Sunday, February 26, 2017

Digital Learning Day Reflections

Last Thursday Chattanooga Christian Lower School opened our doors for observations of technology integration. We had both local and regional educators come and visit our school for the day. Our teachers didn't do anything they don't do every single day, we just opened the doors to allow others to see it. We had 12-15 different educators visiting from 5 different school systems.

We started the day with a brief explanation of technology integration at our school and then gave our visitors an agenda
 of different things happening throughout the day that they could walk in and visit. I shared that they were welcomed to come and go as they please, that they didn't have to stay for an entire lesson if they wanted to go check out something else. We adopted the edcamp "rule of two feet" for this event. Our visitors were also given the opportunity to ask our students and teachers questions as long as direct instruction wasn't happening.

I believe our teachers do a great job on a regular basis at integrating technology into the curriculum of our lower school. Therefore, when I told them about digital learning day I didn't ask for anything special to happen, I just asked them to allow visitors when they normally used technology in the classrooms. For many of our visitors, technology integration wasn't happening really. It was more a stand alone class for technology. Our visitors were amazed with how seamless the integration was in the classroom settings.

As a technology coordinator I am left with some reflections from that day as well:

  1. I work with innovative teachers. Teachers that don't wait for me to tell them what apps, technology, and websites they should use. Many of our teachers seek technology ideas out by themselves. They often will ask my opinions but most of them rarely wait to be told what has to be done. I realize this isn't always the case in many schools. I'm thankful for the culture of acceptance of instructional technology at CCS lower school.  
  2. We are a collaborative lot. Our students don't blink when others are in the classroom. I love that this is the case. On a day when there were visitors at the school, it wasn't really that much of a disruption because we often have help coming in and out of the classroom. The days of a teacher being silo'd all day long are long past. There are student teachers, interventionists, technology support, STEAM coordinators  and observers that are all part of the village raising children.
  3. I am supported. Our Lower School Head, Chief Technology Officer and Curriculum Director were setting up coffee bars, checking fuse boxes, welcoming guests, and making me look good! The events we have pulled off lately couldn't be done without an amazing team. I'm thankful for the way they listen to my crazy ideas and support me in them.
  4. When your school is doing things well, you should celebrate it. Our teachers and interventionists look for ways to streamline teaching by leveraging technology. When I look at the 2016 ISTE Standards for Students
    and I stand amazed at how well we are hitting the bar on the standards that came out last year but are suppose to "last" 5-10 years. Our teachers are using technology efficiencies create opportunities to use the extra time for other things but also by using technology regularly they are empowering our students with skills that will help them for a lifetime. 

    5th Graders writing in Google Docs and uploading to

    1st Graders learning about Digital Citizenship with visitors observing

    Math Interventionist sharing about Moby Max

    2nd Graders doing creative writing in

    5th Grade Paperless Math Classroom

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Empowerment: A Dirty Word or Needed?

EMPOWERMENT. The word itself sounds ominous and risky. In a session today I led on "Creating Technology Expectations for your Educators" I realized I kept saying the word "empower" often. Empower your innovators, empower your tech coaches, empower your students. But what does empowerment look like? What's that really saying? I think it means words like "trust," "freedom," "support," and "rights." To empower someone in their role means all those things. It means believing they have the skill set needed to be in control of whatever it is you've entrusted them to do.

As a technology coordinator, to be empowered means that my school district trusts my knowledge of edtech to make wise choices for my school in regards to technology integration. It means they trust me to create avenues of learning that meet teacher and student needs regarding educational technology. As a technology coordinator I have been entrusted (or empowered_ with the task of being both a visionary leader as well as supporting the faculty, staff, and students in educational technology integration at our school but I do not make these decisions in a vacuum. 

So many of my cohorts are expected to support but they are not given the empowerment of visionary leadership. It is part of my job to immerse myself in current edtech trends and have the knowledge of future edtech trends. Recently, a really amazing instructional technologist in Tennessee has left the instructional technology realm partially because she was weary from "the fight."

