Friday, February 21, 2014

Build It and They Will Come....

Forgive my semi-pathetic Field of Dreams reference, but this has been a great week toward the advancement of our school in the technology arena.  First, we received word that our school's building project for a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) wing and other much needed additions and renovations was approved.  Rocket Manufacturing will soon be born as a student-run manufacturing plant that will give kids the skills needed to see products from vision through completion. We have terrific teachers with so much know-how who will really get to let their expertise shine as they share their incredible depth of knowledge with our students in new ways.  As a school who uses the Authentic Intellectual Work (AIW) model for ensuring that our lessons have real-world application, I can't think of any better way than this to get our kids thinking about life beyond the classroom. Win #1.

The next highlight of my week was the start of the new graduate class I'm leading in our building for our teachers.  I have to admit, as I watched the number of participants grow, I was more than a little nervous about making sure I was going to be able to meet the needs of every learner.  But-then I did a V-8 smack to the forehead and gave myself the proverbial kick in the pants and is this any different than any teacher in any classroom, ya dummy?? Suck it up and differentiate!

Providing usable, classroom-based PD is incredibly important in any school.  Teachers can go off to any summer course and collect credits like Mario coins.  Big whoop.  Professional development and "credit" really only matter when they can be utilized within the classroom immediately and effectively.  Too many times teachers (myself included) have been the victim of the "Oh great, what was that strategy/idea/web tool we learned again?" fiasco as we try to recollect something 2 months after we learned it.  While it can work (especially if you're a bookmarking god or goddess), it just isn't ideal.

SAMR meets BLOOM'S. Credit to Kathy Schrock.
So, the focus of my class is seamless technology integration.  Anyone can throw a device in a room and call it integration.  But, it doesn't make it good, and it sure isn't seamless.  Understanding the varying levels of technology integration is critical for teachers.  In this way, we decided to follow the SAMR model by Dr. Ruben Puentedura for its beautiful simplicity, common sense approach, and ties to our already-implemented Bloom's Taxonomy use within the district.  With a firm grasp on the levels of technology integration, more purposeful use of tools and apps can be achieved.

Wednesday marked the beginning of the class.  I had over 20 participants, but I was ready!  Within this class I have the very tech-shy all the way to very tech-savvy and every level in between.  It was terrific covered in awesome sauce! (Yep-I'm 40 and just used awesome sauce....Deal with it.) We were Tweeting, website-making, Google Doc'ing machines!  And this was day 1.  Those who were more experienced popped up to help those who needed a little guidance.  I saw smiles.  I heard positive comments and excitement.  I had thank you texts and emails when I got home.  These are things professional development dreams are made of.... (Is there a professional development dream category??? If not, there is now!)  Teachers left ready to dig into their PLN Twitter accounts, work on their Weebly homework, and begin thinking of ways in which they are already implementing technology in each of the SAMR levels. And because I'm right there, every day, there doesn't have to be any fear of not knowing.  I'm a booking away.

With teaching people I know, and who know me, a certain level of understanding is already in place. I know their equipment, their level of expertise, their classroom, their students.  It's PD perfection!  No where can you get more applicable PD than from within your own district.  I really challenge you to seek out ways to offer PD from those teachers who have something to share. Everyone's an expert at SOMETHING.  Find a way through your local Area Education Agency or college to offer some credit to your teachers in-house.  It's time to tap into that wealth of knowledge and start presenting PD that matters.  Build that PD....and they will come.

Win #2.

Friday, February 14, 2014

When I Was That Age, I Was Eating Dirt...

I can't count the number of times people have commented about kids being more savvy on devices than adults.  It's true.  They pick up things extraordinarily quick, have little fear of trying new things, and realize that, if something goes wrong, said device will not spontaneously combust.  I see kids in doctors' offices showing parents how to maneuver their iPhones.  I hear kids telling their parents, "Just give it to me, I'll fix it" in too many venues to recollect.  I smile.  Why? Because I have harnessed the power of "The Kid" and used it to my advantage in our school environment.   

If you are a 1:1 school, or even have a decent amount of technology in school, then you too must harness the power of "The Kid".  They are mini geniuses waiting to learn more, and it is our duty to provide that learning.  Our school initiated the T.E.A.C.H. Team (Technology Experts and Computer Helpers) in the months prior to roll out of our school computers nearly two years ago.  We knew that there would be questions and needs beyond what our IT department could handle alone.  What better way to do this than by utilizing those who either already know or who aren't afraid to find out!

