Category Archives: Teachers

Reconsidering what’s “required”

Busy student bloggers. Blogging isn’t “required”… should we make time for it?

Recently I read a post by my friend Bill Ferriter titled Making Room for Uncertainty in the Required Curriculum

Bill shares this article that states that instruction centered on facts has largely failed our students. Teachers are handed required curricula, complete with scope and sequence, and in some schools teachers are expected to teach lesson A on day 1 and lesson B on day 2 and continue onward and upward and they’d better make sure they cover everything that’s expected to be covered. This approach leaves some kids in the dust and fails to challenge others. And it completely overwhelms teachers. I tackled that in a post years ago.

The top form of resistance I encounter as an instructional technology coach when trying to urge teachers to consider the use of more inquiry or project-based, technology-infused activities in their classrooms is their fear of losing time and therefore not being able to cover the required curriculum.

Bill, a teacher in practice, tells it like it is:

If moments of genuine discovery are going to make their way into my classroom, something has to give — and that ‘something’ is going to end up being content that is currently listed in my ‘required’ curriculum.

As a former principal, I’d prefer to stumble upon those moments of “genuine discovery” in my classrooms rather than check a teacher’s lesson plans to ensure they’re on track to cover required curriculum. Not all leaders share that mentality, however. Because standards and testing and accountability. What if a teacher gives her students the freedom to spend time blogging in class, but her students’ mid-term reading proficiency scores aren’t any better than any other students’ scores? Should they carry on? Do we stop to consider the “untestable” impact of their blogging practices? Their connections to other classes and cultures worldwide? Their constantly improving writing practices and the digital citizenship skills learned? Perhaps the principal is concerned because due to blogging, these students are losing time completing the lessons of the prescribed language arts curriculum. But if we’re not inspiring and challenging our kids and allowing them to make important discoveries leading to enduring understandings, then “covering” curriculum doesn’t much matter, does it?

The comments on Bill’s post also made me ponder our ready access to information and how we find it and use it. We’ve all heard the “If you can Google the answer, it’s not a good question” argument and “If kids can look up the answers online to cheat, then it’s not a good assessment” line. Perhaps, although every question and every assessment has its own context worth considering. David Jakes goes on to reply that he uses Google to answer questions every single day, which allows him to better understand the work he’s doing. And, as David says, they shouldn’t be the only questions we’re asking, but they help us make connections that lead to bigger understandings.  I have to agree.

Sometimes I think teachers quickly email a colleague or submit a help desk ticket to tech support or their instructional coach without pausing to think, The resources I need to answer this question are readily available to me. I can find the answer to this. 

I want to tell them: Google it. Seriously. I can’t tell you how many times I received a query for help, I typed the exact question into Google, and seconds later the answer was listed for me in step-by-step format. Next I’d relay this information to the inquirer either by linking to the answer online or by summarizing it. In the time it took the staff member to compose an email with their question, they could have conducted online research to find the answer themselves.

Would the learning be more powerful if the teacher or administrator conducted the search on his own? Struggled through the process a little? Discovered new venues through which to answer questions?

I think so. And we’d be modeling something powerful for our students. I hear teachers complain constantly that our kids stink at Google searches… are we any better?

Would it take more time? Perhaps. What I think many don’t realize is that “tech savvy” folks aren’t tech savvy because they are born that way. They devote themselves as learners first. The learning is hands-on and minds-on. They’ve Googled. They’ve trial and error-ed their way through developing blogs and learning the ins and outs of Google Drive and have connected with other educators to make sure they surround themselves with people who are smart and willing to share. And much of these learned content and skills are not “required.”

The freedom to veer from the required curriculum requires administrators who believe in their teachers’ abilities to learn alongside their students and to roll with it… to identify students’ needs and passions and provide them with the FREEDOM to learn. A curriculum is great, it’s neat, it can serve, when well-written, as a guide for teachers to help students know and understand important content. But we can’t expect our teachers to innovate given the constraints we’ve placed them under. It’s very possible to provide this type of freedom while still maintaining high expectations for learning. I’d wager you may even have some happier, less-stressed teachers and students on your hands. #eduwin

I will continue to ponder how we can best free teachers and students from the constraints of what’s “required” to provide conditions better suited for innovation… would love to hear your thoughts on how you’ve made this happen in your schools!


P.S. I’m on leave from my tech coaching position this semester, blessed with the opportunity to keep a new, tiny human nourished and entertained while simultaneously giving her older brother the exact same amount of love he had in his pre-baby-sister-days and maintaining some semblance of an organized household. #supermomma

Given those responsibilities I still can’t stop reading and connecting and learning, it’s a curse. I’ll also continue consulting and presenting and webinaring so be sure to contact me if you and your organization are looking for an energetic, passionate learner and leader!

