Getting back, or starting a new schedule is hard. On Monday of this week, students came back to school and I started my own graduate courses. It has been a bit of an adjustment trying to get back into the full swing of things. Timing my mornings to get out the door so I don't hit too much traffic, figuring out how much coffee is needed to get me though the day and how much is too much, and deciding what tasks need to be done at work and which ones can wait until my kids go to bed are just a few of the things I have been struggling to figure out this week.
These adjustments have to be made every year. Teachers are working to get their own schedules figured out, students are trying to get back to getting up early, and everyone is trying to build relationships to better understand what type of supports each student and teacher need to have in place to ensure a successful school year.
This week I was thinking about when I was a classroom teacher, how exciting and nerve wracking the first week was for me. I always wanted to make a good impression on my students and start the year off in a way that would help create a class culture of support and safety. Now, as a technology coach, I find myself being nervous for my teachers. I want them to have a smooth first week so it can set the tone for the school year. I want them to know that they have support when they need it.
Our school is blessed that we have 4 educators who can support the teachers in so many different ways. We have a media specialist, math coach, literacy coach, and me. I wish I had that when I was in the classroom and I wish every teacher had that in their buildings. I know that as a classroom teacher, I often felt alone. In fact, I tell the story of my hunt for blogging resources as a middle school English teacher. The time I spent researching and figuring out how to use multiple tools, only to find out that many of them did not do what I needed, took from the time I should have spent grading, planning, and enjoying my family.
I should have been able to ask someone for help. That person, regardless of what type of coach they were, could have helped me with the research and exploring the different options. Of course, at this time, I was not a connected educator either. I did not have a Twitter account or any other social media tool that I used for talking to others. Those steps could have been done through social media tools, but the implementation would have still been on me in my room alone.
The best part about having a coach, is that you can call on that person to be there so if something doesn't go right you are not alone. There were a few classes this week where teachers were setting up their digital tools with students and I just stayed in their rooms in case a student didn't understand, missed a step, or needed something reset. It doesn't seem like a big deal unless you have been in a room with 30 or more kids trying to set up a new tech resource while still focusing on the content. Sometimes it goes smoothly with 0 problems, but many times there are questions flying at you about things you did not think would be problems.
For teachers who don't have a teacher's assistant, co-teacher, coach, or other support who can come into the room during the lesson with them, students can also serve as helpers in these scenarios. In fact, even when I am in a room co-teaching, I have asked students to look to each other for help with some of these questions.
The first week of school is all about starting to build that community and that trust. Students will learn quickly which rooms they are going to be empowered, valued, and supported in and which classes they will not. Teachers are also seeking support and they will quickly learn who will provide it and who will not.
This week has been hectic, crazy, and a little stressful, but so far I feel like it is going to be a great school year because we are working to build a community of trust and kindness. If you know you can trust the people you are working with and they will treat you with kindness, everything else is easy to get through.
I just finished a live podcast episode for The Planning Period Podcast on VoiceEd Radio with my friend Brad Shreffler and I am just not able to sleep. This feeling is not just because I am excited that my APlusEdTech Podcast officially joined the VoiceEd Network this evening, but also because I continue to second guess myself with what I said on his show. As I sit here, I am thinking about what I said on the episode and rewriting it in my head.
The fact that the show was live means that no editing happened between creation and release. This is not usually a step I skip. In fact, I often edit while I record my shows (at least the ones where I don't have a guest on). Anything that could be misinterpreted, misunderstood, or controversial is often cut. I am cognizant when I speak or write to keep from passing judgement or being disrespectful of the other opinions that may conflict with mine. So I speak, erase, and re-speak my episodes until I feel they are demonstrating my points without overstepping any predetermined bounds I might have.
But tonight, in a live experience, I was more open and I'm wondering if that is as much of a problem as I previously thought.
Last week I took four days off of my day job to travel around the east side of North Carolina and present material relating to the new NC Digital Learning Competencies. This conference traveled to four different counties in four days to work with teachers on ways to implement these new competencies into their classrooms and personal professional development practices. For any one who is familiar with ISTE or NCTIES, it was a very small version of that.
One of my presentations was focused on the benefits and resources for implementing student blogs or websites. I have presented on this topic before. In fact, my first three podcast episodes are made up of splitting this presentation into three parts. While the methods for delivery and details have evolved some, the core of the presentation has been basically the same.
