Monday, October 1, 2018

Teacher Tips for Canvas

As our upper school has started to robustly use the learning management system Canvas, I have a few tricks and tips that might be helpful on the educator side of things:

    • Options for shuffling answers. If you create multiple choice or true/false questions in a Canvas quiz, the correct answer will always default to the top answer (a) unless you do one of the following:
      • When creating a question you can manually pull the arrow that points to the correct answer down in the question so that you are randomizing the answers yourself. OR....
      • When setting up the quiz, choose the "shuffle answers" box so that the quiz itself with automatically shuffle the answers for you. The downside of this is that you can't use answers like "all the above" or "both B and C" because it may look different for your students. 
    • Allowing for extended time on tests. If you are a teacher that sets an amount of time for a quiz or a time availability (a close time) when you assign a quiz that quiz will automatically be submitted when that time is up. If you want to allow students extended time for tests, don't use the availability but require an access code. This way once the class is over, the students can access the quiz afterwards as well. For this option I would suggest changing the access code after each class for integrity purposes.

  • Using Calendar Events for non-graded assignments for students (here is a video explanation of information below). There is one way to add things to the students's calendars that does not impact grade book. (You can also create an assignment that is labeled "no submission" and it will allow you to put a grade in for it and will show up on your grade book. This might be a good choice for dressing out in P.E., or journal checks):
    • Create an event. Choose to click on the calendar link on your blue vertical navigation toolbar. 
      • In the top right corner of the calendar view click on the + to add an event.
      • Title your event that lets your students know what the expectation will be. You can add more details by clicking on "more options."
      • The event will default to being added to your personal calendar, so make sure you use the drop down box to choose the class you want to share the event to.
      • Click submit. (The event will now show up on the students's calendar and "upcoming" list). 

  • Deleting the MISSING label after something is turned it late (here is a video explanation of the information below). I feel like this is something Canvas should fix automatically but if a student turns in an assignment late and you put the grade in, you will need to:
      • Click on the across arrow inside the assignment box for the student in question.
      • When the sidebar pops up change the assignment to either "None" or "Late (blue)" based on your needs. This will remove the missing label in your grade book, the students view and the parent view. 
      • It is helpful to look over your grade book occasionally to see if their are any pink boxes and whether they need to be fixed. 

  • Moderating a quiz. There are times when students might need an additional attempt at a quiz (here is a video explanation of the information below). As a teacher, you can click on a quiz a student needs to access and then in the upper right corner clicking on "Moderate this quiz," then click on the pencil next to the student you want to moderate the quiz for. This allows you to:
      • Give individual students multiple attempts at a quiz
      • Give immediate access to individual students take a quiz without having to go through the process of reassigning the quiz to the student.

  • Communicating with students inside of Canvas. Students are getting use to receiving information about their courses through Canvas. If you are in a situation where you need to communicate important information to your students quickly you have two options (here is a video explanation of the information below):
      • You can create Announcements for your course that you can assign to all your classes or to individual classes. It could be useful if you were absent one day because you could actually delay when it is posted after creating it and allow your students to see it as they enter the classroom. You can also allow them to reply to an announcement if you need feedback before the next class meeting or ask them to "like" it to show that it has been read. To use announcements:
        • Go to Settings in your class and move Announcements up for students to view.
        • Click on Announcements
        • Create the announcement and assign it to the class based on your needs.
      • Using the inbox inside of Canvas allows you to send messages to whole classes, individuals or groups. This is a very quick way to get students use to going to one location to receive information from you instead of going outside of Canvas to check their emails. To send messages to your students:
        • Click on the INBOX on your blue vertical navigational toolbar.
        • In the middle top of the next page, click on the paper with the pencil icon.
        • Create the message you want to send (you can even attach files or videos that you might want your students to be able to access) 
        • Make sure you choose the correct course or people you desire to communicate with via Canvas email.
        • Press send. 

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Educating in the Moment of Urgency

Lately I've been thinking about the impact urgency has on the educational process. There are times curve balls are thrown at our otherwise normal day and we have to adjust to move forward or to help others move forward. It seems there are three big categories that cause a sense of urgency to come out:

  • When things fail. Whether it be the wifi going down, a lesson plan flopping, or a student dealing with a broken relationship. Failure often brings on an immediate need to educate differently. 
  • When things need a quick response. Sometimes it is a deadline, sometimes it is a waiting student or boss, other times it is understanding of a potential issue that needs resolved before it becomes a failure. 
  • When people procrastinate. We want the quote "Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part" to be true but honestly it just isn't. Part of life in the world of education is dealing with the crisis of procrastination.
This year as I have worked to aid our teachers in implementing the Canvas LMS I am realizing that much of what I do happens because of a sense of urgency. This sense of urgency changes who I am as an educator. When I have time to sit and develop a process or idea, there is more substance and value to what I create or think up. When I am constantly feeling the need to put out fires, I never feel truly in control of myself or the path of my day. Truthfully, it is the nature of the beast right now but I've had this huge realization of how it impacts educating our students. 

When things don't go as planned, the teacher has to kick a field goal when they were really hoping for that touchdown. While it is still possible to win a game with field goals, the task is harder because you are still going through all the same motions but making less points at the end of the possession. (Forgive the football analogy but it is football season and I am a fan). A field goal feels like a letdown to the coach much like a change in lesson plan feels to a teacher. 

There are times we are not in control of the urgency in our classrooms or school systems, we feel reactionary at best. No one wants to remain in that sense of internal conflict but how we respond to urgencies impacts the culture for those we come in contact with as well. If I moan and complain because I don't like something, I'm influencing others to feel the same. If I'm constantly pushing back and refusing to make a quick response, the stalemate can cause a snowball of repercussions. When I am just not preparing enough for a situation I am forcing others to succumb to my frazzle. 