Empowerment is a big deal. It can be grassroots empowerment where coworkers view you as knowledgeable and seek you out or it can be top down where administration empowers an individual to make decisions and create opportunities. A lucky group of educators feels they are empowered in both directions. I've had that opportunity. It's a great warm fuzzy of truly feeling accepted for your worth. It's the sweet spot that comes and goes like most sweet spots do.

Empowerment is a word that the ISTE standards speak into over and over again. Student Standard #1 is "Empowered Learner," the first heading for the proposed Teacher Standards is "Empowered Educator," under the heading "Excellence in Professional Practice" in the ISTE Administrator Standards it says "promote an environment of professional learning and innovation that empowers educators..." Oddly, or not so oddly in my eyes, the ISTE Standards for Coaches does not mention the word empower once. I believe that is because it is assumed because the first standard is "Visionary Leadership." 

I don't think empowerment means a constructivist theory in terms of free reign. I think empowerment means within boundaries. I think the issue with technology integration is it is so all encompassing in all parts of education that it feels intrusive. And that intrusiveness has come quickly into the educational arena. It is my hope that balances can be found before more great educators get too weary to fight the good fight. 

Saturday, February 18, 2017

"Back when I was a kid" someone born in 1996.

I'm on a reminiscing journey lately. One of my daughters graduates from high school in May and the other turns 21 in May. As I think over their lives and what has changed with them I also find myself thinking about how much their worlds have changed.

Any mother with children has answered the question, "Hey mom, how old were you when...?" My favorite was when my youngest was in about fifth grade and she said, "Hey mom, how old were you when you got your first cell phone?" because she was arguing for her own with no success. I took great pleasure in saying "32." She was stunned. Of course, I didn't tell her that was pretty much the norm at that time, in fact I relished in the fact that it shut her down completely. I know...I can be mean.

But I've been thinking about things my 21 year old will say to her children one day about technology. In her lifetime things have exponentially exploded in the virtual world. So here is my "BACK WHEN I WAS A KID" List for her:

  • Back when I was a kid I didn't get my own cell phone until I was in 9th grade..and it was a flip phone- all you could do was make calls and text. Yes, I remember when texting started as a way to communicate. And I would get in trouble for going over my texting limit every month. Yes, there was a limit on how many texts you could send. 
  • Back when I was a kid I didn't get my first smart phone until I was in high school and then I would get in trouble for using too much data each month. Yes, there was a limit on how much data you could use. Oh yeah, you don't know what a phone is. It was a small handheld device that never left our sides so that we could be connected to others constantly. If something went wrong with it we were crazy upset. And yes, they would break, especially the screens. You have no idea how many screens your grandparents replaced for me and my sister over the years!
  • Back when I was a kid, we didn't use technology in the classroom. We weren't even allowed to use our phones to look stuff up even if we had one or to bring our iPads or laptops to school to use in the classroom. It was too hard for teachers to make sure we were on task.
  • Back when I was a kid I wasn't allowed to have a social media account until high school. My mom wouldn't let me. Yes, I did set some up without her knowing or I used a friends but I found out later she knew about them.
  • Back when I was a kid my parents didn't know where I was all the time. It wasn't until I got my first cell phone that they could "track me."
  • Back when I was a kid, I started working for the family business and your grandparents could  watch me at work via cameras but my car didn't have a GPS on it so most of us with older cars remained off the parental grid.
  • Back when I was a kid we used paper and coin money or a debit card to pay for things. If you lost either, you were out of luck and it became a big hassle.
  • Back when I was a kid we had to go to school every day and stay from 8:00-3:00 from kindergarten - twelfth grade. It didn't matter if you could finish your work early, there was a thing called required seat time. What's a grade? I'll explain that in a bit.
  • Back when I was a kid you took a class and if you didn't understand something you failed it. The class kept moving on and you might or might not understand the next unit but it didn't matter. There was no time for mastery of concepts.
  • Back when I was a kid you had these stand alone subject areas all day long, you moved to the next class because there was a bell that told you to do so. You sat and listened and followed the procedures for each class and did homework. You got a few "electives" but most of the school day was based on required subjects you had to take.
  • Yeah, back when I was a kid there was homework. Stuff you were expected to do at home after going to school all day and if you didn't understand it in class it often meant you did that homework wrong and got a bad grade on it the next day. Yeah, homework sucked.
  • Back when I was a kid there were grades. What are grades? Oh, that was a letter ranking you received on work you did based on your understanding of the work. A's were the best and F's meant you couldn't move on to the next grade. Yeah, there were two kinds of grades- I'm talking about a ranking grade for work done right now. Yes, it was confusing.
  • Yeah, there were grades. Back when I was a kid we went to school with kids the same age as us. We were placed in age groups our entire education career. It wasn't based on when someone mastered things but when they were born. 
  • Back when I was a kid tv's had big backs on them and were shaped like a box and you couldn't watch anything you wanted to, you had to watch whatever was on the channels at that time.
  • Back when I was a kid you trusted the news most of the time but that changed when I was in high school and college.
  • Back when I was kid there was no such thing as touch screens, you had to use a keyboard to input anything. What's a touch screen? You know it's the thing Granna Julie uses when we go visit used to be called a laptop.
  • Back when I was a kid, wearables were just becoming a thing. My first wearable was a fitbit that would tell me when I got a text or call and it monitored my movement but that's all it could do.
  • Back when I was a kid we had mandatory summers off from school but in college I could choose to go to school in the summer to get ahead.
  • Back when I was a kid in school we had to memorize facts, lots of facts, and we were tested on whether we got them memorized.
  • Back when I was a kid we learned cursive. What's cursive? It's a kind of writing style that was used. Yes, it's why you can't read the notes dad and I write for each other that we don't want you to read.
  • Back when I was a kid we wrote on paper for everything and we read everything on paper. It felt different from today's paper and couldn't be saved in the clouds. If you lost your homework, you really lost it and yes, the dog could actually eat your homework.
  • Back when I was a kid you had to drive a car yourself all the time. They couldn't drive for you at all. And they didn't warn you if you were about to have a wreck.
  • Back when I was a kid almost everyone had set work days. 8-5 was expected but most people worked more hours and you had to be at the office with everyone else.  Few people worked from home.
  • Back when I was a kid social media was just beginning. Many people created terrible digital footprints for themselves back then because they didn't realize it was going to follow them for their whole lives. It would be nice if there was a "do over" for that period in history but there isn't.
  • Back when I was a kid parents, teachers and kids were learning how to navigate the powerful world of technology together. It was all new and changing rapidly. 
Yes, things were different during my lifetime. You should ask Granna Julie about black and white tv's without remotes, cars without safety things like seatbelts and air bags, and parents not knowing where their kids were all day long.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Through the Eyes of a Future Educator

Seniors at our school have the honor and opportunity to participate in a semester of community service. They are given different opportunities to take a look at including student aides in urban elementary schools. My senior daughter recently wrote this journal post regarding her experience on the first week of her placement.

I suggested she keep this post as a reminder in college when things get tough. I also thought it was a great reminder to those of us that have been doing this a while. Do you remember why you went into education? Do you still experience that thrill? Read her post below:

As I walked through the hallway a girl ran up to me and exclaimed “I want her to be mine!” and I just so happened to actually be hers. As soon as I met my kids they immediately attached themselves to me. The love and care they showed to me in the first 30 minutes I arrived was more love than some of the high school relationships i’ve endured for a total of four years.
    Everyday I walk in the classroom they all jump out of their seats and tackle me with hugs. To feel wanted and needed as soon as you enter a room is something to be cherished. As I look around the classroom I have begun to try and figure out what kind of homes these sweet precious souls come from. It hurts my heart to see ones who have clearly not bathed and don’t have clothes that fit right- seemingly, those kids are the ones that cling to me the most. To not be able to do anything but love on them for an hour hurts my heart because I wish I could do so much more.
    I struggled recently in trying to figure out if I wanted to be a designer or a elementary school teacher. But as I enter the classroom every other day and am immediately covered by laughing children exclaiming, “WE MISSED YOU!” I have no doubt about what I am called to do. I am called to teach these minds that are so eager to learn and love. And I feel honored to have been called to such a redeeming career. Everyday I leave my class in a better mood than I came.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Writing Process that Utilizes Tech Integration

I've been thinking about ways to utilize the efficiencies of edtech and create consistencies for our students lately. While teachers may all expect MLA format at our school, do we also expect the same process in writing? I am not an english teacher but I do enjoy writing. Our school does a wonderful job of growing students that can whip out a paper in no time. It's definitely one of our academic strengths. I believe that is because we see writing across the curriculum, which is a wonderful thing. I also know that some rubrics are either being worked on or are in place to grade papers equally no matter what the subject matter. I love that. 

I can't help but wonder how does technology support that well-oiled process because well...that's what I do...wonder about technology. So I am using this blog post to brainstorm possible ways to suggest technology be utilized both for efficiencies of the teacher/grader as well as to create efficiencies, standardized expectations, and additional learning opportunities for the students.
Prewriting: That time when students are gathering together in their mind what this paper will say and look like. It's the prep stage. I'll always remember sitting in on a fourth grade teacher explaining the parts of a paragraph to his students as a hamburger. I had never heard that before and it has always stuck with me. We, as educators, work hard to help our students learn to write. For many students this planning stage might best be done through pen and paper. Why not allow students to plan using the Wave Rocketbook notebook that would back up to their Google drive? Or let them use some mind mapping tool like Popplet to organize their thought processes to decide which direction to go? Or let them organize their main parts of their paper in Google Docs and allow peer review feedback via comments? 

Drafting: We are a school that uses GSuites. The ability to create their first draft in Google Docs adds so much robustness to the writing process because of the ability to give immediate feedback as soon as a peer or teacher makes suggestions. The ability to see past correction histories in the process can help writers maneuver forward in creating a very good paper. The beauty of self-saving Google Docs is there is less pressure to work on the fine tuning and more ability to just GO while writing. Research shows us that in the process of paper writing creativity is stronger when typing due to the fact that the brain works faster than we can physically write. The act of "writing" slows us down. While I don't believe technology integration = typing papers in class, I do believe the efficiencies of faster creation and a teacher working the room either virtually in a document or reading over a student's shoulder is a huge benefit to today's classrooms. 

Revising and Editing: There are multiple ways that Google Docs aids the revising and editing stages even before anyone other than the author lays eyes on it. For instance, teaching students to turn on the editing options (to the upper right of the paper) as they type allows them to learn as they go. 
One of the more recent features of Google Docs that can help students in researching is the "EXPLORE" feature that allows a student to access a web browser within the Google Doc to quickly look up things to support their writing. This can be found under the Tools tab on the tool bar.

While talking about research, here is where others might disagree with me but I think we are at a time where it is more imperative than ever that we help students learn what plagiarism is and we allow them to make corrections before they actually "turn in the paper."  When I was in high school (a long time ago) I think it was easier to realize if you were plagiarizing or not. I went to a library to gather a limited amount of resources and I read through them. Because it was a limited amount of resources, it was easy to remember what I read verses what I inferred from what I read. Today's students can pick up their device and have access to oodles of information on any given topic. I think it is easier than ever before to plagiarize and not even realize it. Look at all the hot topic media reports of various celebrities and politicians being called out for plagiarism. I know this is a judgment on my part but I wonder if it is truly intentional plagiarism much of the time. 

