But no community wants to be put to the test regarding unity in the midst of tragedy. Our children are having to deal with the idea of mortality too quickly here in Chattanooga. It affects us all, but right now my prayers are that the right words would be said as the Hamilton County Department of Education community strives to meet the needs of their hurt and confused. These educators need wisdom and discernment in double doses today.

I find myself calling on the name of Jesus this morning for both emotional and physical healing for those closest and/or most affected by this tragedy. At our school, today just happens to be Grandparents Day. I can't think of a better day for our be surrounded by extra people that love them unconditionally while we all try to make sense of this. I believe that God's timing is always perfect but it's so hard, in our earthly bodies, to understand this. I find myself being thrown back to December 5, 1997 to the still birth of my sweet baby girl, Grace Morrow Davis. I'm already praying for these families as they face future holidays. It changes life forever.

As I feel so utterly useless in this moment to this community, I believe there is so much I can take away from this to be a better mother and educator. I am struck with just how fragile life is and I am reminded that we all have struggles and demons that we deal with daily. I have my own two girls that both have medical issues that could potentially shorten their life expectancy if they don't make wise choices during their lifetime. Being face to face with the mortality of young people reminds me to treasure each moment as a mom and a teacher more and more. We aren't promised tomorrow but oh how we take it for granted. I am challenged today to bathe others in prayer and lead them to the open arms of Jesus. Five little angels in one horrific accident opens my eyes wide to self-reflection and growth. While it isn't about me, changing habits and culture of ingratitude and lack of caring for others with my whole heart can begin with me. And speeding while driving, I can change that too.

Friday, November 18, 2016

The Progression of our Lower School Technology Integration

This is the progression of technology integration at CCS lower school since I came on staff in January of 2004 as a part-time related arts computer teacher. We've come a long way baby!

In the last few days of the first semester of the 2003-2004 school year I was given the opportunity to speak with the teacher that was leaving the school briefly before he left for Christmas break to understand what the curriculum expectations were for the stand alone computer classes in the elementary school. In that year, students in grades 1-2 had keyboarding for 30 minutes a week and grades 3-5 had keyboarding for 40 minutes a week. The teacher often gave students the last 5-10 minutes of each class period time to play games on the computers.

After being a high school computer teacher, I decided to teach the Microsoft computer applications of Word and Powerpoint to the fourth and fifth grade students. After a few years teaching, I graduated with a Masters in Instructional Technology in 2007. The process of learning through that period really gave me a burden to help our school see the benefits of technology integration- not always technology for technology sake and not stand alone. While my main goal was always for our students to continue to improve their keyboarding speed and accuracy, I started asking the elementary teachers how I might support their curriculum with what I was doing in class. I would often contact 3rd-5th grade teachers (and it helped that I had my own girls in those grades at the time) and ask them what they were studying. Sometimes I would create web searches for our students to learn more about what they were studying in class but also learn the skill of good Internet searching. Sometimes we would type letters to people, create poems, etc that integrated with the classroom all to also learn the needed skills I was trying to give our students in computer class. It wasn’t easy- I didn’t have a curriculum map to follow and sometimes it just didn’t work but it was always my goal to integrate what I did with what the students were doing as much as possible. I wanted them to learn that technology was a tool for their learning.

To be quite honest, I always thought we were above the curve of what most elementary students were doing regarding technology. So many schools didn’t have related arts computer teachers. The lower school lab was always “shown off” during admissions walks with potential families.

In 2013 our school decided to start doing computer-based testing of our lower school students. I came in one day and was told that during second semester almost a whole quarter’s worth of instruction would now happen with me rolling an iPad cart of 30 iPads from class to class when the lab was being used for testing throughout the year. I was excited about having options for instruction and learning more about mobile learning. Supporting instruction while learning about how mobile devices are best used in the classroom happened very quickly for me and I was constantly adapting and adopting new ideas.

At the end of the 2013-2014 school year CCS had a marvelous “problem.” We needed 4 classrooms for all the kindergarten students that wanted to come to our school. The computer lab was next to the other three kindergarten classrooms. Mobile technology was becoming more pronounced in the educational arena and I was asked “can we do without a lab?” I said “yes, but let me move into a technology coach role instead of a related arts teacher.”

I am thankful for administration that trusted me on this change. In order to make the transition, we set a very rigid “you must do 2 technology-based projects a year with Julie” to our elementary teachers. Some did more, a few did less, but we started integrating. As I look back over that time I realize we were leading with tech often. It often gives me a stomach lurch compared to where we are today but I can’t figure out how we could have gotten to where we are today without setting some requirement in the beginning.