Some thoughts on rotational learning.

Screen Shot 2015-10-10 at 8.12.07 AM

Oh, hey, blog. How you been?

One of the things I enjoy most about reading others’ blogs and tweets and Google+ postings is that I get a glimpse into what other schools and classrooms are up to. In the tech coaches world, there are plenty of fascinating things being shared and a lot of important questions being asked as we start the new school year. I thought I’d write a bit about rotational learning.

Rotational what-now?

Yes.

Our district has embarked on another year of implementing the PA Hybrid Learning Initiative. In its initial stages, we implemented the model in middle school classrooms, and last year we piloted in grades 1 and 6 in our three elementary schools. This year we’ve expanded to grades 2-5.

We decided as a district to refer to it as “rotational learning,” rather than hybrid learning, since that term can invoke feelings of tech-dominated learning environments, and we’d prefer not to think of the model in that way.

Rotational learning is, quite simply, a method of managing a classroom in three learning stations, through which students rotate during a block of time. For us, at the elementary level, it’s during Language Arts (120 minutes) and Math (90 minutes) blocks.

Direct Instruction – The teacher meets with a small group of students who have been grouped according to their academic data and delivers a lesson targeted to their needs.

Collaborative Station – Students work with one or more peers on an activity or project. This collaborative project usually builds upon content learned during direct and/or asks students to problem solve and work through concepts they’ll be learning in their direct group. It likely also incorporates content from science and social studies.

Independent Station – Students work independently on a learning task, including interacting with digital content providers.

Friends, this isn’t earth shattering. It’s not new. Especially in elementary-land. (It’s been marketed well. Districts in our state are all over it. Because education. Because edtech. Because profits.) We know the power of small group instruction, because we recognize value in establishing personal connections with kids and designing instruction to best meet their needs. This model attempts to provide a framework to organize the rotations and help districts understand how to organize the use of the technology they’ve provided to classrooms. (I do believe it is causing more a shift in what instruction looks like in our secondary classrooms, and I do believe it’s making a positive impact.)

One summer a few years ago, it was announced our intermediate students would be 1:1, and the laptop carts showed up in classrooms, with no preparation or teacher development on what a 1:1 learning environment looks like. Those laptops remained in the carts for quite some time. No one is comfortable handing out devices to every student in the room and expecting magic to happen. Many schools are encountering similar scenarios. The devices are coming in… now what do we do with them? What should we do with them?

We are very fortunate that we are able to provide a variety of technologies for student and teacher use. We also try to provide “people” support.

  • Kindergarten classes have a COW (computer cart on wheels) to share, some buildings have access to a computer lab.
  • Grades 1 and 2 – 1:1 Chromebooks, expanding to grades 3-4 in years to follow
  • Grades 3-6 – 1:1  PC Laptops
  • Our teachers have laptops and classrooms have Polyvision interactive boards and audio-visual setups.
  • We use content providers and services such as ST Math, Achieve 3000, Reading Eggs, Raz Kids, Edublogs, GAFE, IXL, and Defined STEM.
  • We have a large technical support staff, and this year one technician is stationed directly in each elementary school, which has been fantastic. We have an elementary tech coach (me, I rotate among three buildings) and a secondary tech coach who serves grades 7-12.
  • We contract with our local IU to provide days of coaching to every elementary team each month. This looks like the IU coach spending time in classrooms, talking with teachers and kids, providing feedback to teachers, helping them brainstorm ideas for projects and activities and brainstorm solutions to issues that arise.

What are we finding? (These are my thoughts from an elementary perspective).

Rotational learning #wins:

  • Reduction in the amount of whole-group instruction time. Does whole group instruction have value? Of course it does. But to use it all day, every day… you might as well guarantee  you’re losing 50% or more of your kids as you enter your 8th minute of lecture. And does every student in the room need to hear the content you’re sharing in whole group every lesson, every time? Not likely.
  • Allows for teacher flexibility with how the model looks, based on the needs of their classroom. This may mean adding a fourth or fifth rotation (some teachers add a Writing station, some actually do 6 rotations for shorter periods of time to keep things moving along). Our teachers are champs at this. They’re not feeling pigeon-holed by a model, they know their kids best, and they’re making it work for the students in front of them each day.
  • Lots of motion. No one is sitting still for 45-60 minutes at a time.
  • Students take ownership over schedules, transitions, roles they play, and their assigned devices. Many teachers incorporate leadership roles for kids like “computer captains” and “switcher” to help keep everything running smoothly in the classroom.
  • Requires thought into how technology is used in the classroom. What role will it play during direct instruction? During collaborative projects? How will students engage independently? How will we know if it’s making a difference?
  • Realizing that collaboration is hard. Kids (and adults) don’t inherently know how to be productive members of a team. This means that we spend time teaching accountable talk, establishing group roles, modeling positive group interactions, teaching kids how to problem solve and resolve conflicts in a group, and more.
  • Incorporate a coaching model to support teachers through this process. Preferably, use coaches that have classroom teaching experience as well as instructional technology integration experience.
  • There are no pull-out groups for kids. All instruction happens in the general education classroom. Support specialists, Title teachers, learning support teachers, etc. run intervention groups and specially designed instruction in the classroom. (This is actually the model we moved to before using rotational learning.)

