Wednesday, December 6, 2017

It All Starts With An Idea

Everything starts with an idea, right?  I mean how can you have new things in the world if no one had the idea first?  It all starts with the idea, it's what you do with the idea that makes the difference.

I've started a new venture this year, with my colleague Lisa Wagoner, who is the librarian at our school.  We are working together in our combined space that we have titled the "Libratory".  Indeed, this new journey also began with an idea.  The idea was that we could combine forces (Technology and Library) to create new experiences for our students.  We wanted to teach them how to work as a team, how to persevere when faced with challenges, and to give them tools to solve problems (such as the Design Thinking Process).  We wanted them to leverage technology as an effective tool, and be able to handle problems that have more than one solution.  We wanted them to be prepared for the world they are in now, and the one they will face when they enter the workforce in approximately 2030.  And also, we want the students to understand that same concept I mentioned already:

Everything starts with an idea.  

And, perhaps more importantly- that their ideas matter and could (at some point) solve a problem for someone (or a group of people) and contribute positively to the world, or a little piece of the world.

How cool is that?  For a ten or eleven year old child to start to realize that their ideas could really matter to a larger community and that they can make a difference in the world?  

Think about that...

A ten or eleven year old child creating something that could potentially change the lives of many other people.  And even if it doesn't happen today, tomorrow or even five or ten years from now, that child perseveres, seeks out the collaboration of others, tries multiple solutions in a systematic way and eventually comes up with something that works.  The student started with an idea and knew what to do with it.

At the beginning of school year, Lisa and I read the book titled "What Do You Do With An Idea" by Kobi Yamada to all the classes.  In the book, a little boy has an "idea" that follows him around.  At first, he doesn't know what to do with the idea, and is worried that others might think it's a little crazy.  But by the end, he is feeding it, playing with it and giving it his attention.  The idea gets bigger and bigger until something "amazing" happens- the idea takes off and becomes "a part of everything".  

While reading the book, we talked to the students about how ideas start, and equate the idea to an iPhone.  Did people think Steve Job's idea was probably a little crazy?  Did Steve give up and stop giving his idea attention?  No, because we wouldn't have smart phones today if he did!  He started with an idea, he gave it attention and fed it and eventually it became "a part of everything".

Kids have ideas.  Lots of them.  Lisa and I want them to realize that their ideas matter, are important,  and can indeed, change the world.  We want to give them tools to help them feed their ideas and to give them the attention they deserve.  And, we want them to be confident in working with others and to understand how that can help to cultivate ideas.

Everything starts with an idea.  It's what you do with the idea that makes a difference.  Let's teach kids what they should do with their ideas and how to give them attention. Teach them how to handle multiple solutions, how to tackle a problem systematically, how to leverage technology, all-the-while, supporting them as much as we can.  And then, after that?  We wait.

We wait for the students and their ideas to change the world....

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Experiencing the Learning

"Children have real understanding only of that which they invent themselves"

- Jean Piaget

When I was a second grade classroom teacher, I used to do an activity called "Measurement Riddles".  The students were working on learning how to use a ruler to correctly measure using both metric and conventional units.  The basic idea of the activity was that I had set up a scavenger hunt of items in our classroom and the students (working in pairs) had to find the correct item based on the clue and measurements of the item.   

I always looked forward to this activity because it was a time when I actually got to "see" the wheels turning in my students' heads.  You see, as they were looking for each item on the list, they measured everything they thought might possibly fit the clue.  Many, many, many more items then they would have measured if I was just having them practice measuring a line, or one particular item.  And they loved it, because it felt like a game to them!

But it gets better.  As they were working diligently trying to find the items, they were having conversations with their partner. MATH conversations.  Conversations about why certain items were or were not correct.  Conversations about how big a millimeter actually was.  Conversations about how to use a ruler and about how to find a diameter.  

Their brains were literally churning with the problem solving, and I just loved to watch it all take place.  To see them experiencing the learning!   