Addison gives some illustration tips to a young student
For this process, kids in grades 7-12 could apply via a Google Form application.  Within this form, questions were asked about technical interest, know-how, and ability/willingness to learn and assist others.  We had an overwhelming number apply.  Pages and pages of applicants in our small district.  However, we weeded it down to the top 35 people for year one.  (In year two, we felt a smaller number of 25 was better as the scariness of a new device has subsided for most.)

Paola guiding a student on his project
Our T.E.A.C.H. Team has a beautiful wooden desk in our library with which to operate (thanks to our handy janitor, Mike, who just happens to be a great woodworker).  They are given needed tools, batteries for handheld devices like our Smart Responders, an iPad for scheduling, and the constantly needed sanitizing wipes.

 Daily, using a Google Calendar, kids are signed up to fill slots at the desk.  This calendar is made available on our school webpage, so anyone can check at any time to see if someone is "manning" the desk.  In my office full of windows which overlooks the Help Desk, I see people flock when they know help has arrived.  It's the bomb!   And, because I'm close by (if they can catch me actually IN my office), I can provide any additional assistance for those especially pesky troubles or any needed passwords.  For the truly horrifying fix-its, we send the devices off to our IT guy for an intervention or a kick in the digital pants.

A snapshot of our Help Desk Calendar
In addition to computer help, the T.E.A.C.H. team has assisted in in-service trainings, including helping me teach 90+ Foster Grandparents how to run iPads.  This was the coolest event ever!  Each kid took a table of people, and I watched as life roles were reversed.  Instead of the grandparents providing the caring advice and instructions of life, tweens and teens were patiently showing the geriatrics how to man-handle an iPad.  Three different Foster Grandparents (at least ones that came and found me later) went out and bought either an iPad or iPhone right after the event.  EPIC!

Logan working with a table of Foster Grandparents
Every once in a while, T.E.A.C.H Team members will even accompany me to classes to work with kids if their schedule allows and the activity warrants it.  Just today, Paola and Addison joined me in first grade as we worked to finish up our digital All About Me stories for our e-Pals.  It was perfect, and their interaction and guidance with the little kids is incredible.

I'm a bit of a territorial mother bear with these kids.  We are becoming a bit of a family.  They are each tremendously talented, gifted, caring kids who just impress me daily with their willingness to give of their time for the betterment of our school and technology use.  And, if you're 1:1, may I suggest getting your own group of brag-worthy kids to show 'em how it's done.

I never dreamed of having the tools today's kids have access to.  The ability to repair and troubleshoot technology and multimedia tools was not even a flicker in my mind.  We 80's kids were too busy Aquanetting our hair or tight-rolling our jeans as we danced around to Debbie Gibson and Bon Jovi.... Oh wait..Bon Jovi...he's still around.  Well, some good things never die...  

Friday, February 7, 2014

Reach Out and Smack (with) Someone!

Depending on your level of Twitterese, you may have heard rumblings about Technology Smackdowns.  Perhaps you have been lucky enough to attend a recent technology conference that has instituted such an activity.   If so, you're lucky enough to come in contact with one of the richest ways to learn new tools by those in the trenches.  The concept is sheer genius.

You see, anyone with a computer and some time can locate a website that one could use in a classroom. It doesn't take much.  However, finding a tech tool that can be skillfully used to foster student learning and content knowledge does.  As a teacher, I want to hear about what other teachers are doing with tools.  I want to glean ideas from them.  Learn about the triumphs and disasters that happened along the way.  Then, and only then, is it worth sharing.  That's where a Smackdown comes in.

Using our Macs and an Apple TV, we broadcast our screens for all to see.

In a typical Tech Smackdown, those attending have two minutes (or some other pre-determined amount of time) to share a web tool AND how it was used.  Questions can be asked.  Ideas can and should be shared, as should basic guidance for the operation of the site.  This is not a sit-and-get type of session. These are full participatory sessions where, if you go, you share. And go, you shall.

Stacey, one of our middle school teachers, sharing about ThingLink.
So why am I sharing this with you? Because it's time that Tech Smackdowns make their way into more and more schools.  I am fortunate to have principals in my buildings who are focused and prepared to provide their educators with the very best means of teaching and learning.