Rotational learning #fails:

  • When differentiation doesn’t happen. When the same direct instruction lesson is being taught to three different groups that contain kids with varying needs.
  • When no thought is given to the work happening in Independent, but rather content providers are just used as glorified babysitters. Similarly, when a teacher does not use data from said content providers to plan instruction.
  • Teachers and admin who are uncomfortable with noise. Quality collaborative stations are busy, busy places. Filled with conversations. Of course student voices need not overpower the voice of the teacher who is delivering direct instruction, but please let the children talk.
  • Admin who micromanage. Consider that this model requires teachers to triple+ the amount of planning they do to ensure they meet the needs of a diverse group of students. Let’s not nitpick the way we require them to write and format lesson plans.
  • Failure to incorporate student choice and voice into rotation activities.
  • Not involving parents and community members. Parents hear “hybrid,” parents hear “1:1,” parents think their 6-yr-old is sitting in front of a laptop all day, every day. (Hopefully) not the case.
  • Thinking that because we’re using the rotational learning model and our classrooms are 1:1, we’re doing something innovative.
  • Not providing teachers with enough collaborative planning time, or, failure of teams to capitalize on the common planning time that IS available in their schedules. Planning for rotational learning is no small undertaking. You need each other.

As with all initiatives, the majority of successes we experience with rotational learning can be attributed directly to the teacher and his ability to effectively plan, co-plan, instruct, create, assess, and manage. Teacher feedback has ranged from “this is so great, it makes the day go quickly, I love seeing students in small groups so often,” to “this is too overwhelming, we don’t have enough time to plan for collaborative,” etc. Students definitely seem to enjoy the variety it brings to the day, and our preliminary data indicates that we are helping our students make appropriate academic gains.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on rotational learning or similar and the types of things you’re experiencing and learning as you work with your students!

 

 

Blogs and Smores and Texts, Oh My!

This summer I worked on solidifying the ways in which I communicate with my staff to support their learning. As an instructional technology coach who works in three elementary schools with 100+ staff, digital communication is essential. I can’t be in every school every day, and I certainly don’t have the luxury of face time with all of my teachers on a consistent basis. Now in my third year of coaching, I feel like I have established a communication plan that is going to work well for us. I will keep tweaking and evaluating the effectiveness of what I share, but here are some ways I’ve going to reach out and stay connected with my staff this year:

Screen Shot 2015-08-06 at 8.02.42 AM

Elementary Instructional Technology Blog – This Edublogs site (our district uses Edublogs K-12) is my main hub for communication. A place where I share resources weekly, house content provider and device tutorials and must-knows for teachers, and link to other important spaces and places like our @elancoelem Twitter and Pinterest feeds. Whenever I receive an email question re: “How do I do this?” or “What are the login credentials for that?”, the answer is almost always found in this space. I encourage teachers to subscribe by email, and although I don’t email blast every post I write, I do, on occasion, email the elementary staff en mass with a link to a blog post that I feel is beneficial to everyone.

Screen-Shot-2015-07-18-at-10.09.30-AM-1qhn441

The Google – This summer I published a 2015-16 Elementary Tech Updates Google doc, shared internally via GAFE. I utilized Google Doc’s Table of Contents feature to allow teachers to jump to topics of interest and it helped better organize the updates. Did every staff member read it? I’m not sure, but there’s pertinent information there that they’ll definitely need to know before starting the year. If I receive a question that’s answered on the doc, I’ll reference it and make sure teachers know how to access it and to read it as soon as possible. I’ve used Google Drive shared folders to share unit or lesson resources easily with teams, teachers, and administrators, and I’ll use Google Classroom with staff to support some asynchronous professional learning opportunities this year. In addition, since our elementary schools run on a common schedule, we’re going to to utilize Google Hangouts during common planning times so I can meet virtually with two schools while I’m physically meeting with the third, allowing a PD session to expand to all three buildings and not limit the learning to where I am physically stationed. We’re hoping this platform inspires our teachers to reach out to one another across building lines more often! The secondary tech coach and I also use Google Forms to ask teachers to self-evaluate on the Spartan Digital Competencies we’ve developed, and to set goals for the year in instructional tech integration. This allows us to better focus our coaching efforts.
Screen Shot 2015-08-06 at 8.11.00 AM

Smore – I fell in love with Smore’s easy to use interface and designs for creating interactive flyers a few years ago, and I’ve been using them to create Tech Tidbits to share on the elem tech blog and through social media channels. I plan to continue using Smore to share resources I find while browsing online. Its ability to easily incorporate text, photos, videos, and links, as well as share via link or embed code, makes it a no-brainer choice for me to spice up my communications!