From the 2013-2014 school year until this past year that “rule” was a rule of expectation. Over the years I started off modeling instruction, co-teaching, and hand holding. Today, I am much more of a support when things go wrong, I help brainstorm new concepts, and try to be a visionary for the next steps. One of the major goals I have had regarding technology integration is that we also speak into teaching students about being appropriate digital citizens. Starting in 2013, CCS Lower School has been recognized as a Common Sense Media Digital Citizenship School because of the amount of lessons we teach our students regarding digital citizenship.

In the 2015-2016 school year, in decision with our fifth grade teachers, the fifth grade became a 1:1 required BYOT iPad grade. Deciding on one device only, instead of the BYOT of the upper school, has created tension between some of the lower and upper school. Much talk and prayer was put into that decision this school year before we announced to the second group of fifth graders which device would be required. This is an area that our fifth grade teachers and myself are constantly looking at for the greater good of our whole school and our students at that grade level.

2016-2017 brought another tremendous change to the lower school due to a grant for STEAM experiences. We were able to bring on a full time para-professional to help teachers integrate more STEAM into their classrooms. Under the direction of myself as the technology coordinator, the STEAM coordinator looks at the current integrated units, curriculum mapping, and ISTE standards for students. We create opportunities for our students to not only integrate technology in the classroom but have some computer science, robotics, and coding opportunities that support grade level curricular learning as well. In the hiring of the STEAM coordinator we also set the requirement that teachers were to work alongside her in the classroom. This is not a standalone related arts class. Much like the role of the tech coach in the beginning, our goal is for our STEAM coordinator to model and work with the teachers to help them get to the place to not only see potential ways to integrate as they are working on lessons but to feel confident in doing that themselves at some point. To see examples of what is being done regarding STEAM read our blog here

In 2016-2017 the requirement for 2 technology-based projects went away. We are seeing our teachers adapting blended learning into their math curriculum using Khan Academy and Matific. We are also seeing the current 3 sets of iPad carts and one Chromebook cart being heavily utilized for our project based learning endeavors and hitting the 4 C’s of technology integration: curation, connection, consumption, and creation. Technology integration in the lower school looks more seamless than it ever has and the need for teacher expectations in usage has dramatically decreased.

2016-2017 also brings with it the opportunities to once again have “technology for technology sake” into the lower school curriculum. Due to Friday afternoon electives for fourth and fifth grade students, we have offered our students the choice to participate in becoming part of a tech support team (see blog post here on tech team), coding, and engineering a prosthetic. Second semester will bring more technology-based options for students to choose from. After school this year our STEAM coordinator has offered circuitry and robotics clubs as well.

The hardest thing I’ve had to figure out is keyboarding. Since losing the lab we have wavered between no keyboarding instruction at all to this year, keyboarding being taught one day a week in grades 4 and 5 by the classroom teacher all year, and one day a week  for grade 3 next semester being taught by the classroom teacher. This is being done from a rolling cart of chromebooks shared within the entire lower school community.

What does the future look like? I think it would be fair to say that technology is a very fluid curriculum. The past few years have proven that. Goals in my mind include:

  • Continuing to find the balance needed between how much is enough and appropriate for this age level
  • Continuing to teach digital citizenship to our students as a priority in instruction practices across the curriculum
  • Creating growth experiences for our students regarding technology
  • Finding age appropriate ways for students to search the Internet for research and images that feels safe for our students
  • Continuing to assess where we are and what we want technology to do for us at our school
  • Bridging the gap between lower and upper school with cohesive goals to best meet the needs of our students and teachers
  • Continuing to grow the culture between curriculum and instructional technology working hand-in-hand looking for innovative solutions to educational issues

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Why I love #CHAedu #coffeeEDU

Education and educators are a segmented lot. A classroom teacher teaches their students and comes into contact with maybe 5-10 other educators on a daily basis. Most others are just passing conversations in the hallway unless they are on your grade level team/dept and you can add another few hours a week. The point I'm trying to make is that it's really easy for educators to fall victim to no new ideas for their classroom. We can easily sit in silos and echo chambers, only hear the rumblings of discontent around us and the supporting rumblings. We can easily find ourselves in a culture of acceptance of "this is the way, this is what I've been dealt, bloom where I'm planted" and lose our visionary outlook.

The above is the reason I am passionate about being a part of the monthly Chattanooga area coffeeEDU. I didn't dream up the concept of coffeeEDU but I did see the value of it in the Chattanooga area. Chattanooga is uniquely located in an area that easily accesses 3 states. It is a private school heavy environment and has several colleges/universities in the area. As I helped with Edcamp gigcity for the past two years I stood amazed at how many different school districts, schools, and states were represented. I also immediately saw the value of being plugged into some of these schools because they were doing things my school wasn't doing. Trying things I knew educators at my school were interested in. 