None of us wants to have to make decisions that are not well thought out and that is what urgency can lead to. Finding ways to minimize urgency in education is the ultimate goal but to also set concrete goals when finding ourselves in that frenzy is helpful as well. Here are 3 things that help me when I am in a situation that I did not sign up for but can't be ignored:

  • Enjoy the punt. There is beauty in the kick. Something didn't go as planned? It was a big giant flop for the day? I give it 10 minutes and if I can't fix it in that time, I go to plan B...whatever plan B might be. But always remember there is value in your plan B as well, plan B's can win games. Don't get so caught up in what didn't work that you miss out on what does work. Always strive to fail forward. 
  • Weigh the outcomes. When I was growing up, my mother had these decorative brass scales that sat in our living room (the room for company) and no one was allowed to touch them. When I need to make a quick decision I think of those scales. Against my mother's wishes I mentally start placing the pros and cons in the appropriate side of the scale and I weigh the consequences of my decision. I know there will be things I didn't consider but sometimes I just need to know I have done my best at discernment and I make a decision after thoughtfully weighing the choices. 
  • Be the hero. Procrastination of others that impacts you can be frustrating because there is a face associated with the issue- someone we can blame. I've often found that procrastinators live in a constant level of panic that I can't even fathom. If you want to feel like you are a super hero, help a procrastinator in the midst of procrastination. Most the time they realize their lack of planning doesn't have to be fixed by you so they are very appreciative of your willingness to drop things to help them. 
After a few weeks of being in my new position, I can tell you that there is a lot of satisfaction in helping others in the midst of educational urgency. I can also tell you that I want to do everything in my power to get people out of that kind of culture or reactivity. I believe we are better educators when we find our balance between urgency and getting stalled in overthinking. We all fall somewhere along the spectrum and learning how to move one direction or the other and discerning how best to react in situations benefits not only us as educators but our students as well. Educating in the moment of urgency has ripple effects that can cause lasting impact. 

Monday, September 10, 2018

Why an LMS? Why Canvas?

During the last school year our school announced that our upper school teachers would be required to use the learning management system (LMS) named Canvas in 3 significant ways forward:

  1. All objective assessments would be delivered through the Canvas LMS
  2. All students have the option to turn in papers digitally
  3. All grades would be done through the Canvas grade book
With any change comes push back and fear. For us, all stakeholders have had to learn a new system- teachers, administrators, students and parents. Below are the benefits each group of our stakeholders can experience from using Canvas:

Benefits to Administrators: 

  • Analytics- By creating expectations for students to take assessments using Canvas, we also have the ability to start to see patterns of each student's learning and possible gaps in mastery of concepts. While we are not a full fledged competency-based school in the way we teach, we now have a place where administrators can quickly have access to class averages on assignments and even dig deeper to see individual student results. 
  • Compliance- In some ways using Canvas diminishes the silo effect that education can sometimes cause. When administrators can only get into a classroom for a few observations a year, Canvas allows admin to take a quick glance at assignments and quizzes to make sure all teachers are compliant to the goals and expectations put upon them for their curriculum.
  • Scalability- We are in a school system where we have multiple educators teaching the same course to grade levels. By having those educators work together to create their Canvas-based curriculum it takes workload levels off everyone and allows systems to be in place regardless of the size of classes. Blended learning works well with Canvas. In our middle school math program we have been able to effectively increase class size by using this platform for students to navigate their daily needs. 
  • Accountability- The realtime aspect of Canvas allows administrators to immediately see if lesson plans are both accurate and up to date for students with just a click of the mouse. 

Benefits to Teachers:

  • Mobility and Accessibility- Students now have the ability to access their assignments easily as long as they have access to the internet. Being a 1:1 school with 100% at home connectivity (one of the upsides to living in Chattanooga, TN- home of the fastest internet in the country), this means our students now can access things without the excuses of "the dog ate my homework, I lost it, or I didn't know I had homework." 
  • Deliver Content Instantly- Teachers now have the ability to deliver information to students instantly. Perhaps a classroom discussion spurs a teacher to remember an article they want to share. Utilizing an LMS allows the teacher to quickly upload it to the course for immediate and future reference. 
  • Personalization- Canvas allows educators to assign things to individual students, give individual students multiple attempts to take a quiz, share different resources with different student groups, all without other students knowing that differentiation is taking place. This allows some students with IEPs to feel less self aware of their learning issues because others aren't aware that any accommodations are taking place. Have a student that can breeze through the curriculum? With mastery paths being utilized within Canvas, teachers can meet those needs by creating deeper learning or allowing those students to go further with their learning.   
  • Multimedia Learning- The use of Canvas allows teachers to share videos, audio recordings, as well as continue robust face to face engagement with students that might be graded outside of a computer-based assessment. Sometimes students may not grasp a concept during a lecture but a teacher can upload a video of themselves or someone else teaching the concept and students can stop and start the video to make sure they have the concepts before moving on. 

Benefits to Parents:

  • Transparent view- Parents have the ability to see exactly what their students are seeing by pairing with them. They can view the courses, the calendar due dates, and grades all from one location. In a world of constant connectivity, parents have the ability to know 100% what the expectations are for their child's classes because it is all listed in their Canvas courses. Nothing can be placed in a grade book without first being added as an assignment in Canvas.
  • Click thru to assignments- Parents have the ability to see a grade or a "missing" label and then click directly through to the assignment to see the details. They can see everything their student can see, they just can't complete the assignment with their parent account. 
  • Parent portal for accountability- Parents can set up to receive notifications regarding their child's account. If they choose to use the Canvas Parent App, they can have the app push them information straight to their phone about course grade levels, missing assignments, when a grade is above or below a threshold they deem important to know, and any announcements about a course. If they use the web browser access, they can set themselves up to receive emails for the same types of information in order to hold their children accountable in their learning process.

Benefits to Students:
  • Single sign-on- One of the things we wanted to streamline for our students is giving the ability to go to one place and have fewer log-ins and passwords to remember for their educational process. Canvas allows our students to use their Google accounts for single sign-on capabilities. There are no longer multiple platforms and passwords to remember because all information and access goes through Canvas for our students. 
  • Consistency- Students now know they can go to Canvas and click on "calendar" to see all the things due on any upcoming date that has already been assigned for any class they are taking. Students know that their "Upcoming" section represents a week glance. Students know that their "to do" list means things that they need to get done. Students now have one platform to go to see information shared by their teachers. While each class may look differently, based on how the teacher set their own courses up, the student experience remains significantly the same for access and turning in assignments. Now students aren't sharing a document  via Google Drive in one class but uploading to an LMS in another. Their experience and the expectations feel more the same from class to class. 
  • Collaboration- Canvas allows for discussion boards and it connects with the school Google suites account for all students. This allows students to work together on a Google doc or slideshow, for instance by adding information or comments. Students also have the ability to participate in "peer grading" through the Canvas LMS platform. 
  • Communication- Knowing that a teacher is communicating through one platform helps students to realize the importance of checking for communication more often. Canvas allows the students to expect all communication in one localized place- the place where they also see their assignments, turn in their assignments, and take assignments. 
  • Immediate Content-  Canvas allows students to place their virtual hands on content quickly and efficiently based on teacher sharing. Students no longer have to go back to their locker to get a handout or call a friend because they lost the details of the homework assignment. Students can immediately access the content of their courses as long as they have access to the internet. 
With any digital plan, there are sometimes bandwidth issues, accessibility of device issues, quirks, and a learning curve for all users. It's not all benefits but as we are now a month into the school year, the benefits of this endeavor seem to quickly outweigh the detriments for our students. 

