Friday, April 28, 2017

Looking Ahead

I love when I'm given the opportunity to work with great educators to collaborate for greater good. What an honor and a privilege to be part of next week's 5-part series from four other bloggers that I greatly admire! You don't want to miss this next week as we each share ideas on how to be both strategic and intentional with finishing out the school year even though testing is over.

It's the time of year where we educators are weary! We hope that our blog posts next week will inspire you to look at this time as an opportunity. Make sure you bookmark these blogs and get ready to be blown away. Not only do I think these are some amazing men but they represent the great state of Tennessee so well!

  • Monday: My friend Mick Shuran, principal of West Middle School in Tullahoma, Tennessee will share his thoughts at I love the passion and excitement that Mick brings in any education discussion he is in!

  • Tuesday: Straight out of Chattanooga, Tennessee I will be sharing some things that I think might be worthy of trying during this time when there is safety in failing but with a mindset of "failing forward"

  • Wednesday: Christopher King, a fellow instructional technologist, who is also from Tullahoma City Schools system shakes up the stage in true "introduction of new tech tools fashion" with a VLOG (that's a video based blog) that can be found at

  • Thursday: Moving around the state a bit more, Jacob Dunn is a Social Studies chair from McMinnville, Tennessee and brings such great value from the classroom perspective. He evens the rest of us out because he is truly in the trenches. His blog can be found at

  • Friday: Thomas Fuhrman is an innovative, deep thinking principal at Jere Whitson Elementary School in Cookeville, Tennessee and I can guarantee he will end our week of posts with nuggets of wisdom! His blog can be found at

Get ready to for a week of intentional helps to end the school year strong and teach until the end! 

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Student-Centered Education?

Buzz words run up my spine when they are thrown around. I'm not saying I don't see value in the concepts but there always seems to be cyclical educational buzz words that become in vogue for a while and then go out of style. Because of this, these words all come with connotations to each of us and what I have found is we don't always respond or think the same way because of our own interpretations. Student-centered can be one of those words. To some this means a Montessori approach to education where teachers "encourage independence, freedom within limits, and a sense of order." (, for others can mean just being mindful that the purpose of education is not about the education itself but about the student. Of course there are varying ideas in between. I do believe in the value of school systems having their own meaningful language so that everyone is on the same page.

That being said, I've had a few things happen in the last couple of days that make me really think about what I think Student-Centered should mean. As a huge fan of personalized learning, I believe that plays a big part in what I think the education process should be. Creating opportunities to meet the individual student's needs instead of the class as a whole is the future of education through the leveraging of technology. But student-centered is something much more basic to me than that. When decisions are being made in the context of impacting our students directly, I believe it should always be run through a screen of "is this product/person/pedagogy/plan good for the student?" Sometimes in today's world we see decisions made that make it easier on the institution or teacher. When ideas are put forth it is the natural instinct for us to ask "how does this impact me and the way I teach?" I know I struggle with not going there first when dealing with change. I also know I have made choices that actually have been harder for me as an educator because it was what I thought was what was best for the students. Student-centered also means growing that child through opportunities that might make a process harder in the long run for me as an educator. For instance, allowing voice and choice in how they share their learning, or creating opportunities for students to represent the voice of their peers in strategic meetings regarding school policies. Student-centered for me also means asking a kid, "how could I have made that lesson better?" and valuing their feedback.

This really hit home big to me today when I found out my oldest daughter was sitting in one of her final exams that she had stayed up late to study for and the professor tapped her on the shoulder and said "you have an A, you don't have to take this exam." Happily, Jessica jumped up and left the test but she texted me and said "I wish he would have told me I didn't have to take it sooner, but it was a nice surprise!" I asked her why she didn't know and she said he hadn't posted all the assignments before the exam so she wasn't 100% sure where she stood. Quite honestly I was ticked. This is a kid that is taking a full load in college and working 30+ hours a week as a manager in our family donut shop. How student-centered was the fact that she had to study for the exam, then show up, and be in process of taking the exam before knowing she didn't have to take the test?

