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.