Remind-22ydh5z-e1405910926695

Remind – My first experience with Remind (then Remind 101) was about five years ago when I was elementary principal, and we signed up for the service to announce weather-related closings and delays to staff, eliminating the need for a clunky phone chain. (No one wants to answer the phone at 5 AM on a potential snow day!) I loved that it was opt-in, that there was no exchange of phone numbers or email addresses, and that it was dead simple to communicate quickly with a large number of people. I didn’t consider using it to support professional learning until Kyle Pace shared his strategy of connecting with conference participants to continue sharing resources with his Kyle’s GAFE Tips & Resources class. What a great idea! I love receiving Kyle’s updates via text. I read a lot on my mobile device, and it’s simple to access his shared links, be inspired, and save them to spaces where I can access later.

This year I’ll use the Mrs. Hilt’s Tech Tidbits class to share resources, tips and tricks via Remind. Join us! Here are the instructions to join my class:

Screen Shot 2015-08-06 at 9.05.18 AMHere’s the full set of directions if you’d prefer to subscribe via email. I plan to start sending updates once the school year begins later this month, and I promise not to bombard the system!

WiredWednesdaysLogo.001

Wired Wednesdays – This year I’m offering after-school, hour-long professional learning sessions on a variety of tech topics. Since the elementary has a limited amount of common planning time devoted to instructional tech PD, I’m hoping teachers will take advantage of these sessions and join me for some fun Wednesday afternoons!

Along with face-to-face team meetings and check-ins with teachers, I’m hoping these digital communication strategies will help inspire my teachers and provide them with the resources they need to successfully use technology to support student learning!

How will you communicate with staff and your school community this year?

I Remember.

Image via Wikimedia Commons
Image via Wikimedia Commons

I remember building with blocks. Naps on mats. Performing in a Christmas play.

I remember being asked to sit in my teacher’s rocking chair and read Charlotte’s Web to my peers sitting on the carpet while she stepped into the hallway to take a phone call.

I remember phonics workbooks. I remember the day I spelled “of” as “uv” on a spelling test, and I was utterly and abashedly disappointed in myself.

I remember walking to school with my brothers. I remember recess. We played by the trees, we dug in the dirt, we gathered acorns, we listened to Thriller on our “portable” cassette players, and we had pretend weddings.

I remember the Challenger explosion being broadcast on a television on a cart in front of the wall of windows in our cafeteria as we sat and ate lunch.

I remember field days. I remember three-legged races with my best friend, a full head taller than me. We won first place every year.

I remember moving to a new town and a new school at an impressionable age. I remember not having any friends. I remember sobbing at my desk. I remember teachers who showed compassion.

I remember when my teacher read aloud Where the Red Fern Grows and nicknamed me Little Ann.

I remember math facts fluency speed games and wanting to win. I remember the first time I got an F on a quiz. Early Explorers. I remember that was the day I stopped enjoying social studies.

I remember falling asleep in class while my peers recited The Gettysburg Address. We all had to do it. I remember my teacher waking me up with a smile and telling me I could go to recess. I remember the next day, my teacher put a Peanuts comic strip of Lucy falling asleep in school on my desk as a clever way to remind me of that funny thing that happened.

I remember Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? on an Apple IIE and relishing every day it was my assigned day to the computer.

I remember The Westing Game read aloud, which continues to be my favorite book of all time.

I remember my science log. We drew pictures and added captions to help us understand the concepts we were learning. I remember that I was a sketchnoter before sketchnoting was a thing.

I remember having the same classes with the same group of kids through all of grades 7 and 8. And how we developed as peers and friends and foes. I remember electives. I remember choreographing a dance routine to C & C Music Factory’s Everybody Dance Now in eighth grade PE.

I remember writing notes back and forth in a journal with my best friends, sometimes using secret languages, passing them to one another between (during?) classes or delivering notebooks to lockers. #thatwasoursocialmedia

I remember the smells associated with cutting open a frog. And freshly cut grass right before field hockey practice. And catcher’s equipment. And baking pancakes in home economics.

I remember sitting on a sidewalk with a stopwatch, timing cars as they pass to learn s=d/t.

I remember reading plays and comparing/contrasting them to contemporary musicals. I love musicals.

I remember a chemistry teacher telling his class to listen. To look at him, listen to his words, think, and then write notes. Listen.