Everyday we teach students that are being molded into their future adult selves. Allowing them some autonomy, creating visions with them, guiding through mentorship, and teaching them how to become lifelong learners without us there is imperative because they are constantly bombarded in a world that doesn't value anyone very well. I think it is key for us to always be asking ourselves if the decisions we are making today by procrastinating, having a fixed mindset, or having our own agenda are truly what is best for the student. Students are the reason we chose to go into education. As a brilliant coworker Matt Monahan said, "teaching is a great way to value people over things." My prayer is that I am ever mindful of that statement.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Curation of Information: Harnessing the Beast of Ubiquitous Information

I have this crazy little habit that helps empower me every day for the educational tasks at hand. For the past two years I've taken part in the #OneWord movement and this year my word was "brave." As part of this year's word, everyday I have chosen some phrase and photo to put on Instagram to embolden myself for the day to be educationally brave to make a difference for students. Each phrase has #brave2017 in the comments. Some days I run across quotes that resonate with me, some days I write what is in my head, and some days I make a real effort to Google a theme or "educational quotes" and find something for the day.

A quote that I have seen over and over on multiple occasion is the one in the image above: "The best teachers are those that show you where to look but don't tell you what to see." It is attributed to Alexandra K. Trenfor. Out of curiosity one day I decided to see who exactly this person was because I felt this little nugget of wisdom was so powerful. Imagine my surprise when not only I could not find anything about the person but found that other people had been on the same search. There is a bit of irony not lost on me that educators on a regular basis repost this quote and put it on educational websites and it can't really even be checked for authenticity. I mean, when I posted it I continued to attribute it to Alexandra K. Trenfor but I don't really know if that's right or not.

That left me thinking about the overwhelming need for curation of information in today's world. When we want to quote a website, oftentimes it is downright impossible to find the correct citing unless one uses an online bibliography that searches it from the URL and sometimes even then we come up empty handed.

Today as I was sick in bed I found myself digging around the internet looking for information on some topics I've been pondering and I came across this video that was uploaded in 2007. It's titled "The Machine is Us/ing Us." It speaks into the fact that WE are the creators of the web by the things we post on a regular basis, like this blog for instance. I am putting information out to a worldwide audience that might sway someone towards or away from a certain way of thinking about education. The "machine" is us but at the same time the machine is using my information, thoughts, and clicks to develop itself further. It's both alarming and intriguing to think of the power every John Q. Public has in the world today.
That being said, how do we as educators guide students to make ethical choices in what they claim as their own information? How do we guide them to best discern what is good information? How do we help them critically think about what they read and to turn information into knowledge? Especially when we ourselves are struggling with it as well. We are bombarded by fake news, wikipedia, and find ourselves searching for discernment but I'll be honest some days I still don't know what is real or not (especially in regards to politics lately). We are being manipulated by our clicks as to what "real" is to us and yet we also have access to great information that allows us to learn anything we want to at the typing of a few key words. While we struggle with the shotgun method of information that comes at us regularly we must learn alongside our students how to best manage this resource. I don't want to be seen as a machine but I do want to know that I am adding value to the machine. I want my students to experience that as well. The ubiquity of technology cannot be ignored but it can be used for good.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Fact Checking Students

A few days ago I had a conversation with a fellow educator who is also a mother and said her son told her that there are 3-4 students in his grade that always "fact check" what the teachers tell them in class. Apparently when a teacher says something as "truth" when teaching these students use their devices to see what they can find on the subject. In some cases they have found information that doesn't support what has been said in the classroom.

I was quite intrigued by this as well as a little put off. My first thoughts were:

  • I wonder why they feel the need to fact check what they are being taught?
  • It feels a little disrespectful of the teacher's authority to be fact checked.
  • What does this teach me about today's connected student?
  • How can this be leveraged in the classroom for good?
For a couple of years now I've toyed with the idea of putting an Amazon Echo or Google Home in classrooms just to help teachers get beyond the "googleable questions" in order to be able to focus more on the critical thinking level of DOK/Bloom's Taxonomy. If it were my class it would layout something like this..."If I ask you, as a class, something that can be Googled to get a certain answer, stop me and let's ask Alexa." I think it could lead to more engagement of conversations, as well as discerning when to use technology for information versus when to use your deeper cognitive skills for the task at hand. 