Friday, August 31, 2018

Becoming a Proactive Voice in a Reactive Society

We are in an era of technology changing so quickly that it's hard for anyone to stay abreast of the topics and concerns. One thing that continuously tugs on my inner moral compass is the way we (society in general) seem to adopt the next best thing like lambs being led to slaughter.

It's a fine line for me- as an instructional technologist I don't want to wait so long to adopt a worthy concept that we are creating more work for our teachers and students than need be but I also don't want to just accept something as new and great without spending a little time "looking behind the curtain."

I have weighed the pros and cons of voice user interface (VUI) in the classroom on and off, again and again over the last 3 years. Through a series of unexpected events I've created a network of VUI programmers by speaking at the Alexa Conference last year in regards to what educators want from VUI. Because of this opportunity, a few programmers from across the country have remained in contact with me and have reached out to me via social media when Amazon Alexa has created safeguards for student privacy. I am so thankful for this new network of people because there is no way I could have remained as well informed about updates to the Alexa Echo without their help.

This school year our campus has been given the opportunity to pilot the use of 5 Amazon Echo Kid's Edition devices with remotes thanks to the generosity of Dave Isbitski, Chief Amazon Alexa Evangelist. Dave and his wife heard about my desire to use Echo dots with remotes in ways that kept student privacy issues at the forefront and they personally bought our school 5 devices with 5 remotes. I was blown away by the generosity and encouragement I received from a man I have never even met before.

While I always try to stay on the edge of technological innovation, I will never be an educator that just adopts sites, apps, or devices without doing research first. I don't want to be seen as a reactionary innovation leader but one that has been mindful of all the details that are associated with any new platform or device before blindly accepting usage.

That's why I have been patiently waiting to place these Alexa Echo Kid's Edition devices in the classroom. I wanted to do some trial work with one on my own first- which I did last year. This year we have 4 devices in our elementary school and one in our high school to try out. The reason I was ready to make the jump into implementation was 4 key things you can now do:

  1. I can delete history at anytime from the device- daily, weekly, hourly, monthly. 
  2. I can use a remote with the device that turns it off completely when I am not intentionally using it in the classroom setting.
  3. I can set it up so it does not "learn" voices.
  4. Turn off the ability to purchase things from Amazon using the echo.

Our pilot teachers all have their devices in their classrooms but just being 2 weeks in they have done very little implementation. As we move forward, I am thankful for the opportunity to share with the educational and VUI community ways to proactively use voice in ways that put student's needs first. We will spend this year addressing potential issues, analyzing the effectiveness of VUI in the classroom, and constantly reviewing concepts of good student privacy practices. Stay tuned as we trail blaze  forward within boundaries. We hope to represent a well thought out use of voice interface in the classroom for others to consider. 

Thursday, August 23, 2018

A few years ago a new family moved into our school community with a young elementary son named Daniel. I noticed immediately he was wise beyond his years. Now, as a high school student he chooses to be different than his peers when it come to social media. He knows balancing is a weakness for him. I asked him to write a guest blog for me because his perspective needs to be heard by those of us teaching students. We, as educators, need to be speaking to students about using technology for human flourishing and the pitfalls of mindless surfing. This is a digital citizenship issue. Hear Daniel's words and heart on the subject:

I have an app that tells me how long I’ve spent on my phone each day, and when I first downloaded it, I was shocked by the results. It was routine for me to spend 3 hours on my phone each day, and not uncommon for that number to grow to 4 or 5 hours. What could I have been doing with that lost time? I don't even want to consider it. Before I got the app (which is called Moment and is free on the App Store), I thought that I used my phone much less than the average high schooler, and that may in fact be true. I think my peers would be as surprised as I was to learn the ugly truth: Americans with smartphones, and especially young Americans with smartphones, spend a gratuitous amount of time on their devices. Lives are being spent in rooms on beds with phones in hand. This is my generation’s life, and it is really no way to live.
What is the solution to this problem? We need to be actively discouraging overuse of personal devices. Of course, parents and educators do call on their children and students to be wary of their tech use. But the caution is tepid. Kids are often told that tech is dangerous because it gives us access to bad content, but rarely do adults tell us that the thing in our pocket is dangerous because of how much time it consumes. I wish I had been warned of that sooner. Pornography and violence is one kind of moral wrong, but I would contend that a life spent scrolling Instagram is another.
I was once hailed as “the G.O.A.T. of Instagram” (the Greatest Of All Time for those who aren’t familiar with the acronym). My posts were clever and funny and occasionally artistic. I would check my phone every minute after posting to see how many likes I had received. I came to find a small piece of my identity in my skill at the social media game and therefore put a lot of effort into my online appearance. One time, while I was curating my Instagram page and looking through others’ profiles on the family lake trip, my cousin asked me a probing question and one that I am grateful for to this day: “How much time do you spend on Instagram?” Instead of being satisfied with my half-hearted answer of “I don’t know,” he told me to check my data usage and see how much I used it. I begrudgingly opened my settings app and was embarrassed to see that Instagram took up most of my data. How could I spend so many of my waking hours on a photo sharing app? I was humiliated when the exact number was revealed to the family and I promptly deleted my page in what seemed like an erratic decision. I have never gotten my Instagram back and I have never regretted my choice.
Since that time, I have had brief flirtationships (one of the advantages of social media is the creation of words like “flirtationship”) with other social medias, most notably Snapchat and Twitter. Snapchat lasted for a matter of weeks before I realized I was slipping into my old habits. Twitter lasted for only 4 days. Thanks to my cousin, I am honest with myself about my lack of self-control where social media is concerned. More people my age should have this awareness but do not because nobody has spoken into their lives about their lack of balance. My cousin harangued me when I was the tender age of 13. I fear that it may be too late for my friends who are nearing high school graduation.
I wish other people had relatives or teachers or friends who could embarrass them enough to inspire change, and I’ve been left to wonder why more people don’t speak out against tech overuse. I believe it is because technology as a concept is a very positive thing. It has taken us to the moon, given us our sight back, increased worldwide food production, and given millions of people jobs. It connects us to the rest of the world and expands our horizons, and it certainly has a place in our homes and classrooms. But just because there are many positive aspects to the mass generalization we call “technology,” that doesn’t mean we should ignore the many places in which personal technology has come to control our lives. Encouraging your student to use Snapchat less is no threat to the scientists at NASA. Technology is not a monolith that can somehow be damaged when I cut down my phone use.
Let’s be honest about the ways in which we take advantage of the wonderful gift of technology. Most of our tech use is simply not productive. I am all in favor of people operating social media pages that promote their small business or advertise their school club. I understand that LinkedIn helps professionals and that Twitter connects leaders to the people, but we immoderately use our phones and excuse ourselves by saying that technology is a good thing that helps people. Of course it does. Now stop sending pictures of the floor to your friends on Snapchat.
Educators and parents have arguably the biggest role to play in not only helping young people spend less time on their phones and laptops, but also helping them use their time on technology well. With the guidance of several teachers, I am hoping to transition our school newspaper online this year and any time I spend on a computer to design and update the website will be, by my estimate, a very good use of time. Not only am I helping to get school journalism out to more people than we could in print, but I am also reducing paper use and increasing the amount of articles that student writers can produce. It is an example of a time when technology is beneficial, productive, and worthy of my time.
I have no illusions, however, that my aspirations for the school paper utilize the same kind of technology as I do when I’m in bed scrolling through (not a typo). There are good and bad ways of using technology, and I simply want us as a society to be able to distinguish between the two and cut out the bad technology use like cancer. People my age need help with this. So I am calling on teachers, parents, friends, and relatives to direct the young people in their lives away from their overused personal accounts, where they post self-glorifying images, and towards healthy tech use, like reading articles and trying new recipes and writing papers and learning how to make kombucha. But above all, I am calling on us all to use our phones less. I don’t have any social media, so the thought that I could spend 5 hours on my phone was ludicrous. It is important to note that even if I was using my phone to read interesting things and learn about new places or ideas, I was using it too much. The first step to real change is self-knowledge, so I strongly encourage everyone to download Moment, so they at least know how big a role in their life screen time plays. I was shocked, and my shock has turned into a determination to get better.
If there’s one thing the spread of the smartphone has accomplished, it has been the complete destruction of any semblance of balance in our lives. I want others to live a more balanced life just as I want balance for myself. Smartphones have also tainted the positive aspects of technology by supplanting them with pictures of avocado toast and beach vacations. Technology can be productive and refreshing, but it can also be wasteful and soul-sucking. Let’s get better at knowing the difference.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Confessions from a Former "Grades Driven" Helicopter Parent