I remember the Notre Dame fight song, note for note, because our Algebra teacher used it to signal two minutes remaining during test time.

I remember performing in plays and laughter with classmates. I remember journal writing in high school English and making up an entire book I then wrote a book report about and submitted it to a long-term substitute thinking I was the cleverest gal around.

I remember our U.S. Government teacher taking the small handful of students who didn’t ditch school to try to see President Clinton at the local university to a country store, a few miles from school, because he received a tip the President would be stopping there en route home. I remember shaking the hand of, talking to, and being photographed with the President of the United States.

I remember projects and teamwork. I remember my teachers’ smiles. I remember their stories and their laughter. I remember being able to feel which teachers were passionate about working with their students, and those that weren’t so much.

I remember learning how to be a teacher, and falling in love with the craft.

I remember my first class of my own. I remember loving those kids and that experience to infinite amounts and being grateful for the opportunity to serve them.

I remember the good in school because these memories shaped me to become the educator I am today.

These memories don’t happen without teachers. 

Here’s to appreciating teachers every day, everywhere.

What do you remember?

 

Why not?

makeschooldifferent21

Scott McLeod has issued a #makeschooldifferent challenge and asks us to acknowledge 5 ways of doing business in schools and how to think differently about what it means to teach and learn to support today’s learners.

Instead of…. why not? 

Instead of teachers defining all intended learning outcomes for students and plastering them on whiteboards and in lesson plans, why not let the learners ask the questions, develop plans, research, dig deeper, question again, draw conclusions, and share findings? (Subjective outcomes? Worth exploring: #rhizo15)

Instead of…. why not? 

Instead of attributing a child’s lack of success to his home life or his chosen peer group or his refusal to do homework or his off-task behavior, why not sit with him during lunch and inquire more about who he is, what he feels, and what he needs from you as an educator in his life who cares about him?

Instead of…. why not? 

Instead of holding pep rallies and celebrations and hosting fun events for kids during standardized testing weeks, why not make every day a day in school a worth celebrating? Because feelings.

Instead of …. why not?

Instead of micromanaging every minute of teachers’ professional development time, why not ask teachers to lead the way? What are their strengths? Needs? How can you incorporate teacher-led learning opportunities through edcamps and innovation days and action planning cohorts and world cafes and other ways to transform professional learning? Why not build capacity within your organization by making teachers leaders?

Instead of …. why not?

Instead of saying to yourself, “Nothing I have to say would be valuable to anyone else” – “I have nothing interesting to contribute to online learning spaces” – “No one wants to read what I would tweet or blog about” – “I am comfortable being a lurker” – why not watch this and this, start surrounding yourself with inspiring educators who contribute, and become a contributor yourself. We will thank you. You will thank you. Your students will thank you.

Why not?

 

I’m not going to tag 5 specific members of my Poetic Ladybug Network, but I’m going to insist some of you who read this write your own response to Scott’s challenge. 🙂

About a community.

Screen Shot 2015-03-07 at 11.41.52 AM

Last week at IntegratED in Portland (a conference filled with crazy-inspiring people, blog post on that coming soon), I had the chance to facilitate a session about developing digital learning communities using Google+.

We explored driving questions such as, What are the essential ingredients of a strong learning community? Of a digital learning community? Are they one and the same? Can they be? Should they be? Participants shared their thoughts on communities here, and together we summarized the responses into five essential components of a powerful learning community:

  1. Active participation
  2. Trusting culture
  3. Openness to new ideas and new learnings/willingness to learn by participants/risk taking
  4. Purposeful, goal-driven
  5. Connecting out to a wider community -outreach

So, how can a digital learning space like a Google+ community help support these ideals? The goals of the participants were varied. Some wanted to join pre-established Google+ communities to grow professionally. Others wanted to set up their own communities to promote sharing among their local colleagues and beyond. We then considered some key questions when both searching for communities to join and creating new spaces.

“Is it a place you want to spend your time?”

Two years ago I started the Instructional Technology Integrators and Coaches community, with the intent of finding support among other educators in the technology specialist/coaching roles as I transitioned to a new position in my district. Full disclosure: I created this community out of pure selfishness. I wanted to surround myself with people that were smarter and more resourceful than me to support my work in schools.

Now, with over 3,500 members (and yes, I realize they’re not all contributing members), the community has blossomed into an active space where educators can pose questions, share resources, provide feedback, and search through archived conversations on topics ranging from collaborative learning activities to account management to digital citizenship to best practices in a 1:1 classroom.

It is a place I like to be. I enjoy reading each and every post and the responses that follow. Moderating duties do not exhaust or irritate me. (Although as more members joined, I did seek help moderating- thankful for Doug and Susan who also devote their time to this community!) Which brings me to more questions to consider.