The first time I used this presentation was at NCTIES this past March. While I sat in the session before mine, because I wanted to get set up as fast as possible, I was able to play with SeeSaw. Since I work on a secondary level, I had never really investigated the tool as a platform. By the end of that session, I had added it to my list of tools that could be used for student blogs.
As I worked through my presentation this time, I reflected on working with websites and blogs with one of my history teachers this year. One problem we came across, and this is one that I have come across before, is that students who are building a site on a platform that allows them to work with site design often get so worried about the site appearance that they neglect to make solid content to house in that space.
So I changed up part of my discussion with teachers who attended my sessions. Not only did we work through the steps of getting ready to use student created sites, we also talked about digital content creation and being mindful of creating a progression for students to be able to create content and then build the frame that could best showcase that content.
Looking at our work together made me wish that all teachers in elementary would use sites like SeeSaw or Kidblog which allow students to create and share content, but not organize it. As students mature and have a better understanding of what digital content is and how to create it, they can move on to simple site creation using Weebly for Education or the New Google Sites which both allow for drag and drop creation. Once students have a grasp of basic design and organization techniques they can move to a Wordpress format like Edublogs or even code their own site.
The point is that if students grew up with the mindset to be content creators and not just consumers, and we taught them how to focus on that content before creating the organizational structure around it then they would be ready to utilize those skills to show off to prospective colleges and employers.
This evening I was able to participate in and experiment with Brad Shreffler for his Planning Period Podcast. Brad is an educator from Florida whom I met during an EdTech Coach’s meeting at ISTE. We shared the common interest of podcasting and determined that we would like to have each other on our shows. So we scheduled a time to record. Then Brad messaged me that he would like to use the recording as an opportunity to livestream his show on Voice Ed Canada. Of course, I jumped at the chance to be his guinea pig.
But as the time drew nearer, I started to get nervous about the show. I mean I record podcast episodes all the time, but I am constantly stopping, rewinding, rerecording, and editing before I even consider releasing the episode. In fact, I have a couple episodes that I have gotten ready but didn’t release because I ended up redoing them. So I worried that I would pause too much, say um a lot, or just not know what to say at all.
The episode ended up going really well, and I actually forgot that we were live most of the time we were talking. The best part of the entire episode, for me at least, was when we we thought the sound had cut out. While Brad scrambled to get it fixed I tried my best to fill the air with something to keep the episode going. Then my dad sent me a text message letting me know that he could still hear us. It meant a lot to know that 1. the episode was still going and 2. my parents were able to stay up and listen to it.
Of course I can think back to a couple of spots where, if I had the ability, I might go back and rerecord a few different answers and I would probably be a little more succinct. Otherwise, I believe it went well. Actually, I feel pretty good about the live stream and I might now be more apt to try more of it with my own work.
So thank you Brad for giving me the chance to be your guinea pig. I appreciate the opportunity and I can’t wait to record again with you!
If you missed the live stream of the Planning Period Podcast, the episode will be released sometime this fall. Don't worry, I will share out on Twitter!
e I just finished a live stream through Periscope for #PassTheScopeEdu. This is a Twitter hashtag that is used by a growing group of educators who love to share what they are learning through Periscope and Twitter. They take one day each month to give educators a chance to share their thoughts on a specific educational topic and they did a great job of live streaming ISTE 17! Today #PassTheScopeEdu is focusing on educational #HotTopics. If you miss today's streams, you can always look under those hashtags and view the videos when you have a chance.
The topic I chose to discuss was Personalized Learning and Data. I will say that I was nervous, I talked faster than I intended, and I did not go as deeply as I had intended to go. While I am used to recording myself (mostly through my podcast) and sharing with others, live streaming is a whole different ball game. Usually I record and do some editing before release. I mean I had some notes and I had thought a long time about what I was going to say and how I wanted to say it, but it's still not the same as being able to record and make changes prior to release.
So here is the short blog version of what I scoped about this morning:
Personalized learning is one of those new education buzz words that I continue to hear about at conferences, Twitter chats, and pretty much anywhere that teachers get together to discuss student learning. While it is a great word that describes what we strive to do, I feel that like other educational buzz words that we use we often forget what we are really trying to do. We are really trying to just do what is best for our students. Teachers work tirelessly to do everything that they can to ensure their students are learning and making connections to their learning. Call it differentiation, call it personalization, or any other term, but it is just good teaching.
