Wednesday, November 27, 2013

How to innovate your school

Recently, I read a great article about how schools can innovate with Google's Nine Principles of Innovation. And, I'm reminded of a recent TEDx (TEDx Congress Avenue) event I attended where innovation was defined as making something new with something "old." Anyone can innovate and innovation can be done immediately. Invention, on the other hand, is making something new out of something that did not exist. And, that can take years. However, schools do not need to invent. They can, though, innovate existing systems.

And, the best part is...anyone can innovate. It does not need to come from the top-down. Why not give students the power to innovate? Why not adapt learning so students are innovating and causing innovation at a larger, higher level?

At the first school where I taught, we were pioneers in the PLC movement. And, the question we had to reflect on everyday was - what do we do when students don't get it? The truth is - that answer changed for each student. There was not a one-size fits all solution to learning. Therefore, we had students who "just didn't get it." And, the solutions needed to intervene for each student were different. Keeping it the same would have been a detriment to those students. If the end goal is learning, that should be the priority. Many teachers will agree with that, but will contend that they are still forced to give grades. So, what's stopping us from innovating? Do we have to wait for upper level education to make the change away from current assessments?

And, the most innovative schools do just that - they give power to the collective brain power of their staff and students. They give employees that "20% time" to collaborate, innovate, and create. And, they understand that change happens rapidly now. Long-term implementation plans are not relevant anymore. But, that's the beauty of innovation - it's not an invention - and it does not need to happen over 12 years. It can happen today.

Most importantly, to me - innovative schools focus heavily on collaboration and sharing ideas. Staff and students are encouraged to network. Recently, I celebrated connected educators' month, but was disappointed by the small number of my staff who participated or who could say they were connected. Connected does not have to mean being on Twitter. Connected comes in many forms. But, being connected involves seeking information and ideas outside of your circle.

And, we all must be able to fail. I love the saying - fail forward. When we fail - as all innovators do - fail forward into a new discovery.

Are you innovating?

Monday, November 25, 2013


When MySpace, yes, I said MySpace, started spreading, it became popular to have the most "friends." On the same thread, it also became important to put on a more public face for your followers. Sometimes that face was just just a cleaned up version of the real thing while, other times, it was an exaggerated version of one side of the person.

Then, when Facebook took the front stage, it, too, became a challenge to get the most friends, have the most popular status, etc.

Moving forward to Twitter: Within my personal and professional learning networks, I have elected to keep my Twitter account focused solely on my career - education. I do this so I can model the network to other teachers and showcase it as an educational tool rather than a private Miley Cyrus network. Because I only follow educators and I only have educators follow me, I expect a slightly different audience than Facebook and...MySpace. However, I've noticed that, even though the conversations are different, there is still this need to have the most followers.

Is that need there to facilitate networking and to push ideas out to the most people? Or is that need there to show a Twitter-lebrity status? I have seen a recent push-back in educators and heavy Twitter users who have found a focus on facilitating a public face rather than creating authentic connections.

Likewise, can you judge your success as an educator - or a person - by the number of retweets, favorites, likes, or +1s? How many people have you impacted (and you may not even know) who do not acknowledge your social media presence? How should we judge our larger success - through our social networking face or our day-to-day educator face?

This is a discussion I would like to have, not only with fellow educators, but with students. This is digital literacy; however, the recent focus has been on to comment and become a public face. That is important, but so is learning to be authentic and to make authentic connections.

What do you think? Can we push social media to be more authentic?

Friday, November 22, 2013

Google Online Courses & Gamification Wrapped Up into One

Recently, Google announced several online courses they would be offering as part of Google in Education. Last year, they released their searching courses - power searching and advanced power searching - which were hits and highly informative.

In looking at these courses, our district is seeking to award teachers PD credit for them. And, why wouldn't they, right? However, it raises great questions in the era of online courses and gamified PD. What constitutes a valid online course that is not from a university? Do they even have to be from universities (I'd say no)? And, does it warrant a badging system?