“Do you believe in the community’s purpose? Is it moderated by people who care? How can you tell?”

From the beginning, I did not want this community to become a place where people simply linked to their blog posts or shared their edu-events or plugged their stuff without engaging other members of the community. Do people occasionally do this? Yes, they do. I miss the boat sometimes and maybe should remove more promotional posts than I do. But if a post is flagged as spam, even from a reputable educator, it’s usually because the post was shared out among several communities. And, if there was no other content added to the post aside from the link, I typically choose not to post it in our community. All members have to be approved before they can post. I look at the profile of each member who requests to join, searching for some sign of an educational affiliation. I don’t approve requests from companies or vendors, even those with an edtech focus. I block people who take advantage of their memberships, and remind people of our community’s purpose via comments on their posts and in posts I write.

In a digital learning community, just as in a real time, face-to-face community, purpose matters. Intent matters. Etiquette matters. Respect matters. Members in our community freely give their time, ideas, and feedback to others. They deserve to learn in a space that honors what they give as professionals.

To make the most of your experience in a Google+ community, find (or create) a community that has a clear purpose, is well organized, has moderators that help make the learning experience streamlined and meaningful, promotes opportunities for discussions, has a variety of resources shared around the common purpose, displays evidence of respectful participation and engagement among a diverse membership, and openly accepts and encourages members’  critical questions, thoughts, and ideas.

Google+ communities as well as Hangouts and other community tools can help create spaces for “intellectual collisions” that can promote sharing and innovation in your organization. But the success of this type of community has little to do with the technological aspects of the shared space and much more so with the people involved. While Google announced earlier this week that Google+ was undergoing some changes, I don’t believe Communities will be leaving us anytime soon. But, even if they do, I know there are a band of people who will come along with me to whatever space we inhabit next.

Find yourself some good people. I am thankful each and every day for the voices that contribute to our community.

Here are my slides from the session and here’s the link to the page where participants accessed resources.

How are you using Google+ communities in your teaching, learning, and professional growth?

Do you let your kids use Google?

Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 6.21.30 AM

I recently attended Pete & C, PA’s educational technology conference. It’s the fifth or sixth time I’ve attended. I typically find some interesting resources and enjoy connecting with members of my PLN and hearing about all of the great work they’re doing in schools.

So there I was, minding my own business and feeling genuinely grateful that the session presenter, Lexie Konsur, was being up front about copyright and fair use issues in education and not telling us we needed to use only 30 second clips of video and 100 words of text and spewing other fallacy-ridden copyright guidelines, when a participant raised her hand and proclaimed something like,

“We don’t allow our kids use Google to find information.”

Stop.

She was talking about elementary students, of course, because it seems as though in our quest to shield and protect our youngest students from the perils of the intertubes we neglect to properly educate them about what resources are available via the web, how to access them safely and securely, what to do if they stumble upon something precarious, and how to think critically about the resources they’ve found and put them to good use.

I wanted to ask her, but didn’t, for fear of getting all riled up and embarrassing those sitting around me,

  • What DO you let your students use to find information online?
  • Is this how they find information when they’re not sitting in their classrooms?
  • Do they know what a search engine is? Do they know how it works?
  • Would they know what to do if, while browsing, they stumbled upon something harmful or dangerous?
  • Do they know how to manage digital resources and information to best support their research?
  • Do they know there are tools built into search engines like Google to help them narrow their searches productively?
  • What about YouTube? (I’m guessing that’s off limits, too. And, like, Wikipedia.)
  • How do YOU as the teacher find information online and conduct research? Would you be someone who could model your research efforts for students and demonstrate how to use Google appropriately and effectively?

This post is not meant to knock resource libraries like Discovery Ed or PA’s PowerLibrary – I love perusing those resources and know students find many valuable resources there while researching.

But not always. Sometimes the library is too small, the information can’t be found.

So, then, where do we send them to learn?

As we are making a move to Chromebooks next year in our primary classrooms, I’m genuinely interested to hear what others (at the elementary level, particularly) are doing to support students and their research. Thanks for reading!

It changes us.

appleIIgs

I remember the moment in time when I learned how to copy and paste.

My parents bought our family an Apple IIGS when I was in junior high school. It was our first personal computer. It was the device on which I learned to word process.

As early I can remember, I wrote stories. I filled journals and spiral-bound notebooks. But access to this device changed me. It changed my writing. I developed skills formerly unknown to me. I needed those skills to adjust to the medium. I wrote more fluently. I mastered keyboarding. (Shockingly without the use of a formal typing program, I was just motivated to learn to type fluently so I could write and create, go figure.)