I would never force a teacher to do this and so I'm still toying with the idea of "are these students being disrespectful?" or should we applaud their desire to be researchers? Obviously there are a lot of moving parts in this discussion like a) would this be considered an off task behavior at the time by the teacher? b) what is the purpose of their research? To prove a teacher wrong or to feel more confident? 

More importantly I wonder how I would take it in the middle of a discussion if a student questioned my authority by saying "Actually Mrs. Davis, this website says that really..." Beyond a shadow of a doubt I would hope that could become a teachable moment regarding both digital citizenship and research. 

Should we embrace this behavior and have students feel comfortable in questioning? What are your thoughts on "fact checking" students? Should this make us rethink the way we are currently teaching if students have information at hand all the time anyway? Does this have the ability to make a teacher feel irrelevant or change their role?

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

When Fifth Graders Make Websites For Fun

Today our lower school principal sent me a text that said "Some fifth graders have something they want to show you." I was intrigued but also a little nervous. After I made it to the office I was given a slip of paper with a web address on it: There are times in your life you are just so proud and blown away by students and in this case I had absolutely NOTHING to do with this. Five of our students created a website to host comic strips they have created in their free time. I was so impressed that I interviewed two of the students (Aiden and Brody) this afternoon on what they had done:

Being a preK-12th grade school, we are currently working to create a profile for the technology skills we want a graduate to have. This endeavor that these students took on that wasn't even part of their curriculum is a prime example that we are no longer teaching the same type of students we have in the past! These students used classical art skills and creative writing skills and turned them into a contemporary format. 

When I look at the major headings of technology skills we are wanting a graduate to have I look at the why, how, and what these 5 fifth graders have created and I can't help but want to put a check mark by everything. And lets not loose sight of the fact that this was all because they wanted to! If you listen to their video you see we not only have innovators but also potential entrepreneurs on our hands. To see today's young students using technology creatively as positive digital stewards in a globally reachable world makes my heart happy. I helped them think about some digital safety measures they might want to take and they have already made those changes. Why? Because it's what they WANT to do with their free time. 

Read the following goals we are currently working on for technology integration student standards (that have been adapted from the ISTE Student Standards) and see what you think these students have accomplished:

CCS Technology Integration Standards for Students
1. Empowered Learner
As truth seekers students leverage technology to take an active role in choosing, achieving and demonstrating competency in their learning goals, informed by the learning modalities.

2. Digital Stewards
Students recognize the rights, responsibilities and opportunities of living, learning and working in an interconnected digital world, and they act and model in ways that are safe, legal and God honoring.

3. Knowledge Constructor
Students critically curate with responsibility and discernment a variety of resources using digital tools to construct knowledge, produce creative artifacts and make meaningful learning experiences for themselves and others.

4. Innovative Designer
Students use a variety of technologies within a design process to identify and solve problems by creating new, useful or imaginative solutions.

5. Computational Thinker
Students develop and employ strategies for understanding and solving problems in ways that leverage the power of technological methods to develop and test solutions with integrity.

6. Creative Communicator
Students communicate clearly and express themselves creatively for a variety of purposes using the platforms, tools, styles, formats and digital media appropriate to their goals.