By expecting students to import their papers to something like before turning it in for grading, we help our students become aware of what plagiarism is in the process. Not only that, we put the owness on our students to correct grammatical errors before they get to the teacher (this works unless you are actually grading for grammar obviously). The point I'm trying to make is this can become an effective teaching tool in itself and make for efficiencies for our teachers. I do not think running a paper through a self-checking software means it is a good paper. I do think it can be part of steps that could ensure a paper is well written though.

Rewriting: Teachers being able to give feedback during the revisions stage (after going through something like via Google Docs comments allows the teachers to see if corrections to suggestions were actually made or just ignored. Instead of having multiple papers in front of them of drafts, this makes for efficiencies as well. On the student side, to be able to click "resolve" in the process of rewrites creates a neatness of process for the student. Dare I say receiving suggestions or questions from a teacher via comments instead of pen marks potentially written all over a page is also both easier to read for the student and less overwhelming when doing final writes?

Publishing: In the past, a "published" document basically meant a teacher and maybe the students in the class got to see the finished document but in today's world the ability to allow students authentic feedback from the world at large is both an amazing ability and meets the ISTE (International Society for Technology Education) standards for students in multiple areas in regards to educational technology. What if our students added their paper to a blog? Shared their paper with a prominent author on the subject of their paper? Created an opportunity for authentic feedback by emailing the paper to scientists, historians, or others they feel might connect with what they have said? 

To repeat the process I think might best meet both student and teacher needs in integrating technology into writing:

  1. Students receive rubric for assignment when the assignment is explained.
  2. Students create mind maps in their planning stages, either by using digital paper or online graphic organizers.
  3. Students draft their paper in Google Docs and utilize both the editing options and the explore options during this process.
  4. Students upload the paper to to look for both grammatical and plagiarism issues and then rewrite after receiving the results but before sharing with teacher/grader.
  5. Students share document with teacher/peers for review and feedback. Comments in Google Docs are used to make the process of corrections more streamlined for students.
  6. Expectations for publishing are in place for (x) number of papers a year for every student.

I know I am not an English teacher so I wonder what parts of this seem worrisome? A burden?....Thoughts?

Monday, February 13, 2017

Creative Writing with Art Prompts in WWW.STORYBIRD.COM has been around for a long while. It is a great free website that allows students to practice their creative writing skills by making chapter books, picture books, or poems. The students can look through oodles of artwork and choose some they like to spur their creative writing juices. It's a great way to help students hone their creativity and did I mention, it is free!

Teachers can set up an account, create student usernames and passwords of their choice (or not) and monitor and/or grade the work of their students. But what I really like about Storybird now is that teachers can create "assignments" within their account for their students to do. By doing this, teachers can create a path to the creative writing. Perhaps a teacher finds artwork that supports something the students are learning about in science, or maybe their is artwork of a certain artist that a teacher would rather not be an option. By creating assignments, a teacher has more control over what the students are doing in Storybird.

In the past, I've had students spend way too long looking for "just the right artwork," because lets face it...there is some beautiful stuff on this site to look at. By creating assignments, a teacher can set some boundaries that allows for creativity within limits. Also, much like the awesome app SeeSaw Learning Journal, teachers can share student work with parents with a private code so they can see it as well. I'm a fan of these features!

See my video below of and the assignment feature:

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Rocketbook Wave Reusable Notebooks: Educational Purposes?

My friend Greg Bagby has been sharing his Rocketbook Wave reusable notebook with others and quite honestly it is mind-blowing. Yesterday I received mine in the mail and this short video is me using it for the first time:

So here are the questions I have for educators:

  • Do you see this being something that would have value if added to a supply list for students?
  • shows different options and costs for this product idea. Is this a cost effective use of technology?
  • How can you see this being integrated into curriculum?
  • The developer says this is a perfect blend of "paper and pen" with cloud-based backups. Do you see this as a helpful thing for yourself or students?
  • Should schools look into this in terms of caretakers of our earth, sustainability, and resourcefulness?