I wanted to draw a line connecting personalization and the idea behind it to using data to drive instruction when I saw a tweet that said data driven classrooms were not personalization. I disagree. The word "data" has a negative connotation because we think of testing with bias multiple choice standardized tests. While this is a form of data, it is not all that data is. Data is any information that you gather, in this case, about your students. Data can be an observation of a student, a conversation, a rubric score, a journal that a student wrote, a video a student made, etc.
If we rethink what data is, we can see that a data driven classroom can be a personalized classroom. Because I consider all of the data that I gather in any number of ways, I can take all of those data points into account as I facilitate learning opportunities that are personalized to my students' needs and interests. The two concepts can and should work together.
After a lot of conversation with my husband and a great deal of thinking about my personal and professional goals, I decided to go back to school one more time. So at the end of August I will start my work toward a doctoral degree in educational technology. I am excited about the program I have chosen and the learning opportunities I will have as I work with a cohort of other educators who share the same goal as me. I am nervous about all of the other pieces that come with this.
I am nervous about the fact that I will have so much homework and research to complete on top of the other responsibilities that I have as a mother, technology coach, and all the other little things I have gotten myself into (like podcasting). I am nervous about the dissertation that I will eventually be required to write. And nervous about trying this again after a failed attempt only a few years ago.
When my husband was in the military he had to deploy for a year. I had finished my master's degree and figured that if he wasn't going to be around for a year I would have the perfect chance to start a doctoral degree. I would have the time to work and get a routine down by the time he came home when I would need his support the most as I started into dissertation work.
That plan did not work. I did not think that I would be so stressed from not having him there. That on top of the stress of the degree program and a full time job did not work well. I was on track for the first class, but a small bump in the second course and the lack of communication from my professors in addition to being alone in a state I had just moved to was just not working. So when my husband's two week leave to be home came around I had a decision to make. I could work through that time, or I could drop the class that I was struggling in and spend two weeks with him before he had to leave for the remainder of his deployment. I chose the latter.
Reflecting on that time I know now that I was 1. at the wrong school, 2. in the wrong program of study, and 3. not in a place where I was appropriately supported to handle the hurdles that came my way. So what has changed? Why do I think I can do this now when I failed to do it the first time around. Well first, I am in a cohort at a school that I feel fits me better. I have already met some of the professors and they seem genuinely interested in how well I do and are approachable. Second, I am in a program that I am really interested in and have a clear vision of where I want this degree to take me. Finally, I have the support I need.
So now I am prepping. I am working to back log podcast episodes and have everything as ready as I can for school to start. This time I feel ready and I feel like I know what I need to have to be ready. Of course those stumbling blocks will still be there, but I have the support I need and the will to push through this time. But for anyone who listens to my podcast, please forgive me if I ever have to slow down how often I drop an episode.
I honestly struggle with blogging. I want to write more and I want to share more, but it takes effort and time which I do not always have. Most of the time I have some really good ideas in my head for blogging, but by the time I get out of the car and to a computer the idea is gone. Then I stare at the blank computer screen trying really hard to recall what words were running through my head while I was sitting on the interstate.
I know that sitting down and blogging is an important reflective practice and I know that sharing is something educators should do as often as they can, but man, sitting down and writing out my thoughts and experiences can be hard.
Problem 1: I want to keep things in real time but time is not on my side. I have, as most educators do, a busy schedule. Three kids, a full time job, and a number of other side activities keep me working from the time I get up until it is time to sleep. I usually eat one or even two meals either standing up or in front of a computer.
Problem 2: I worry about what I post. I am constantly thinking things like:
So I am finally sitting down to blog after a week and a half of vacation with family and beaches, I figured I would just do what I used to tell my students to do, "If you don't know what to write about, write about the fact that you don't know what to write about."
Now, back to that to do list!
I had lofty ambitions for ISTE. I wanted to learn as much as I could while capturing it all in blogs and podcast episodes. The hope was to use these items to share with those who could not attend and provide a record of my learning so I could further reflect on it and work to create learning opportunities and better coaching experiences for the teachers I work with. I had a plan. I came armed with the new state Digital Teaching and Learning Competencies to help provide some focus for the sessions I chose, a notebook to scribble down ideas and sketch out flow charts, and multiple devices to help me type, record, and organize my thoughts.