Our school has a student information system (SIS) that allows parents to receive notifications via email for a variety of things: grades, missing assignments, etc. Being what I thought was a diligent parent I signed up to receive emails when an assignment was missing and weekly grade updates for both my girls when they attended CCS. My thought was "Wonderful! Now I can make sure my girls are towing the educational line."

For years, I would greet them with a "Hello! How was your day? Why did you not turn you assignment in during Science today?" If your familiar with the Seinfeld episode about the "Soup Nazi," I was definitely the "Grades Nazi." As somewhat of an overachiever myself AND an educator I would find myself at a boiling point when a "bad grade" got placed in the grade book for either of my children. Sadly, I must confess that as an educator at their school I often let my pride get in the way and was even embarrassed when they didn't try. I told you in the title this is a confessions blog!

Year after year I found my relationships with my daughters becoming more and more strained- especially with my oldest. Grades weren't the only reason but I allowed them to be a key impact point of conflict on a weekly basis. I always had high expectations academically for my girls and I wasn't afraid to let them know that; until my oldest daughter was a junior and my youngest was in ninth grade. On a day of complete exasperation I sat down with my husband and said, "I can't do this anymore. It's ruining my relationship with my girls and I am stressed all the time!" At this point my husband, whose philosophy in college was "C's get degrees" took over. Just like the savvy business man he is, he immediately changed the expectations. He placed the onus of reporting on the girls. Even though he was still getting all the emails, he expected them to send their grades to him each week. It was a non-negotiable. When they sent them on Saturday or Sunday he would look at them and sometimes ask them questions about them, and he would explain his continued expectations.

Washing my hands of the daily notifications and stress was both freeing and scary! What if they quit trying? What if they didn't get into a good college? What if...? And then my oldest took the ACT and I did a little "whew," she then got into the college she wanted to go to and I did a "woohoo," and last December she graduated early from college with a degree. From an educator's view I wasn't even sure she would make it through college based on her high school grades at times. But that's when the revelation hit're only given your kids for a season! Yes it is your job to help them be the best they can be but sometimes, we as parents, sweat the small stuff in the big scheme of life.

I always tell my oldest I'm sorry because we were learning on her. There is definitely a bit of continued tension about that in her and I hope as the years go by I can overcome that and she can see me for what I was...a first time mom muddling through parenthood to the best of my ability! I think back to when I was in k-12 schooling. My parents received a progress report and then a report card. They had no idea what my grades were like except for 2 grades in a semester. My sister and I survived! In fact, I would say we are both fairly well adjusted and responsible adults.

I share all this because there are about to be some changes in the way we will be sharing grades at our school for next year. In one sense it gives the parents more information because they can be observers within the course in our learning management system (LMS) but they will no longer be able to sign up for email notifications. The notifications go to the students. The parents can download the Canvas Parent App and look anytime they want, but they won't get that email 20 minutes before the kid gets in the car like I did in the past (or so it seemed to my children everyday).

I suspect we will have some upset parents over this. I suspect we will have some parents that it won't impact at all...but from a former "Grades Driven Helicopter Parent" my prayer is that families will be able to find a system for themselves regarding grades that helps them balance their need to know with their need to be a caring parent. I wish I had done it sooner. Just because you can know information doesn't mean you always need to know. (Honestly I can't believe I even typed that, but I do mean it now.) I do know every kid is different and each student has to be treated differently to grow them into responsible adults, but looking back now as a "seasoned parent" I wish I had not spent so much time talking about grades while my kids were under my roof. Oh, and my second daughter...she's thriving in college right now....just ask her. I now know there is a fine line between accountability and responsibility that parents need to be hyper vigilant about.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

The Growing Cost of Edtech Integrity and Security

5 years ago our school rolled out a BYOD (bring your own device) plan for our middle school. We've muddled, learned and grown through all this and also watched and waited for a better idea to come along. Last year we did something different, our fifth grade students piloted touchscreen chrome books in the classroom that the parents still bought (but they bought through the school). As part of this rollout we placed all these Chromebooks under a monitoring and filtering system that follows them wherever they may go. This monitoring software was chump change compared to some of our budgets but it feels like the chump change costs to do what we want to do just keeps growing. And with it comes an added level of responsibility for our IT department by being the gatekeeper of usage both on and off campus.

In this next school year we are also investing in software that will make it impossible for students to take a quiz or test without doing so in a lockdown browser. We chose to do this for testing security and integrity. This is another little bit of chump change that works with the learning management system (LMS) we have adopted for this year - the LMS itself is a larger bit of chump change. We also spend additional money on a plagiarism/grammar checking software that plugs into the said LMS.

