Monday, September 30, 2013

Are you a connected educator?

Tomorrow begins connected educators' month. And, though I am proud to say I have many teachers on my campuses who integrate technology and who are excited to learn and try new things, they are not connected. In fact, we have a lot of little pockets of innovation. And, that I think is what makes connected educators' month so important - it promotes sharing and networking so that we are no longer merely pockets, but communities. If one teacher is avidly using Edmodo and collaborating with schools across the world, should he or she be on their own island or should that information be shared so others can join it? I'd like to think that information should be shared. In this age, it is not what we as individuals know that makes us successful, it's what our network knows. Being a connected educator is about creating and growing a strong network.

When we think about our students who need assistance, do we provide them with just one teacher? No, we give them an entire support system because, one individual's knowledge and abilities is not near as strong as a support community. Likewise, that same ideology must be practiced within professional development.

I am working with some other connected educators on several smaller edtech connect projects. However, in a recent discussion, we realized we could not find many teachers who were actually connected educators. We could find many in our profession - instructional technology - who were, but few who were in  the classroom. Why is that? Why is it that our classrooms still continue to be their own islands in so many ways? When we look at Twitter - a great way for connecting - I think many educators are under a different perception. Twitter is viewed as a spot to share random thoughts and ideas as opposed to a place to get ideas, engage in educational discussions, and teach educational skills. In fact, it is a great tool (since word counts are limited) for teaching main idea. However, because of the news publicity, Twitter sometimes gets a bad rap and as a result, educators steer clear of it. Many places where educators could connect are perceived as dangerous or as crossing a fine line (Facebook, Google +, Pinterest, etc.). How can we teach educators to use these tools and resources to connect and break down barriers?


Friday, September 27, 2013

What would you do if you weren't afraid?

Last night, I helped launch Austin's own chapter of EdTech Women with a cohort of distinguished women in the edtech industry. Our mission is to help accelerate the positive impact of educational technology on learning. Therefore, we posed the question to members: What would you do if you were not afraid?

I often hear teachers say, "I'm only a third grade teacher so I can't lead a tech training" or a variety of other things implying what they cannot do. However, I like to think about - what are the things I want to change and what's stopping me from changing them? So, we asked members to think about - what are the things they would do if they were fearless and were not restricted.

It's a great question to think about in education because we talk about the changes we want to see, but few are able to deliver those changes. Why is that? I don't think it's because any of us are any more capable. I think it's because some of us are not bound by perceived boundaries.

I'd love to see tech camps kick of the school year for both students and staff (separate) and take place at semester break and at school's end. When I mention the idea to students, they are thrilled. And, when I mention giving training to my staff, they are usually thrilled. However, when I try to institute the camps, I find road blocks.

My goal, then, is to be fearless - to keep driving past those roadblocks because - isn't that what we want from our students, from our leaders, from our teachers?


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

#GTACHI Plan Revealed

Stephanie Cerda (@ms_cerda) and I connected this summer at the Google Teacher Academy (#gtachi) when we both discovered we were the two Austin, Texas representatives. During our discussions, we agreed that there were a lot of pockets of innovation, but those pockets were disconnected. Together, we decided to connect those pockets by reaching out to tech startups and others in the tech industry and educators. Too often, tech vendors sought out teaches and, as a result, tools drove educational change. However, we believe educators should drive educational and tech changes. Therefore, we have created a form to help connect those in the tech industry with educators. Educators and tech vendors can chart what they are wanting and will be instantly connected with those that match their needs. Every two weeks, we will feature a hangout on-air where we moderate discussions between the featured tech vendors and educators. Our goal is to allow those pockets of innovation to connect and spread, thereby changing education, and eventually - the world.

This project is in its very infant stages, but here is a preview of our Site.

We have started a Twitter Hashtag to help build discussions: #edtechconnect

We have also started a Google + community to help connect educators and those in the tech industry.

We hope this collaboration will drive educational change and will improve and enhance learning for all.  We still need to work on our design, but our idea is out there. Who wants to join in on this change?!

Monday, September 23, 2013

What are you passionate about?

Recently, I read a great tweet by @marcprensky on Twitter that read:

If every teacher asked every kid “What are you passionate about?” & recorded & used the answers, our education would improve overnight.
What if we asked ourselves that as well? What would education look like? What would the world look like?

How often do we struggle to related foreign concepts, standards, and skills student learning? If your teaching experience was like mine, this is an everyday battle. Instead of trying to relate a foreign concept to student interest and real world experiences, why don't we try to start with what we do know and what our students know - what they are passionate about - and build our curriculum (standards, skills, objectives, etc.) around that?

If we did, I think our educational system would look different. Recently, I had a conversation with my EdTech Women group about the tech industry and education. Often, the tech industry is separate from the education industry and educators shape their teaching around those products. However, why not allow educators and the tech industry to merge so that educators drive product change and not the other way around?