Tech Smackdowns (also known as Tech-Know-How's) are infused as part of our in-services .  Even though I am a technology coach, I am not the beat-all, end-all source of all things technology.  We all experiment, learn, try, fail, try again, succeed and teach. We all do.  So why not share!?  With our Macs, we have the ability to easily AirPlay our content to the screen.  We do this, in many rooms, with an Apple TV.  Ninety-nine dollars of awesome, in my opinion.  Yes, there are other ways to mirror.  I just don't like them as well as the Apple TV when you compare cost and functionality.

As Heather presents, others look on to learn about Popplet.

Each teacher has two minutes to share.  Everyone is required to participate.  (And, really, if you teach in a 1:1 school with as many resources, tools, and technology as we do and don't have anything to share, that'd be kinda pathetic.) To keep things neat and tidy, teachers fill out a Google Spreadsheet as to what he/she is presenting to avoid repeats.  This Spreadsheet is then something that one can refer back to when trying to remember what it was that so-and-so shared!  Then, with each subsequent Smackdown, new columns are created. With as many new tools and strategies as there are, there really shouldn't be a need for repeats.  The image below is a partial screenshot of some of this year's Smackdown topics.

So, for the love of Pete, reach out and Smack (with) someone.  Even if it is two of you seeking to learn more.  Do it.  If it's a grade level or department who wants to add to their repertoire.  Do it.  And, maybe--just maybe--if you're lucky, you'll have administrators who see the value in this as a whole staff inservice activity.  Trust me.  It's worth it.  

Saturday, February 1, 2014

In the Most Unexpected of Places

Two and a half years ago, we told the teachers that we'd be going 1:1.  At the time, I was a middle school teacher who did some technology training for staff throughout the year and served on the Technology Team in charge of helping to decipher the path we would take.

I will still remember the look on a few of the faces.  Shock.  Worry.  Fight-or-flight and the instinct to run for the hills. Some had concern about their content area and how they could possibly make a computer a functional part of reaching their standards.  One of those areas was in Family and Consumer Science.

You see, we have a remarkable teacher in FCS, but one who was admittedly a technophobe.  She teaches very hands-on, incredible lessons and always has.  She teaches the kind of classes that make me want to go back and take them all over again.  But--a transformation was taking place because of 1:1, and she felt lost.

This is where I came in.  As a technology integrationist, I must take the worry, stress, and some of the searching/planning out of teachers' hands to make the integration successful.  It's what I do.  It's what I love.  Lynette and I met for a several hours over the course of those first few months to get her acclimated with her new device.  She quickly started to see the possibilities for technology integration in her classes.

Jump forward two years.  Lynette is a tech integration goddess!  What she is doing with her Life Skills and Child Development classes is nothing short of incredible.  Now, when she shows a movie as part of her plan, there is a TodaysMeet backchannel conversation going on simultaneously.  She's posting higher order thinking questions in real-time.  These transcripts can be viewed again or printed for grading purposes.

In Life Skills, kids used to do a giant, cumbersome 3-ring binder of pages and pages of information they worked diligently on in class.  Now, this binder has gone fully digital.  Kids are able to upload any work through Google Docs and Moodle (our online course platform for the district), add any web page and their own projects.  What used to be a very large pain in the keester is now a digital portfolio that will stay with the student beyond graduation.

Lynette, currently, has kids doing a collage of their life and where they see themselves in the future.  Through her new curriculum by Take Charge Today, she was provided a rubric for which to grade work.  The pre 1:1 teacher may have done a paper collage (which still has its place sometimes, don't get me wrong), but now these students are using, which offers a way to connect to Evernote and Google Docs (both mandatory accounts our students have), while also being able to add websites, images, and a host of personalization options.

 This takes a project from very topical in mental depth to something that truly digs into the higher order thinking skills needed for today's learner.  They have to search, examine, analyze, synthesize, and create a masterpiece, of sorts, that best sums up where they want to be.  Having the internet at their fingertips changes the game.  Big time.

I could go on and one with what she's doing.  It's remarkable! She's using her iPhone to scan documents.  She's tweeting. She's texting me when she needs help.  She's troubleshooting and succeeding!  The lesson here?  Even the most afraid, even the people with the least experience with technology can ROCK integration.  With guidance, a support system of people willing to help, and time, technology integration can be incredible...even in the most unexpected of places.

follow Lynette on Twitter @ldoliesl 

Lynette with a Life Skills class beginning their collage project on