I will say that the planning and preparation did help to provide focus.I felt that I was able to choose some effective sessions and that I was doing a pretty good job of capturing my learning through private notes, blog posts, or audio recordings. Even though every goal was not completely met, I felt that I was gaining a great deal of insight into topics I was not as familiar with and I was gathering some fantastic resources for myself and my teachers. My focus was all consuming and I was laser focused on my goals.
But on the morning of day three, I hit a wall and I hit it hard. To be 100% honest, I was a bit upset with my self come the beginning of the third day of the conference. I had pushed myself the first two days so much that I was exhausted and overwhelmed. That morning seemed to be so much less productive than any of the time I had spent in the two days prior and I started to focus on a number of things that I did not complete which I had intended to complete, like blogging about each session I attended as a way to provide record and a beginning to a reflection.
After a discussion with one of my virtual PLN members I felt a great deal better. I am not sure if it was the fact that I had actually sat down and talked in a relaxed atmosphere as opposed to spending that time taking notes, thinking, and working, but the discussion seemed to fill me back up with the enthusiasm and energy I needed to continue on to my next session which, probably because of my drastic attitude change, went so much better than the sessions I had attended in the morning.
While I did not reach those lofty goals that I had set for myself when I left for the conference, I did get a few blogs about specific sessions and experiences, and a few interviews and reflections recorded to share out on my podcast. I did not meet the standard I had set for myself, but I am okay with that because I still have all of the learning I gained. But even more importantly, I have the connections that I have made and solidified with other educators from all over the country, and one really nice teacher from Australia who I met while standing in a line for coffee. Those connections will continue to benefit me and my learning goals for years to come. Besides, I have time to continue reflecting, writing, and recording because learning doesn’t just stop when the conference does.
I have been a gamified education hold out. I am skeptical of using games that portray themselves as learning tools because I have seen a lot of them that are really just worksheets which reward you for getting the answer right. Now, these may be good for review, but not for really teaching concepts. There was also this fear that as a high school teacher I would delegitimize what I was teaching by using games.
Because I try to keep an open mind, I decided to sign up for a gamified session at ISTE.
The presenter, Jon Spike, was an engaging presenter with a great deal of nerdy humor. He made the case for using games during lessons and throughout units. However, the most effective thing he did with his presentation was not the fun contests or simulations which he demonstrated, it was the ability to align the games he discussed with standards, blooms taxonomy, and digital learning competencies
I learned a great deal during the session and while I still believe that there are a number of games out there that masquerade themselves as educational, I have found value in gamified lessons.
I had the chance to go to an ignite session at ISTE 2017. I originally went to support my friend Kyle Hamstra in his presentation, but I got so much out of these short presentations. The most impactful share was a student. He is a young student who spoke about how he is a connected learning in an unconnected school. He highlighted all the great things he does and the hashtag he uses to promote digital literacy and digital citizenship, #bethatkindofkid. He promotes the idea that students should be able to share their voice, solve problems, and empower eachother.
The part that got me in his presentation was the fact that he did all of this outside of school. He stressed the fact that he was not able to do these things in school because his school did not support this type of learning.
Another student, an 8th grader, talked about how he felt like a failure when he was in the traditional learning environment. It took going to another school with a flexible environment and a maker mindset to start to realize that he wasn’t a failure. He even shared that when tested he had a reading level that surpasses the 8th grade.
These stories demonstrate the need to move away from traditional learning models. Those that require students to sit in rows of desks and complete worksheets or just Google information. Why do they need to memorize dates or facts that can be found on their phones? They need to explore, create, and push the boundaries of what we already know and do.
I don’t understand why we hold students back in these ways. Humans are social beings who learn more through collaboration than they ever do just by passively listening to an expert. We have to be able to create schools that are flexible for students and allow them to explore their interests. Where they can build and learn the skills that will actually get them hired to their dream jobs because most jobs want innovators not repeaters.
Our students want more from us, why can't we give it to them?
If you want to see these student presentations for yourself, they were live streamed to the #passthescopeedu by @braveneutrino (Stacy Lovdahl).