Many of these options are chosen for integrity purposes, some are for ease of use purposes and yet a few cannot even be seen as optional in today's world. One of the hardest parts of being an instructional technologist is that there never seems to be a program that does everything we want it to do for our teachers and students without investing more money in an outside plug in. Then you stand back and you realize your "per seat" cost of using technology continues to grow and you wonder what could stay, what could go? What is next? I do believe in time some of these plug ins will become standard in LMS specs but for now the budget continues to bulge with add-ons.

Add to that the needs of an elementary school which isn't quite ready for the robustness of an expensive LMS but teachers want to utilize technology in collective ways. All of a sudden you have $20-50 dollar expenses in various classes to meet various needs and everyone looking to the IT department to fill those needs.

I do appreciate edtech companies that have the free versions and the pay versions of software because more than once I've said "show me you'll use it and we will look for the money for the paid version." It is interesting to me that many of these companies charge just enough to entice teachers to use their own money for this classroom need. I can't decide if that's the companies being good to the teachers or actually exploitive of the teachers!

At the end of last year our wonderful elementary PTO gave out Amazon gift cards to our teachers to use in the classroom. I'm wondering, has the time come for teachers to receive gift cards so they can decide what tools to buy for their classroom or does that create a smorgasbord of confusion for students? I don't think it would in the elementary setting.

  • How does one best encourage teachers to take risks and try new technology tools without creating undo cost and chaos with a need to support all those things? 
  • Who decides what is necessary and what is not? 
  • Should there be a protocol for edtech tool adoption? 
  • How do you support innovators and first adopters in a school setting?
  • How do you discern if the chump change and the big change your shelling out is truly cost effective in the learning process?
  • How do you make the money spent on educational technology equitable between upper and lower schools? Do you need to?
  • What standards or goals are you supporting through the use of technology in the school?
  • What is it's ultimate purpose and do the pros outweigh the cons? 
  • Where is the tipping point? If I knew .....(kids weren't always multitasking, students weren't cheating on tests, knew how to balance- or whatever you have heard to fill in that blank) THEN I would feel more comfortable with technology. How much money do we invest into the tipping point areas?
  • How do you respond to the next cool and useful tool that hits the market midyear when your budget is flat? 
  • How much cushion should there be in a tech budget?

Friday, June 22, 2018

Putting Yourself OUT THERE Professionally

As I reflect over my school year, I realize I had a lot of disappointments. In fact, a crazy amount of disappointments. As a rule, I don't deal with disappointments or rejection well so I have spent the last few days asking myself "why does this year feel like a success if you truly felt like you had tons of disappointments?"

I think it is because my disappointments weren't in what was happening at school that much and more about putting myself out there to become a better educator and to grow. I also think it was because I put myself out there enough that I also have some crazy awesome things to celebrate as well. As I started typing this blog post I decided to just create this chart to help me put my year in perspective:

A few years back I realized that in order for me to get the feedback I needed to both grow and feel fulfilled in my role I would need to reach outside of my own school system. Not that it isn't a wonderful school system- it is! But I tend to be a futurist and and "what's next" type of thinker about education. That being said, it is not my role to force my dreams on those I work with, so looking for ways to develop and feed that part of myself while incrementally creating opportunities at our school is important to me.

There are some years the professional rejection feels more overwhelming than the things to celebrate but because of my personality, I feel like it's important for me to keep putting myself out there. And let me say that has not always been my personality. There have been more years than not that I was quite happy siloing myself in my classroom with my students and focusing on teaching and the things that happened within the four walls of that classroom. AND I was a good teacher. But after spending time looking at what others were doing by attending conferences and using Twitter to grow professionally, I had a quest to do more and be more for myself, my school system, but ultimately the students and families I serve.

So now I spend time looking for opportunities to get outside my box and challenge my thought processes. I realize that as an instructional technologist I work in a role that opens a mixed bag of emotions from others. It is that fact that has pushed me to have a more global approach to my job so that I can get the support I need and can be a balanced educator in seeing the strengths and potential pitfalls in my realm of influence.

I say all this to challenge others to continue to put yourself out there. After not being chosen for part of the Google Innovator program this year I tweeted "Rejection makes me hungry." It's true. Don't let your rejection define you-dig deeper, apply again, seek other avenues, but never accept the status quo of complacency!  Fail forward and grow! Colonel Sanders, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Edison and J.K. Rowling are just a few people that come to mind when I think of persevering through the struggle of failures. May I ever be someone with that type of growth mindset.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

The Value of Pausing

What is the function of a pause button? To hit pause means you still want to continue but you need a little breather. When you are watching a movie, maybe you pause for a bathroom break. When you are listening to a podcast, maybe you pause because something more pressing needs your attention at the moment. The point I'm trying to make is that to pause is very different than hitting stop.

In the summer I often take some intentional pauses for my own mental health. It can look very different based on where I am emotionally, spiritually and professionally. Right now I am in the midst of what I would call a "redirect pause." I am being intentional about attending events, reading resources and learning more about the negative impacts technology can have on us but I AM an instructional technologist. While that might not make sense to some people, I think it is very important that I always be aware of latest research that both positively and negatively represents technology and more specifically educational technology.

This week I had the privilege of leading some professional development sessions for our school system. At the end of a session about formative assessment I was asked two questions by one of the participants who has not been working in a technology-rich classroom but will be teaching with us next year:

  • Do you feel students are easily distracted by technology?
  • What are your biggest concerns about technology in the classroom?
So those 20 fellow educators were stuck there listening to my answers!

My answer to the first question was unequivocally YES. Technology is a disrupter but I firmly believe that the benefits outweigh its frustrations if we are intentionally using technology in a classroom that supports not only engagement but learning. I do believe technology in the classroom means that it becomes harder to teach in a traditional way. Classroom management is important when technology is present and you as a teacher are speaking. It is a natural time for students to drift off task. Teachers have to set expectations and stick with them. 

The second question pricked this part of me that never gets to speak. I mean my job is to hark the benefits of technology and show educators how to use it....what are my biggest concerns? I took a big breath and my answer was, "I worry about the siloing nature of technology. I worry about the way it is impacting conversations. I worry that technology companies have duped us into using their products and we haven't considered the consequences." I then said, "I do think educational technology companies are doing a better job of seeing their responsibility in the way they build their platforms. I also feel we, as educators, are able to discern what works best for us where it all felt like a whirlwind as we started trying things in the classroom." 

Today I attended a session by Dr. Larry Rosen during a Neuroscience & Education Symposium. Tonight I find myself dwelling on the way the different generations look at technology. We looked at research data that compared Baby Boomers, Generation X, Net Generation, iGeneration and Generation C. Tonight I sit here thinking about how to share technology information with the various generations that teach at CCS in a way that helps them to understand the dynamics of Generation C. It feels both overwhelming and exciting. 