Of course, there where some groups that had difficulty with some questions.  For those groups, I would provide guiding questions to help them along:  

  • "If you aren't sure what diameter means, how could you find out?"  
  • "If the measurement is in feet, are you looking for something big or small?
The learning that took place during this activity was invaluable and I miss it.

Fast forward to the present:

I've been teaching coding to the 4th and 5th graders here at Neary since last year- using the Robots Dash and Dot, and the Blockly app.  Last year, I gave the students coding challenges to complete using Dash and Dot.  If you are interested, here are a few videos of what that looked like:

For this year, I wanted to challenge the 5th graders a bit more since they were already familiar with Dash and Dot and the app.
The idea I came up with was to create a challenge called "Dot is Moving".  Here is the challenge I gave them:

I knew that this challenge could be difficult for (at least some of) the students. I knew that giving the students an open-ended problem that really required them to THINK could be taking a risk.  However,  I was excited because I felt confident about it.  I was sure that even if it didn't go quite as planned, that it would still be good practice in coding, problem solving and collaboration.

I gave the challenge to the first group of students that I saw for 4 weeks in a row (45 min each time). However, I didn't introduce it until our second meeting.  Very soon into the challenge, I realized that we would need more time, and none of the groups would be able to finish the challenge in the time we had together.  For the next group, I started them from day 1. 

The second group and I have now had two meetings, and it is going beautifully.  For me, it's another "Measurement Riddles" activity.  The students are problem solving, coding, collaborating and communicating with their Peers.  They are EXPERIENCING learning.  EXPERIENCING the design process.  They are planning, creating,  revising plans when they don't work and trying again.  They are building amazing lego "trailers" and contraptions to carry Dot and his belongings.  They are coding Dash and Dot and testing their models to see if they work.  We are having conversations about how to make structures stronger, how to code Dash to turn using the wheel speed because it wasn't working just to have him "turn", and about using a map scale.  The students are learning, coding, and having fun!  Their brains are churning just like in the measurement riddles activity, and I can't wait to see how well they do with the last part of the challenge!

Here are some pictures and video of the "Dot is Moving" challenge so far:

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Lifelong Learners

Ponder this for a minute:

Learning is lifelong

Learning is lifelong.  It's not finished after you get your teaching degree.  It's not finished after you get your masters or reached the top of your pay scale.  It's not finished after you get through your first year or two in your teaching career.  It never stops. 

Well, at least it shouldn't.  

Especially for teachers.  

Teachers work with the future.  We work with students that will one day run our businesses, our government and maybe even our country.  We can't afford to stop learning because we need to keep up with what's current and trending in today's society, both in our own area, as well as across the globe!

We no longer live in a world where teachers have to be isolated.  I read a comment on twitter recently about how if a teacher is isolated, it's by choice.  I agree with this statement wholeheartedly. Some teachers choose to remain isolated, and choose to stop learning.

Options for breaking down the walls of the classroom, such as using Twitter, or Pinterest (or other social media tools) can keep teachers learning.  Many of them provide 24/7 professional development right at a teacher's fingertips! In addition, for many, the tools are so readily available and accessible, that if a teacher doesn't use them, it's completely by choice.

In my opinion, teachers choosing to remain isolated in 2016 doesn't benefit his/her students. Not one bit. In fact it hurts them. Greatly.  

Students today (even young ones) are already breaking down the walls to access others across the globe.  They are learning from YouTube video tutorials from others around the world.  They are Skyping with family members in different countries.  Older students are connecting on social media and creating virtual networks of friends and acquaintances.  They are no longer citizens of a certain country or state, they are citizens of the world!!  Teachers need to realize that, and become one as well.  

Teachers shouldn't stop learning from others.  They should stop pretending that the only information available to them comes from within their own school walls. The world is much, much bigger than that, and learning is lifelong.

Lifelong.  For students, and especially for teachers.