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Leveraging Google Sites for Educational Purposes

Over the past few years I have created Google sites for our students as a way to give them access to curated websites or information during research projects. I have created QR Codes that students can scan to get to these resources and we have also created tabs on our school sets of Chromebooks so students will have direct access to these resources when needed.

I also use Google Sites as a way to share information with teachers.  Our lower school technology team created a Google site with quick troubleshooting tips and resources. The opportunities are limitless but to be honest Google Sites were not that aesthetically pleasing in the past, you had to work hard to make your sites look like a "real" website. But all that has changed! I can't wait to utilize the new Google sites (it's been around for a few months) and see what it can do for us.

Looking for how-to's? Watch the video below:

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Finding the Student/Teacher Ratio Sweet Spot Through Blended Learning

I don't teach technology. I teach rethinking education. Jesus thought that a teacher to student ratio of 12 to 1 was good. I'm of the theory that He should know. If that's the case, what can I do to help teachers find that sweet spot. Leveraging technology in the classroom through blended learning can help do that. 

Let's face it, the higher the student to teacher ratio the lower the cost of education. Less teachers teaching more students is a financial win but not necessarily an academic or emotionally supportive win. Life is about connections. When people connect, magic happens...if you don't believe me watch any movie on the warm and fuzzy Hallmark channel. 

Connecting with others creates a feeling of safety to be one's transparent self. Transparency leads to trust, trust leads to growth, and growth leads to success. Label "growth" whatever you want to- better grades, better skills, better level of adaptability- growth isn't always easy but  it is always rewarding to see it in others or be able to acknowledge it in ourselves. 

I don't teach technology, I teach growth. Technology is often my avenue for this but I didn't come into the world of education to push technology, I came into this world to make a difference in student learning. 

The exponential changes that education could conceivably go through in the next 3-5 years is mind boggling. I remember leading a group of sophomore teachers and department heads a few years back and the last words out of my mouth were "Be mindful that the next big thing is adaptive technology. Keep on the lookout for it. It will have the potential to change education as we know it." 

Cue now... in multiple areas of our school I see the use of adaptive technology for students to practice ongoing learning. If the problem is too hard and they get it wrong, they can see the right way to do it immediately and the next problem will be easier. This creates a feeling of success in learning. Digital scaffolding is better than any "do odd problems on page 27" could ever be. Immediate feedback on results, immediate reteaching on subject matter, immediate second chance to try again. 

So what? This type of technology becomes a teacher in itself. That makes some people scream in pushback "no, you just said education is about connection!" Bear with me... efficiencies in teaching by using technology like I mentioned allows the teacher more time to connect. It allows the teacher more time for small group and one on one lessons. It allows the teacher more time to go deeper. Not only does this type of technology give students immediate feedback but it also gives teachers the efficiencies of knowing what should be next, who is ready to move on, who is not. 

Adopting a blended learning model that includes adaptive technology allows quicker insight for the teachers because of the technology itself but also because small group instruction lends itself to being more aware of individual student needs. 

There is no magic software or perfect way to do this. All blended learning classrooms look differently. I am a firm believer that leveraging blended learning in today's classrooms is creating the type of students that will be successful in tomorrow's real world jobs. The soft skills of self-motivation, collaboration, critical thinking, communication, adaptability, accessing and analyzing information become even more imperative in a world where access of information is always in our back pocket. 

Today's ability to transform a single classroom into differentiated teaching styles by choices like teacher facilitated, digital instruction, gaming, inquiry based learning, hands on, or peer to peer creates an adaptable student that can not only turn a pocket full of information into knowledge but also creates a person that sees the value of progress. And maybe just maybe we empower them to desire to be lifelong learners along the way.