When I hear, “It’s not about the technology, it’s about what we do with it,” I agree and disagree. It’s not about the tool specifically. But it is. It’s about how it changes us. How it changes the process. The product. The questions. The answers. How we find information. How we learn to understand what is relevant and real and what is crap. These shifts are because of the technology. Because of the tools with which we choose to interact.

It’s about what it can help us become. More fluent writers. Risk-takers. Creators. Sharers. Activists. Educators. Learners.

It’s about how it can help us help others. How it gives voice to the voiceless. How it brings people together in times of adversity and in times of celebration.

To deny our students of discovering who they could become… how they could invent… how they could make an idea or thing come to life… that isn’t okay, especially not if it’s just because we’re too busy with test prep or traditional models of classroom instruction or doing things as we’ve always done because that’s how we do it. That doesn’t allow for the kind of autonomy and questioning and discussion and reinventing that our kids deserve.

It’s about the choices we make with technologies. About how we choose to use them to communicate. To publish. To interact with others. Our kids deserve the chance to make those choices. To understand those choices. To have guidance with those choices.

It changes our present, it changes our futures.

Being a connected educator has changed me. It has caused me to understand things I never before understood. It provides a glimpse into the perspectives of people and groups of people that in my unconnected life I did not previously know.

But after years of connecting, it’s caused me to become jaded, too. I’m not likely to become easily excited about a new tool. I cringe when I hear the words “personalized learning” used in conjunction with technology and schools and children. Children. 

So, it is about the tools. It’s about how they change us. It’s about how we are vulnerable when learning about the roles they can and should play in our lives. In our kids’ lives. So we should help them learn and take command of the tools. To create, not just consume. To interact significantly and meaningfully and respectfully. And we should act on their behalf when systems or companies or organizations or people try to impose uninspired, one-size-fits-all uses for technology.

First steps at protecting students’ privacy.

IMG_7359

I admit that at one point in time I was one of those educators who allowed students to sign into a site using a teacher’s credentials in order to gain access, for example, some of our intermediate students used Prezi for project work and signed in under the same generic Gmail account maintained by the teacher.

Nope:

Screen Shot 2014-09-28 at 7.21.09 AM

Over the past two years, however, thanks to the work of Audrey Watters, Bill Fitzgerald, and many others, maintaining the privacy and protecting my students online has become one of my main priorities as elementary technology coach. Prompted by a statewide communication last year from the education solicitors, our district set to work on making sure that parents were informed and involved in the decisions to allow their children to have accounts established at various educational websites and productivity services.

My scope is elementary, so I read a lot of Terms of Service/Terms of Use and privacy policies to make sure that our kids are even permitted to click on the website let alone establish accounts there. For example, we had been using Today’s Meet to organize classroom conversations in some of our intermediate classes. “No accounts are required, great!” was my initial reaction, and it worked well. I used it with staff in meetings, and I loved the ease and simplicity of use. Dig deeper, read its Terms of Use, and you’ll see that students under the age of 13 are not permitted to use Today’s Meet. Thus, I advise teachers to no longer use this service with elementary students, and it’s not on our approved list of educational websites for students <13 years old.

Screen Shot 2014-09-28 at 6.41.26 AM

 

Let me please say that following are our initial steps in helping parents and teachers become more informed and involved in matters of student privacy and data use as it relates to educational service/website use. In no way is our procedure perfect. We need to continually work at improving this system to help ensure parents and students can be advocates for the way children’s privacy is maintained throughout their school careers (and lives). We also use  resources shared by Common Sense Media about privacy and protection to help students understand their rights as digital consumers and creators.

Due to COPPA language, we target our request for permissions to students under 13 years of age, which covers all of our elementary students as well as  a good number of seventh graders in our middle school. (However we really need to consider how we are informing all parents and community members, K-12 and beyond.) In opening week paperwork, parents receive this informational letter (modeled after the letter drafted for us by our solicitors), a consent form requiring parent signature, and the list of district-approved educational websites and productivity services where the child may have an account established. Not all teachers utilize all services on the list nor are they available to all students K-7, but we decided to compile them all on one list for ease of distribution. Parents receive a hard copy of the list in the fall, and we maintain this living list on this district site. If the district approves a new website for use, I update the living sheet and we send home an additional parent permission form to those students who will use the site. Homeroom teachers collect the forms and note any students who have not returned the consent form and forms are compiled/logged in the main office of each building. In the future we hope to integrate the logging of these forms electronically via our SIS and/or allow parents to consent via the parent information portal, but we’re not there yet. Parents are encouraged to contact building principals if they choose to opt out and/or if they have questions involving the educational use of any of the websites. They can choose to opt out of one or more services if they so desire. Learning accommodations are made for students who cannot interact with a digital service.