So here's what I think.  I think teachers should seek out learning.  Seek out Twitter and social media outlets as a way of learning.  They should break down the walls in their classroom for themselves, and in turn, for their students.  Find out what others are doing in the grade they teach.  Not just in their own school, or across town, but around the globe!  Find people and ideas that they can connect with and bring back those ideas to their own classrooms.  They should develop the mindset that they are lifelong learners and act on it!  Lifelong learners that are willing to continue bettering themselves in order to teach the students of today and tomorrow.  

In turn, those students will be better prepared to enter the "real world" beyond school, and continue their lifelong learning journey.

Friday, April 1, 2016

iPads Are Worth It- No Foolin'

When iPads first came out, it didn't take long for schools to realize that they could change the way kids learned, and teachers taught. Especially once the iPad included a camera.  It was a game changer for many schools.  And for a number of years, the iPad seemed to dominate as the mobile device of choice (besides laptops of course) in classrooms.

Then, Chromebooks showed up.

They're cheaper, easier to deploy, support multiple users, and could replace iPads, right?
My opinion is no, they CAN'T replace iPads.

It comes down to this:

An iPad can be a Chromebook

But not the other way around

Chromebooks can't be iPads, they just can't.

On a Chromebook...

  • I can access my Google Apps for Education account.
  • I can get online to complete research and go to websites.
  • I can even get apps and extensions that expand what the Chromebook can do.

But what I have found is that as much as I want to like the Chromebook, and as much as I have tried different extensions and apps, and as much as I try and get the Chromebook to do what I can easily do with my iPad, it just doesn't compare in my mind.

On an iPad...

  • I can take pictures and create "infopics" of things I'm learning.  
  • I can shoot video, add music and edit it in iMovie quickly and easily.
  • I can "app-smash" to create products that would be much more difficult on a Chromebook.
  • I can create a screencast of how to solve a math problem by recording myself in Explain Everything-using only my finger or a stylus (possible-I suppose- with E.E. for Chrome and a touch screen Chromebook)
  • I can use it as a whiteboard, sketch pad, various types of paper, a book, and countless other ways.
  • I can project my iPad onto a screen using Apple TV to share what I created.
  • I can document my learning by taking pictures of my work, inserting into an app such as Book Creator and record myself talking about it.
  • I can create green screen movies and pictures.
  • I can create a multi-media presentation on-the-spot, at my desk, in less than a few minutes.
This isn't to say that I don't like Chromebooks, or that I don't see a place for them in schools because that isn't the case.  Perhaps the question for schools shouldn't be "Can a Chromebook replace an iPad?" Instead, maybe it should be "Could a Chromebook replace a laptop?".

For me, there is no question that a Chromebook could replace my iPad.  I use my iPad every day, multiple times a day, for multiple purposes.  And honestly?  Accessing Google Apps or getting online are very small pieces of that.  I use it for so much more.

I go back to my iPad every time I need (or want) to use a mobile device.

 EVERY time

Because it's worth it.

No Foolin'

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Just Play!

I attended a meeting of our DLL's (Digital Literacy Leaders) last week.  The DLL's are classroom teachers (Pre-K-12) that are helping lead the way in our district with their use of technology.  

At one point, we were discussing the concept of being a "lifelong learner" and also about how we came to know so much about technology. The majority of us didn't gain as much knowledge about technology through workshops or seminars. It wasn't professional development from the district or even from the technology specialist at our schools. 

Although all of those pieces played a role in the knowledge people had gained, what seemed to be an even greater factor was the fact that many of us in the meeting played with the technology regularly before using it for teaching or learning.

What do I mean by playing?  Fooling around with it, experimenting, trying out different components to see what they could do, with no other motive other than becoming familiar with the app, program, etc.