Likewise, student passions and interests should drive education and change and not the other way around. When this shift occurs, our educational system will grow and change.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Skills or tools?

Recently, I began teaching an introduction to educational technology course to college students entering the teaching profession. I asked them how they envisioned technology in their classroom and so many still saw it as a tool that they had to learn. That brought up a great discussion - one I see daily with my elementary robotics students. Is technology really a tool or a skill? For instance, I watch as 7 year olds are exposed to computer programing, building, and other STEM concepts that are foreign to both them and their teachers. However, they master it within the day. In a year from now, that computer program will be different, but I expect they will still know how to be a successful robotics member because they were taught a skill - not a tool.

My robotics students learn problem solving, critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and all of the skills that we would deem important in their future jobs. Because they know those skills - like problem solving - they are able to adapt to different technology tools.

So, in reference to my college students, what is it we are teaching our teachers that leads them to believe they must be a master of all technology? Do they really have to master all technology? As an instructional technology specialist, I consider myself a master of many tools, but not all. In this area, it is not what you know as an individual, but what your network knows as a collaborative. In fact, I find my classroom teachers often get discouraged by technology because they think it is a tool they have to be a master of. Technology changes too fast for any one individual to be a master of all tools.

Can we start pushing skills with our teachers and students rather than tools? Rather than showing them how these tools will enhance their classroom, we should start with skills and how we can use those skills to master these new tools which will then enhance their classroom.

As I prepare these future teachers, I think of my elementary students, ready to learn a new skill, being shaped by our views on technology and I hope they will always be skill-oriented.

What are your thoughts?

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Entering the world of robots - Year one

Last year, I started a Tech Stars program for all elementary students in grades 3-5 at my campus. The kids seemed to blossom in their computer confidence as well as in their problem solving and communication skills. However, they frequently mentioned the lack of a robotics program at our school (as other schools in the district had the program). Therefore, this year I have jumpstarted an FLL Robotics team, Eagle Robotics, for all students in grades 3-5. Though we can only take 10 to competition, I have nearly 30 students hanging in strong. Clearly, STEM has a place in elementary education.

I sought out volunteers through Lego, National Instruments, our local Watch DOGS program, and through universities nearby. We have been lucky to have at least five volunteers coming on a weekly basis to help support these students in their robotics journey.

This year, students are faced with the challenge of creating a solution to aid in natural disasters - prevention, evacuation, or education. Our team selected wildfires as their natural disaster of choice after the devastating wildfires that hit our area two years ago to the day. With our severe drought, wildfires are a constant threat and an urgent problem.

We have created a blog to journal our experiences in our first year of robotics so check it out!

We hope to use robotics to promote student interest in STEM careers as well as improve problem solving, team work, communication, and other Essential Knowledge and Skills.

Monday, September 16, 2013

A Year of Collaboration Project

Since education is not based on solely what you know, but on what your network knows, shouldn't our goal as educators be to encourage and promote collaboration? It is a 21st century skill and it is heavily represented in the NETS*T and NETS*S.

With collaboration in mind, I have designated this year the year of collaboration. Within my district, I am working with librarians to help them collaborate with their instructional technology specialists so they can disseminate that learning and collaborative knowledge to their teachers and then, to their students, thereby building a learning network.

To highlight the collaboration, I have developed a Thinglink with the help of several colleagues. As librarians and ITSs collaborate and build collaborative projects on their campuses, they will put an interactive dot on our Thinglink map. By the end of the year, I hope to "blow this map through the house" with examples of collaboration, thereby building communities of innovation rather than isolated pockets.

We have built a blog to chronicle these endeavors, but want to open this up to others to see how collaboration can connect communities worldwide in learning - how it can improve education.

Check out day one of our Year of Collaboration Project - Let's Get Digital!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Building a community of collaboration

During my recent Google Teacher Academy in Chicago, I was reintroduced to the idea of networking and collaborating and came to the realization that it's not about how much I know or trying to know everything, but connecting yourself with those who do. Essentially, it's about building a community of learners and specialists who you can reach instantaneously. For instance, if I don't know the Pythagorean Theory, that is not as important as knowing how to get in touch with a person or information who does quickly. This builds upon my belief in information fluency and digital literacy. We need to build a community of learners and build a foundation of strong information and digital literacy.

With that goal in mind, I have co-founded the Austin chapter of EdTech Women set to launch of September 26 at GirlStart. EdTech Women is founded on the belief that we build a network of women educators and technologists to "accelerate the impact of technology in education in learners everywhere." Hence, it is about networking and connecting learners.

Likewise, as part of my Google Teacher Academy action plan, I am developing a site/oasis to help educators connect and to build a community of innovation rather than pockets of innovation. Rather than being isolated districts competing to out match the next, we can build upon each others' strengths to create a globe of innovation. Though this article is over a year old, it still hits on some great themes in educational policy.