So, I decided to do a social media invite to #CHAedu #coffeeEDU. The first meeting took place at a donut shop and I had no idea who would actually come... imagine my surprise when 2 higher education professors from two different colleges, 2-3 different private schools were represented, and public school educators from both Georgia and Tennessee showed up! We've met every month since then (taking the summers off) at different schools. We've shared our struggles, asked questions about things we want to know more about, shared transparently about things that worry us in education, celebrated things we've seen as triumphs, gotten to know each other better, grown the group, eaten lots of donuts, and thought outside our normal spheres of educational banter.

For me it has been refreshing. It's nice to hear I'm not the only one feeling overwhelmed at times. It's nice to have a network of people to engage with and ask questions. It's nice to have face to face interactions with people that see education differently than I do. It's nice to listen and gauge and reflect on what others are doing. I am thankful for this group that is always changing because who has a Saturday each month to always give up? But I am thankful to the core of people, that like me, see this as worthy of carrying on. We spend 1 hour in discussion of whatever topics come up. It is participant driven, like an unconference model. One hour is it...we all have things to do on Saturdays but I always leave glad I participated.

May I always see the importance of both hearing and listening to the pros and cons of educational speak from others around me so that I may continue to grow. 

p.s.- Next coffeeEDU is December 10, 2016 at Girls Preparatory School. All area edus are always invited.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Staying Educationally Relevant in Instructional Technology

Five years ago ISTE posted Technology Coach standards on their website with the following description "Technology coaches help bridge the gap from where we are to where we need to be. The ISTE Standards·C describe the skills and knowledge they need to support their peers in becoming digital age educators" ( In the past few days I have been thinking about the future of educational technology at my school and what that support should look like. I have in my mind what I think would look best but I realize I'm often too close to the forest to see the trees. 

It has always been my goal for technology integration to look seamless in a classroom. And to be honest, it has taken a while for me to see that happen. There is a natural learning curve with integration and overcoming newness. I think back to my first year and see so much leading with the technology. I feel like I've grown tremendously through the process of supporting my peers in becoming digital age educators. 

This may sound completely wacky but one of the ways I became a better technology coach was by some soul searching of seeing myself as an innovation coach instead of tech coach. I realized it was my job to help teachers integrate technology but I also feel like it is my job to find the best tool at hand to meet the need, to teach the skill, to support the learning. Sometimes...that is modeling clay or a poster board, or a robot. More often than not, it may be all of the above depending on the student. 

Just like I've learned that innovation doesn't have to be technology, I've learned that technology doesn't have to look cookie cutter- nor should it. Meeting administrators, teachers, and students at their point of need and moving them forward in their technology knowledge is the goal. Like anything in life, everyone won't land in the same place each time. The goal is to keep on moving forward even when it's two steps back and one step forward.

I'm at a place where I look at what has been deemed the needed standards for technology coaching 5 years ago and still see gaps. It is my desire for technology not to be seen as a stand alone entity working in a silo room somewhere on campus. But this becomes a paradigm shift from what has been the norm for so many years. Technologists speaking into pedagogy seems like heresy to some. 

Am I to follow and be held to the ISTE coaching guidelines of best practice that include:

  1. Visionary leadership
  2. Teaching, learning, and assessments
  3. Digital age learning environments
  4. Professional development and program evaluation
  5. Digital Citizenshp
  6. Content knowledge and professional growth
If so, there has to be some changes. We are at a crossroads in education in the way we, as a society, view what technology integration and philosophy should look like (and should it look differently in different schools? Grade levels? Classrooms?)  More precisely we are at a crossroads as to who does what, supports what, controls what, and is seen as an expert at what? Instructional technologist must be valued, respected and admitted into the inner decisions of curriculum in order to not always feel like their job is an "us against them" mentality and putting out the largest fires everyday. 

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Professional Development it possible?