And the one thing that could cause a myriad of crazy conversations is the concept of "tech breaks" during the schedule so that students can reconnect with the technology platforms of their choice in order to be less distracted from FOMO (fear of missing out) and constantly trying to check it when the teacher isn't looking. The research was amazing to consider. Thankful for this pause that helps me to see more about pausing. 

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Why Small School Districts Should be Leading the Way in Innovation

This year I have chosen to focus on the good. My one word for January was "perspective" and I have worked hard to see my surroundings through a positive lens this school year, to celebrate the things that happen in our school that makes us uniquely special and gives me pause to have pride in where I work. I've always been thankful for this school system, they helped me raise my two girls, gave me a sense of belonging, nurtured and challenged me into the educator I am today and continues to push me.

When I am being intentional about my perspective, it magnifies the thoughts and processes that roam inside my head. I've even been told I am overthinking things, which is a bit funny because I see myself more as too decisive and action-oriented these days because I was definitely an over-thinker in the past. Balance, always looking for my balance.

But I digress. The thing I really appreciate the most by realigning my perspective to positivity is the fact that I work for a district that can get things done. Things don't stagnate or suffer from paralysis of analysis. If the right people accept an idea that anyone has, things can get done around here. I think part of this is because we are a smaller district (a pre-K school of 1400 students) and anyone that needs to be part of a decision is within walking distance of each other.  I also think it is because we are a private school and the mandates that some of you have to deal with don't impact us.

If you want a big dose of perspective start hanging out with educators from various districts. One of my most enlightening endeavors monthly is being part of our local #CHAedu #coffeeEDU where a few educators choose to spend an hour discussing education topics of our choice. This was the first place I realized how fortunate I was to be at CCS in terms of getting things done. I heard fellow educators in different districts, in different roles talk about trying to bring great opportunities to their school but not being allowed to or having to fight really hard for it because "it wouldn't be equitable between the different schools in the district." I guess I understand that on one hand but on the other hand if every school had empowered educators wanting to bring special stuff and being able to do so, does it have to be the exact same thing?

That being said, I think every sized district has its on perspectives that make it unique and valuable to education. If you want to make sure a tech rollout goes well, see what a successful large district did and adapt their concept to yours. If you can rollout tech to 20,000 students successfully, you should be modeled.

What I realize is that smaller school districts should be leading the way in innovation. There seems to be less red tape to cut through in order to create change. I would also say that in smaller districts there is more likely the possibility that the key players/decision makers wear multiple hats and the sphere of influence is more encompassing. This allows for informed decisions to be made quicker, with the word informed being the key word. In smaller districts, administrators often have multiple wheelhouses. This can be helpful when dealing with innovative strategies because the moving parts have a greater opportunity of working like a well oiled machine instead of a sticky cog.

A friend of mine who works in public education once said to me, "I think public schools could learn a thing or two from your school. You all have the ability of doing much with little." He was talking about funding, and he was right! When you know the funds are limited, you get creative in the ways you meet needs. I think it is the nature of the small district beast to have an innovative mindset.

I'm going to push this concept even a bit farther...I believe Christian schools have a responsibility to be innovators. We follow the greatest innovator of all- Jesus fed 5,000 people with 5 loaves and 2 fish! We should always be looking for ways to meet needs, it is one of the things we are called to do as Christians. We should be modeling for the world what meeting needs looks like, including in the classroom. In my opinion this means we should be looking at our constituency through the monocle of innovation (the place where needs intersect with passion) and individuality.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Student Led Professional Development

I've been at school since 6:45am.  I was anxious about my morning and the lofty goals I had. It's now 10:00am and I am basking in the glory of positive completion! This morning ended a 9 week elective opportunity for students that signed up for the "Lower School Tech Team" elective. This team has worked for 9 weeks to create an Escape Room opportunity for the lower school teachers that taught them about STEAM tools. These 8 students created lesson plans and how to videos and modeled how you can teach using an Escape Room as the lesson.

This morning all the lower school teachers had a staggered start to come in and allow the students to show them how to use Dash Cleverbots, Ozobots, Sphero Robotics, Makey Makeys, and Echo Dots in the classroom. Based on feedback from teachers in January, this was an area they felt they needed more training in. The students manned all 5 stations and had the teachers learn more about these tools. As someone that was both nervous about allowing students to lead the PD and hoping that it truly would be seen as beneficial, I truly enjoyed hearing the interactions and the "aha moments" happening as each grade level worked their way through the challenges. Every grade level got through the 5 challenges in less than 20 minutes and my hope is that the teachers will have walked away thinking about potential ways they can use these tools in their own classroom in the future.

The thing that I am most proud of is allowing these students to have the opportunity to be part of authentic learning. The problem put before them was "The teachers want to learn more about tech tools." These kids showed up at 7:30am this morning (even though on Wednesdays their day starts at 9:00am) and enthusiastically taught their teachers what they knew. They supported without "doing it for them." Every one of them left feeling accomplished, needed, and fulfilled in what they participated in this morning. Students want authentic learning and to share their learning more globally. The morning of sharing with the lower school teachers and the website they created for reference allowed them this opportunity. Remember, this was an elective. Think on that for a moment!

Monday, May 14, 2018

Echo Dot Kids Edition- For Education?

I've been fairly pumped about the Echo Dot Kids Edition coming out. My pre-ordered one came in this past week and the 10 minute video at the bottom of this post is me unboxing and digging into its capabilities. I was beyond excited about the safeguards the Echo Dot Kids Edition would offer an educational setting. I immediately asked it questions I would hope it wouldn't answer and my brief synopsis was that it did feel much safer to use with youngsters. I did like the fact that when setting up profiles for children it asked the age of the child but also allowed me to override and set stricter settings if I wanted to do so. I have yet to really dig into all the suggested apps for the kids edition but I believe any parent or educator could find multiple reasons to see this as a benefit to learning. One of the things I like the most about it is that it gives young students access to information and learning without screen time issues.

The thing I was most excited about was using an Echo Dot Kids Edition during center time in our elementary school. The safety net of creating user profiles for kids that didn't allow them to intentionally or unintentionally order things off Amazon with my credit card was a huge plus to me.

I couldn't wait to create my first Amazon Blueprint Skill to quiz students at one table while a teacher was engaged in a small group activity with another set of students. I created my skill about STEAM tool knowledge and immediately asked the Echo Dot Kids Edition to open it. It wouldn't. I tried it on one of my other Echo Dots and there was no problem at all.