When I'm learning new technology, this is completely the route I take- I play.  When I download a new app for my iPad, the first thing I do is try it out with random pictures or videos on my camera roll.  I press on the icons and figure out what they do.  I create some kind of product but often it has no rhyme or reason to it- it just happens.  Just like play with a child.  It just happens and becomes "what it is" when the playing is finished. 

Now I know that some teachers might say that they have so much on their plate that they don't have time to play.  I can understand that.  However, if you really feel like you don't have the extra time to spend, make the play be something you can use.  A presentation for the students, an intro to the lesson, etc.  Work smarter, not harder (so to speak). Secondly, if you're just playing and having fun with the technology it won't feel so much like work because it won't be- it'll be play!

As I've said before, technology isn't going away, and technology in the classroom certainly isn't going away either.  So instead of fighting technology, try making friends and playing with it instead.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Teach a man to fish...

You may be familiar with the saying above.  In my line of work I don't deal with fishing of course, but instead, with integrating technology into teaching and learning.

However, just like fishing, tech integration takes work. It takes commitment and it takes practice.  Yes, I could give the teachers I work with the answers to many of their technology questions. Yes, I could do things for them instead of guiding them through the process of doing it themselves.  But if I do that, aren't I giving them the fish instead of teaching them how to fish?

Technology is ever-changing.  I can't think of anyone (that I know at least) that would disagree with me on that.  And the fact that it is ever changing is all the more reason for teachers to keep up (at least to some extent) with integrating it into their teaching practice. Otherwise, their boat may start to sink the next time they head out to go fishing ie: the next time they try and create a lesson or unit with technology, it might be more difficult than the time before.

One of my goals is to build up a fishing crew.  In fact, I actually see it as an obligation in my position as the Instructional Technology Specialist. I need to help teachers to build their capacity with using technology in their teaching and to enhance learning in students.  If I don't do that, I see it as doing the teachers a disservice, and in turn, the students as well.

Is teaching teachers how to fish more difficult?  Absolutely!  I could probably do some of the tasks in half the time and may sometimes wish that I could just give them the fish. However, I know that if I did that, I would end up giving the teachers another fish the next day, and the next and the next.  Instead, by teaching them to fish, my focus can turn to helping teachers reach the next level, the next steps of integration. Those next steps will inevitably vary depending on the teacher, but moving ahead is the goal.  

Like I said, fishing is hard.  It takes work, it takes practice and it takes commitment, just like integrating technology effectively.  It can also be difficult to be the one that's teaching fishing.  But my job (my obligation) is to help teachers learn to fish so that they, and their students, will eat for a lifetime.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

A Bump in the Road

In my last blog post "Courageous Patience, I wrote about an idea of mine that I wasn't able to continue.  Perhaps I didn't articulate it well enough in that post, but the reason why I had difficulty with stopping it, was the fact that it was an integral piece of the professional development that I was planning.  Not being able to carry out that piece put a wrench into my flow of lessons.  I also didn't mean to imply that innovation isn't happening at my school, because we've certainly come a long way over the last few years, and there are great things happening in my school every day, so I'm sorry if I gave that impression.

However, the focus for this post is about things not going as planned.  As educators, aren't we used to that?  I'm mean, I'm sure I'm not the only one that spent HOURS planning a lesson or unit, and were so excited to try it out.  And, after starting it with the class it took a completely different turn from what we planned, or just didn't work at all?

But faced with that, do we, as educators give up and walk away from it? Or do we revisit, re-vamp and persevere?  The later of course!  I think that's one of the reasons educators are so amazing.  We can pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and keep going.

So a few days ago, that's just what I did.  I picked myself up and dusted myself off.  I revisited, re-vamped and persevered, and I got the momentum train back on its tracks.  After all, isn't that also what we want our students to do?  If things don't go right, we don't want them to give up, do we? Of course not!  We want them to persevere through it and come out better for it on the other end.

Sometimes there are just bumps in the road, it's a fact of life for teachers and students.  How we handle them is what really matters.  Just pick yourself up, dust yourself off and persevere.