It’s a start. We still need to provide more parent and teacher education on the specifics of student data and privacy to help them protect their children in all elements of online and mobile interactions, not just their educational website use, which is supervised by caring teachers and school personnel.

I think it’s time we need to reign in our overzealous enthusiasm about the latest and greatest ed tech products and services. I get it. Shiny new things are cool and so are interactive websites and gee, the kids really are going to love it so I’m just going to set them up with usernames and passwords and let’s give it a try! I know, I know. We’re telling you to integrate and be all up in 21st century skills and now we’re warning you about doing so. Shame on us.

Just be smart. Read terms of use and privacy policies. Ask for help if the terms are so full of jargon and nonsense you can’t make heads or tails of the meaning. Be the adult. Inform and involve parents in decisions. Get your administrators informed, because sad to say, they’re likely not the most informed bunch when it comes to student data and privacy.

Protecting students’ data and privacy is becoming increasingly difficult every day, but that’s no excuse for not taking steps to do so.

It starts with you!

Blogging for learning.

3634843977_ee995d912d

This year, we are using Edublogs K-12 in our district. We’ve had only a few short weeks to introduce teachers to the platform officially (and some teachers may not lay eyes on it until after school officially opens), but many are up and running with their own sites. These teacher sites will be used to communicate with families and the rest of the school community, as well as facilitate blogging practices within the classroom. Our next step is to add student blogs to the My Class feature and get busy blogging!

When I think about blogging in schools, I envision communities where kids fluently use their spaces to reflect on learning, share with one another, post project work, ask questions, think critically, engage in conversation around one another’s ideas, and connect globally with peers. This isn’t always the reality, though. We might embark on the blogging adventure, gung-ho and full of enthusiasm about the possibilities, only to become easily drained by the day in and day out must-dos that zap our creative energies and cause us to fall back on what’s comfortable, what’s mundane. How can we keep the passion for documenting our learning alive and make the most of this powerful platform we’re given?

Last fall, I shared this bit about blogging while I was thinking through our blogging goals for the year. Some of our classes enjoyed many successes with blogging last year. Others dabbled, and still others didn’t include any type of blogging activities in the classroom. As the tech integrator, what are my next steps to help teachers feel comfortable with, and see the value in, this practice? Here’s what I’m thinking:

1. Show teachers what blogs can do to support learning. Provide a variety of examples of classroom and student blogs and blogfolios in action. Help teachers appreciate that the blog is a highly versatile platform through which students can document FOR learning, as described and illustrated by Silvia Tolisano here:

documenting-for-learning
Image from Silvia Tolisano @langwitches

2. Get the leaders on board. And hands-on. As far as I am aware, none of our district administrators actively blog, either as a form of home-school communication or as professional practice. The impact of a digital age leader on his teachers, students, and school community cannot be underestimated. When leaders model, practice, and share these methods, it sets the example for the rest of the school community that this type of sharing, learning, and communication is valued.

3. Make sure teachers are comfortable with the technical ins and outs of the platform early on, so their energies and efforts can be focused on planning for learning.  Edublogs and WordPress dashboards can be pretty mind-numbing to someone who is new to the platform. Once familiarized with the themes, menus, and settings, however, it’s a breeze to publish new posts and keep pages updated. I’ll front-load support in this area to help teachers conquer any techno-fears they have that might prevent them from digging deeper and planning to include blogging activities on a regular basis.

4. Help students own it. We must relinquish control to the learner whenever possible. Over blog themes, page heading, posting topics,widgets and styles, integrated blogging activities, with whom and how they connect to comment and engage in conversation, and how they document and share what they’ve learned. Give kids choice, promote their voices, and empower them as autonomous, responsible readers and writers. If I had someone constantly looking over my shoulder telling me I could or couldn’t post something on my blog, or that an idea wasn’t good enough to share publicly, or I needed to address every misspelling or grammatical error in my post to the point where it interfered with my creative flow, I’d probably grow weary of blogging, too.

5. Get classrooms connected. Try as I might, I don’t have enough time in the day to comment on every elementary classroom’s blogs. I wish I did! Helping teachers connect their students with others through Quadblogging, The Global Read Aloud, and #comments4kids will help amplify our students’ voices and forge lasting relationships with other students, teachers, and learning communities.

6. Support and inspire. After the initial honeymoon is over, teachers will likely be looking for ways for students to use their blogs more creatively, to make thinking visible. I’d love to see our kids develop their spaces into digital portfolios which can then be shared at student-led conferences. I will be sharing many resources from Silvia Tolisano, whose work on blogging I consider to be among the best, and from Sue Waters and the Edublogger community.

I’d love for you to share in the comments your advice for how I can best support teachers with blogging this year, as well as any go-to resources you have to inspire students and staff! 

Photo Credit: Search Engine People Blog via Compfight cc