So here is the deal according to Amazon, because my Echo Dot Kids Edition is set up for a child named Joe Charger, they cannot access my Blueprint skills because it is seen as a different user (even though it uses the same Amazon account). This was a huge disappointment to me. So much potential that just slid away. I was ready to place them in every classroom if it had worked! I will say that the Amazon Troubleshooting team was a big help and they listened to my wants and said they would pass my concerns along to the Amazon Developers.

I know the goal of the Echo Dot Kids Edition isn't for educational purposes but for parent controls but it is SOOOOOO close to being a product that could be amazing in the educational technology realm. So Amazon developers, if you are ready this...I want to be your guinea pig! Thank you for the tool you've given us so far that makes adults feel a little more piece of mind in regards to voice user interface. I look forward to seeing what the next step might be!

Friday, May 4, 2018

When Google Expeditions AR Pioneer Program Visits Your School

This letter went out to our families this week:
Yesterday CCS had the incredible opportunity to participate in the Google Expeditions Pioneer Program. Twenty different groups of students from Kindergarten to 12th grade were able to use augmented reality tools to enhance the concepts they are currently learning in their classrooms through engagement, visualization, and manipulation. This software is not available to the public as Google is perfecting its product, and we were honored to be selected to experience it and give feedback! 
Augmented reality is best described as the process of layering a computer-generated image over a real-world view (think of SnapChat filters). Our students worked in groups of 2-3 using a Google phone attached to a selfie stick to see 3D manipulative visuals ranging from objects associated with a coral reef, to a hurricane, to Da Vinci's inventions! 
The opportunity to participate in the Google Expeditions Pioneer Program provided both teachers and students access to technology-based tools that have the ability to bring abstract concepts to life and give students a deeper understanding of the world beyond the classroom. When students have the ability to look at a bumble bee up close and then enter its body to see how it is formed, that sparks questions and enriches learning!
Google created a safe, non-threatening, fully supported culture for our teachers to be trained to use this technology. Then the teachers were able to introduce this new way to enhance the teaching and learning in their classroom with continued support from Google while they piloted the product. It was an excellent experience for everyone involved!

Julie Davis, our Director of Instructional Technology and Innovation, interviewed with WDEF News 12 this morning and explained CCS's participation in the Google Expeditions Pioneer Program. Click here to watch the interview. 

Now that you know about our experience, I wanted to share my ed tech takeaways from this experience. If you have the chance to pilot a tech tool at your school, do it. It was hard work to get all our ducks in a row on short notice but how often does this type of opportunity come around? Here is why:

  • Empower the early adopters: The teachers that are interested will sign up and it is a great way to get feedback on a concept without sinking straight into it through a purchase. I believe it's important to slide new ideas in the back door so it is less overwhelming for those that are wary of "the next great thing." Let your early adopters have the opportunity to be challenged first. 
  • Effectiveness of tools: In this case, it became immediately evident to me how a good lesson plan can be created around augmented reality by watching teachers in action during this pilot.
  • Explore cost free: There really isn't much risk by trying out something like this. If the product is worth the hype, you have multiple users clamoring for it. 
I hope to be able to find other opportunities for our teachers to try new concepts in a stress free environment. The beauty of the Google Expeditions AR Pioneer Program is that not only was it introduced to the teachers but immediately they were implementing it. I now have 20+ teachers that have experience with augmented reality in the classroom and have that concept in a tool belt for their future. 

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Alexa Blueprints? The Possibilities for Education are Growing

A few months ago I stood in front of a group of voice user interface programmers and said, "I wish the interface to create a skill for Alexa was easier so that my students and my teachers could quickly create their own skills." Some people said, "It is easy!" and one in particular heard me and we have been talking back and forth ever since about what this platform would look like and what it could do. Roger Kibbe (@rogerkibbe) even sent me a link to a potential input/user interface page for students and it was so intuitive and happy looking! I believe with all my heart he is on to something amazing. 

Then this week Amazon came out with its own page. It's called Alexa Blueprints and it works simply and beautifully by using templates to create opportunities for people to create their own Alexa skills. This video is of me using the website for the first time to create a flashcards skill for first graders to learn their shapes based on definitions. That was the first concept that popped into my mind because our students had just done a STEAM time with robots to help them learn their shapes. 
So I created this concept yesterday and had all evening to think through the educational implications of using this in the classroom. Things to think on:
  • I can see this being a great tool for teachers to use to create a center for learning in their classroom but you can only share your skill with those using the same Amazon account so a teacher can't say "look for my skill to help you study for this test at home, etc." Each student would have to make their own skill using their parent's Amazon account...which I can tell you from recent events at our school isn't a wise decision to give out to minors.
  • Falling under the same issue, I would love to have my students create their own skills in class but
    • They can only use an Amazon account under the age of 18 "with involvement of parent or guardian."
    • The risk of letting them have access to my own account to create skills seems too great.
  • I continue to be a little leary of using Alexa in the classroom due to the instant access to information that could be used inappropriately by students by asking innapropriate questions. This week when Alexa Blueprints came out Mark Tucker (@marktucker) reached out to me to let me know it was out there and also to tell me that he thought it would work well with an Alexa Voice Remote. I didn't even know those existed. I must dig deeper at this capability. And FYI here is Mark's Youtube explanation of the new Alexa Blueprints platform.
So there are things that I would love to see:
  • Teacher accounts for Alexa that allow teachers to feel confident with using these devices in the classroom without fear of some student ordering 42 packages of Tide pods on teacher's Amazon account. Could there possibly be Alexa accounts that are not tied to a credit card?
  • Teacher accounts for Alexa that allow the teachers to both create skills that could be shared with all their students so that the teacher could create opportunities for learning outside the classroom for their students using this device.
  • Allow teachers to set up users under their own teacher account so that it could be used in a language arts classroom (for instance) and the students write their own stories using the templates available. 

And I know I have mentioned it before, but as an educator if you ever have the chance to speak outside your educational realm, do it. The connections I made at the Alexa Conference have allowed me to be more tuned into the possibilities of Voice User Interface than I would have ever imagined. Thank you Roger and Mark for keeping me updated on potential new things!

Sunday, April 22, 2018

When In The Midst of Teaching You Know The Learning is Big

Friday I was working with my elective group- 8 students...7 from fourth grade and 1 from fifth grade all wanting to be on the CCS Lower School Tech Team. These 8 kids are awesome. They are smart, witty, creative, and self-motivated. It's an easy group to be with and enjoy.