As an instructional technologist I see many different personalities of educators when I’m introducing new technology ideas. With a broad generalizing paintbrush, I find personalities fall in one of 4 categories:
  • “I’m In!”
  • “Show Me what you mean?”
  • “I’m not convinced!”
  • “Not in My Classroom!”
It’s not always easy to meet the needs of all these types at the same time, so the way I introduce to large groups of teachers during professional development is often varied. It is my goal to meet a teacher where their comfort level is and take them to the next step. Recently, we have tried a few new approaches to professional development opportunities. When I know whole school PD days are on the horizon I start asking my teachers what they want to learn more about regarding educational technology. Our curriculum director and myself then sit down and map out a hybrid “edcamp” experience for our teachers that includes not only technology options but a variety of helpful authentic “take this back and make it work” ideas. Teachers are offered 3-4 choices of learning topics every 30 minutes. This format allows the teachers to quickly digest something they might want to learn more about but it also allows them some choice in their learning path. Let’s be honest, these are educated individuals, shouldn’t they know where they could use some help? When we set up the day, we often utilize teachers that are exceptional in different areas for sharing purposes as well. This makes them feel affirmed and it grows teacher leaders as resources as well. Our goal is to ask individual teachers to share only once during the day so that they can also benefit from the sessions as well. I’ve found that teachers are much more receptive to learning from each other than from me telling them how great an idea is and I don’t even have a classroom. I often enlist my early adopters to lead sessions so that teachers see it from their real world perspective. Also, anytime they can take an app/website/idea for a “test drive” it is less scary. Setting up those opportunities during professional development days is a plus. While this is a brief introduction time, it allows me to ascertain who sees value in the concepts and to follow up for more one to one with the teachers.

This year we also introduced some new required curriculum changes to the teachers and unfortunately it was during the back to school rush. In this situation I try to make these experiences as hands on as possible and with the goal of each teacher leaving a session with a lesson plan in hand. I often will introduce the concept with a hook that they can use in there classrooms as well. For instance, to introduce a day of project-based learning curriculum writing we used a breakoutEDU game to encourage rapid learning of the basic concepts. Not only did our teachers learn about PBLs but they also found out I had a breakoutEDU toolbox available that they could utilize for critical thinking opportunities. I am a firm believer that if you want teachers to try new things and teach using different methods, you have to model that in professional development opportunities! Look for ways to create small group, station rotation, flipped learning, inquiry-based, hands on, connecting concepts to tasks type things that aid teachers in thinking outside their norm. The words "professional development" often incites moans of despair, it doesn't have to. Find the pulse of your teachers, engage them, and then ask for reflection to grow these days forward!


Tuesday, November 8, 2016

The Beauty of Ownership and Belonging: Elementary Tech Teams

For this school year our fourth and fifth graders have the opportunity to participate in elective Fridays that change each quarter. Each fourth and fifth grade teacher and out of classroom educators then decided what elective they would like to lead based on their passions. Options included things like drumming, woodworking, crocheting, volleyball, and creative writing. These elective opportunities gave me the possibility of having an elementary tech team. You can look here to see what was taught weekly to the students and you can look here to see the end results that the students created this last quarter. The main point of this blog goes beyond the great resources the students made for our school community and it's more about how it made them feel in the process.

About halfway through this quarter I received an email from the Georgia Educational Technology Conference that included a submission link to be a part of the student showcase at the GaETC conference November 2-4th. Because this group of educators really seemed to be taking ownership of this new "tech team" concept, I chose to apply. Meanwhile, every single week our students were learning how to be technology troubleshooters and they were being empowered to be "go to" people in their classrooms.

How exciting it was to learn that our students were chosen from a competitive group of applicants to be one of the 24 groups to share in the student showcase! The pressure was on to create good resources to share at this conference. Every week, the students would earn a new badge (in the form of a sticker) to show they had completed the needed steps in the process of becoming a certified tech team member.

On the last Friday of the quarter all the students received a tech team t-shirt and their final "certified tech team member" badge/sticker. Then on Wednesday of the next week, 8 of the 13 students got on a bus at 6:45am to travel from Chattanooga, TN to Atlanta, GA to "present." The student showcase is set up in the main hallway of the convention center and any educator can stop, ask questions, and learn about what the students are sharing.

Right before our day started I sat all 8 of my students down and said, "you can sit behind this table and be bored all day or you can go out and ask people if they want to know about your tech team and get this most out of this day." Our team became little salespeople, pulling people over to learn more...I mean, who can say "no" to a cute 4th/5th grader? I was so proud of them all. I only wish all 13 could have attended!

These students that chose to be a part of the tech team because that is what they are interested in, got to take part an educational technology conference and that was an amazing experience for them. They learned first hand the beauty of educational collaboration and communication to best meet student needs. They asked lots of questions about why teachers would choose to come to the event. There are times as an educator you try new things and you think "it was good but I should have done a) or b) or maybe c)." And occasionally you try new things and it leaves a happy little warm fuzzy in your heart because you see students rise to the occasion and grow in so many different ways. That was what the tech team did for me. I'm thankful for the joy it brought and I believe it will always be seen as a highlight of my educational career.