7. Global Collaborator
Students use digital tools to broaden their perspectives and enrich their learning by collaborating with others and working effectively as Christ-centered critical thinkers.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Nitty Gritty of Technology Integration

Lately our school has been in a discussion of what technology integration should really look like. Some hard discussions have happened but progress is being made to better identify how technology can both support the learning in the classroom and prepare the students for their future. One of the things I keep hearing over and over in discussions is "I just don't know where to start." As an instructional technologist, this is where I feel my support comes in. Helping people find good resources and consider ideas for integration. The following slide presentation came about because I truly want to help others at our school to find ways to integrate technology in their classroom that allows them more efficiencies as well as empower our students to know how to use the tools of technology for learning endeavors:

               Technology Integration by Subject Matter

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Lessons Worth Remembering

What makes a lesson worth remembering? It's been a VERY LONG TIME since I was in a k12 school as a student but I have been spending time trying to remember actual learning lessons. I'll be honest, there are very few "lessons" themselves I remember anymore and what I have come away with is that in order for me to truly remember a lesson one of the following had to happen:

  • I had an ongoing relationship with the teacher. I remember lessons and/or teachable moments with teachers that knew me as a person- my biology teacher that I babysat for, my history teacher who was my friend's dad, my psychology teacher that I also was a teacher's aide for and we talked about life during that time, and my business education teacher that I went to church with. 
  • The lesson was not the norm. It was kinesthetic, hands-on, not "sit and get." I remember learning how to do a Rubic's cube in 7th grade math class. I remember dissecting a frog in biology. I remember my geography teacher pretending our desks were planes and we would look out different windows to learn where different countries were in relation to each other. 
  • It was a non-traditional way of showing my learning. I remember researching/creating my science fair project for 7th and 8th grade that was on the topic of the value of holistic herbal remedies. I remember creating an emergency first aid/wilderness box in 6th grade before a week of outdoor learning at Rock Eagle. I remember being asked to sing something to see if I could reach a certain octave to try out for a solo.
  • It caused an emotional response of pride or embarrassment. In 5th grade I remember my art work being chosen as a basis for the mural going down the hallway in my elementary school and I got to be pulled out of class to help paint it. I remember being chosen in 12th grade to take Accounting 2 even though it wasn't a class being offered and it would be me doing it on my own during a typing class that the business ed teacher was teaching. I remember being chosen to be on the 9th grade yearbook team. I remember taking 12th grade dual enrollment english and my professor recognizing an open letter assignment I had written and him reading it to the entire class because it was well written in his eyes, but I also remember that same professor leading a discussion on the wife of Bath in the Canterbury Tales and discussing the importance of her gap-toothed reference and me being mortified because I had a gap between my two front teeth. 
  • The class had good whole group dialogue. If a culture of safety in sharing existed, I remember those discussions. I remember the value of hearing the thoughts of my school mates. I remember sharing my own thoughts on subjects and believe it or not, I was shy. It took a LOT for me to add to conversations. 
  • If more than one of the above happened in a classroom I am more likely to have even more memories. For instance, I can remember word for word lessons in classes where I felt a connection to the teacher and felt empowered by the way the classroom dynamics were.
So what does this mean? As we are planning forward in creating both scope and sequence and lessons for next year, I find myself thinking on the value of recognizing positive achievements in my students, creating opportunities for learning that allow them to use different modalities of instruction, being intentional in knowing the students I'm working with and their likes/dislikes even if it is just about the lesson at hand, and creating a culture where students feel safe to be transparent in their learning- where failing is a learning opportunity and collaboration is safe. I don't remember ever having the opportunity to participate in project based learning or solving real world problems. I wonder what that would have done to my processing? 

And then I find myself asking...Should all lessons be memorable? Is there value in the mundane? What would students say? Can there be too much engagement sometimes? and finally...How do we define the process of "what makes a good lesson?" What role does technology play in all this today?

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

When Students Leverage Social Media to Plan Events

The ISTE Standards for Students are goals that have been vetted through thousands of educators to set measurable outcomes that have been decided would best prepare today's k-12 student for the use of technology in their future lives. There are 7 different broad concepts that are then broken down into subcategories. Standard #6 is listed below:

6. Creative Communicator
Students communicate clearly and express themselves creatively for a variety of purposes using the platforms, tools, styles, formats and digital media appropriate to their goals. Students:

  • choose the appropriate platforms and tools for meeting the desired objectives of their creation or communication.
  • create original works or responsibly repurpose or remix digital resources into new creations.
  • communicate complex ideas clearly and effectively by creating or using a variety of digital objects such as visualizations, models or simulations.
  • publish or present content that customizes the message and medium for their intended audiences. 