Friday brought a smile to my face that hasn't gone away (despite the fact I whacked out my back getting out of the floor when working with 2 of them and haven't recovered yet)! You know that moment as a teacher when you are working with a group but you are also listening in and scanning the room to make sure everything is going as planned? It's an innate teacher sense...that ability to know what is going on even when you are fully immersed in the conversation at hand. I had 4 different things going on in the room at one time. One student was creating an instructional video on how to use Ozobots, two young ladies were creating a maze out of cardboard to look like the Titanic, I was introducing two other gentlemen to the Sphero SPRK+ robot, while I overheard three other gentlemen troubleshooting a Makey Makey to turn it into a piano. It was in that moment that I found the smile that I can't let go of. Each group was gleefully working together to create an Ocean-themed Escape Room experience for their teachers using STEM tools. Students were on task, active learning was happening and leaders were emerging.

As a rule, I tend to be a "finish what you started" type teacher. If a student picks something to learn, do, read, etc I encourage them to give it a complete chance. I don't force it, but I strongly suggest it (and this might even look like guilting them but that isn't my intention and I try not to push it that far).

We meet for 45 minutes on Friday afternoon for one quarter. Friday, we all had our plans we had been working on and all of a sudden some kids wanted to switch what they were doing. I let them. I was even surprised at myself. One student even said, "but what about the Scratch thing? Who is going to do that?" My answer was, "We will get to it if we get to it." (If there had been a mirror I probably would have looked into it to see who that was speaking). But here is what I learned from being flexible on Friday...

This is an elective. There is no grade and no sense of WE HAVE TO COMPLETE THIS IN ORDER TO GET THROUGH THE PACING GUIDE. These students chose to be with me. I don't take that lightly. I want them to enjoy this process. In fact, the lone fifth grader really didn't want to be in there after he realized he was the only fifth grader but since he had an injured foot, none of the other electives were really a good fit for him. He stuck with it, and I chose to empower him because of that.  In fact, I just sent an email to him and cc'd his mom because of what happened Friday. I'm even going to leave his name in here for you because I'm just so stinking proud of him:

I want to thank you for sticking it out on the tech team elective. I know you were a bit disappointed because you were the only fifth grader that got that elective but I want you to see what I see because of you...

You are a leader. Friday when you were working with those other fourth grade boys they were listening to you intently and you were teaching them about the Makey Makey. It was an amazing moment for me. I love seeing students teaching other students! Because those fourth grade boys look up to you, they were 100% into learning more about the Makey Makey. I couldn't be everywhere in the room at one time but I tend to listen in to everyone's conversation. At one point I heard you troubleshooting and saying "Oh wait, she said we could use the metal on a pencil." Your hands-on approach to figuring the issue out without a teacher's help is just what I like education to be like. You have an inquisitive nature that will serve you well in life...especially since you have such a teachable spirit. 

Thank you Noah for being you. You have risen to become my "right hand man" in this group and I appreciate that about you. I've sent this to your mom as well because mommas always like to know that other people see how amazing their kids are too!

Mrs. Davis 

So I guess I am sharing this for 3 reasons:
  1. To suggest that you get out of your own way at times. Who I am as a person and teacher often thinks that one of the most important things to teach is perseverance. Friday, I let that part of me take second place and what I saw caused smiles. You are never too old to learn. Here I am at age 49 and I decided because this was an elective I would be more flexible in the plan. 
  2. When students get to choose their learning, they are engaged. I had a plan and we will still get there but the truth is, allowing my students to adjust and switch made for one of the biggest edu-smiles I've had in a long time. 
  3. Know your students. I have some really strong-willed guys in this group but instead of forcing them into a box to finish this process, I've let them each flourish in a way that they both enjoy and are successful at doing. For one kid, it's allowing him to do his thing by himself. For another, it's letting him become a leader, for two girls it's allowing them to be together, for other students it's pairing them based on their skills. That can't happen if you don't know your students gifts and talents. It often takes a while to see what they are. Once you do, don't stick to your grouping guns just because that's where you started, be willing to help each student shine!

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

How a Cheapskate Introduces Technology Tools

I'm a visionary without a budget. I have grand schemes and wishes but no funding to have expectations. So what do I do? Improvise!  There are ways you can introduce new concepts and tools cheaply or free. I'm the queen of it lately. So here are my latest concepts:

Augmented Reality: 

  • Google Expedition AR Pioneer Program. Sign up. That's what I did. Now the Google Expedition AR Pioneer Team is planning to come to Chattanooga Christian School the first week in May. What I love about this program is that it isn't Google showing the teachers the tool. You sign up for Google to show the teachers the tool and then teachers sign up for 30 minute slots of bringing their students in for a lesson plan that they are leading using the tool (with Google support on deck). It's ingenious and free.
  • The Merge Cube is 99 cents at Walmart locations. I'm not the first to tell the edtech world this...Leslie Fisher blogged about it several months back and educators everywhere have been loading up buggies of these little goodies, myself included. I actually bought one for every elementary teacher at our school and for 3of the middle school science teachers. This is a cost effective way to allow teachers to try something new, on their own time, and feel like they have been given a gift as well! When I handed them out I felt like Oprah because of all the happy thank yous. (If you are a CCS educator don't read this next line) an instructional technologist I am out $45 bucks and every educator in the building has a chance to see how this  tool might enhance their curriculum. I see that as a cheap win. 
Free Learning:
  • Become a Connected Educator. This is the greatest gift I give my school district. Staying plugged in and aware of new things, how to access them, and how to get training on them in a cheap or free environment. I've had edu-friends come and lead sessions for our teachers to help them grow. I've been a part of #CHAedu #coffeeEDU where once a month, every month during the school year I walk away with some tidbit of information that will be helpful for my school. I look for opportunities for my teachers to attend and I serve on organization committees to give more educators these chances- i.e. Edcamp Gigcity. 
  • Find sponsors. We've got a few families at our school that are passionate about concepts that relate to my field. Tapping into this gives them a sense of investing in something good and me away to get the job done. Just make sure you have permission to do this. You don't want everyone at your school pitching concepts and needs to the same people. Look for grants as well!
I'll be honest, a lack of funding can be weary. I'm there. I tend to fund more things personally than I should but I don't blame anyone for that. Here is what I have learned...even if the teachers I serve don't ever pick up their Merge cube, my giving it to them was a relational gesture that grows future possibilities. Even if our teachers don't take part in the learning opportunities like Google Expedition Pioneer Program Day or Edcamp Gigcity, I am giving them chances to consider seeing education differently. The truth of the matter is not everyone is enticed by the same things. I love to read educational blogs but I literally have a hard time listening to educational podcasts. There are others that are the exact opposite. Baby steps are the key...and just like we do for our elementary students- it's more about experiences than mastery of anything I share. When something clicks with a teacher, I don't have to do much but get out of their way! That's always a cheap answer.