    This week I had the privilege of seeing this standard in action. The AP and Advanced Art students in our high school were tasked by their instructors with advertising the opening reception for their Spring Art Collection at a local art gallery in Chattanooga. Early in the week I started seeing this graphic show up on Facebook. Then I was asked to join a page with more information. Later in the week I saw Snapchat stories about the event, I saw Instagram stories and posts about it. There was Twitter talk about it as well. 

    These students creatively used the medium of social media to communicate with the people in their lives. They shared, reshared, and creatively talked about the evening using the Internet. Creating the graphic of actual work in the collection was a teaser. The objective was to get people to come to opening night and boy did it work! When I walked into AVA Art Gallery it was packed. It wasn't just the family members of these students present but the room was full of schoolmates of all interest groups. Athletes, scholars, teachers, grandparents, siblings, cousins, boyfriends, strangers, dramatic artists were all there to support this night and these students. Goal achieved. It was a great way to see students using social media as good digital citizens to share their learning in productive ways. 

    Sunday, April 2, 2017

    The crowd, the community, the connection

    The Crowd. As parents and educators we talk a lot about hanging with the wrong crowd. How many times have I said "Well if Jim jumped off a bridge would you do it too?" in a moment of frustration when students aren't making good choices? Usually when we think of going along with the crowd we think of negativity but this week I have been truly smacked in the face with seeing students from the positive side of following the crowd. 

    The Community. We, as humans, are all part of communities. For our students a community could be the school itself, their friend groups, their interests, their families. Most of us are in several different communities and our level of interaction within them varies based on our desires to be in association with others. 

    The Connection. This past week was one of the busiest weeks I remember in a long time. I had various "big things" all come to a conclusion this week. First of all 6 fifth grade girls that have been working on a "Play to Learn" Playground STEM design attended the awards ceremony. At the ceremony we also learned that two of our high school girls had joined the high school competition to design a future school/learning space. Both teams came away with wins and the older girls pretty much ruled the competition they were in.
     As I drove home that evening I couldn't help but reflect on the fact that both groups spent a lot of time thinking about their designs from an empathetic heart. Our fifth grade girls designed a playground that would include people of all ages and abilities. Our high school girls imagined a repurposing of a warehouse our school has to bring private and public school students together to learn authentically while tapping into local community resources for learning opportunities. Our school is surrounded by a low income area and these girls had a desire to create cutting edge spaces not just for themselves and our school but they were also mission minded in their goals. I was blown away with the underlying empathy that just naturally flowed from both groups.  

    On Thursday, I spent the day preparing for Chattanooga's first ever social event to support the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation...One Night for JDRF. As we planned all week for this event we realized we needed some volunteers to help it go smoothly. After contacting our community service director in our high school (Karen happens to be a Type 1 diabetic too), she found some girls to volunteer. There was nothing glorious about their jobs that night. They picked up garbage off tables and they walked back and forth endlessly to the silent auction table to help with the closing of the auction.
    Another sweet girl took photos all night for us. They didn't have to do this. There was no gain for them except that they either have Type 1 diabetes or they are best friends with someone with Type 1. These girls were mission minded, empathetic souls that wanted to make a difference and support their friends. 

    Saturday night the AP and Honors Art Students from our high school had an opening night of their spring collection of artwork that took place at a local art studio. These students took on the publicizing of this event (which is a whole other blog post) and the room was packed when I walked in. What I found amazingly wonderful was it wasn't just family there supporting their artistic family members, it was athletes supporting their artistic friends (just like those artists do when they attend sporting events.) Their was a sense of community in that crowded gallery that made my heart swell with pride. Our students have a great sense of supporting within their community. All week long I kept thinking, I'm so glad my own children have been part of this crowd! 

    We hear a lot these days about the soft skills that will be needed for the future workforce. Those skills include but aren't limited to collaboration, communication, initiative, and social skills. I saw all these and more being modeled in our students this week and I am so thankful and proud of the community of CCS and the students we have. Bravo!