This year, we organized a district-run Google Summit as we have the largest group of Google Certified Trainers in one organization in the state of Texas. We decided to run it with the Ninja theme off of Jeff Utech's Google Ninja program, a program that is based around receiving badges and credit for advancing to new levels. When sharing this concept with teachers, the concept was foreign to many.

In returning to the Google Online courses - do we award credit and better yet, do we award badges for these levels? Is there a difference between awarding student badges and teacher badges? I started awarding badges to teachers at my elementary campus last year and many enjoyed it. However, I had to post the badges on their Sites and walls for them. It was not intrinsic.

So, do badges motivate educators to push further in their learning? Or are they a way for us to track their learning and categorize levels?

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Future of interactive whiteboards and slates?

Last night, I taught a class of future teachers about interactive whiteboards, response systems, and interactive slates. Though most understood the benefits of response devices (from cell phones to clickers) - immediate feedback, revising lessons, adapting lessons to fit student needs - many did not see the value in interactive whiteboards.

Perhaps, that is because I have lost seeing the value in them as well. With BYOD, 1:1 initiatives, and the dawn of tablets and cell phones in all hands, it is hard to argue for a large whiteboard. It is even more difficult when many do not understand how to make them interactive - how to use them beyond just, well, a whiteboard.

When I mentioned interactive whiteboard to my future teachers last night - the age bracket that grew up with these devices - their first comment was "how is that any different that an overhead projector or markers and a board?" If they don't see the value or see how they can be interactive after witnessing them in use, are they interactive? Or, are we just not using them to their full potential? Is their hefty price tag warranted? At over $1600 a piece, the ActivBoards make it difficult for many campuses to afford. However, a Mimio Teach  runs for around $700. As a result, I have seen my district and others move away from the traditional interactive whitebaord. Outside of the Mimio, there are not interactive projectors, and apps like Doceri for the iPad that can do similar things for far, far less.

Therefore, I spend less and less time training on the IWB and more time training teachers on design thinking, problem-based learning, and challenge-based learning - styles that promote authentic learning with the help of technology.

Where do you see IWBs headed? Education Week made several great comments nearly two years ago, but yet, the discussion still continues...

Monday, November 18, 2013

TedX Congress Ave. Speaks of Failure, Moving Forward

"I don't care what it was designed to do. I care what it can do."

Quoted from the infamous Apollo 13 mission, Mark Simmons began our TedX Congress Avenue event. How many times are we limited by a product or vision because we are focused on what it is supposed to do? How many times has that stifled our creativity? How often does that happen to students?

When I taught high school English, so many of my students had a hard time beginning writing because they were too afraid to fail at it or they didn't know the correct way to start. Therefore, I would begin my spiel on how there is no "correct" way to be creative. This belief that you had to do something one way and one way only is stifling. It's what turns our child artists into non-artists. Any art teacher will tell you that we are all artists, but somewhere along the way, we are told we are not because we do something in a non-standard way or it doesn't measure up to society's standards of art. However, it is still art.

Likewise, whurley, founder of Chaotic Moon Studios in Austin, Texas said we have to create opportunities to fail. It's not about spending 8-10 years perfecting something, but trying something completely different, not begin afraid to take risks. It is the risks that get us on the Discovery Channel. It is the risks that push us forward. And, we have to understand the difference between invention and innovation. Invention may take years, but innovation doesn't need to. Innovation is taking something already out there and using it in a new way - just like the famed astronaut said: "I don't care what it was designed to do. I care what it can do."

I left TedX thinking about how creativity and "failing forward" affect education - how we drill in the correct and wrong ways of doing something. We live in a time of innovation, open access to information - should we not take advantage of this? How can we get our students, educators, administrators to take risks, to fail so they can move forward? How can we reward creativity without killing the genius, making us mad?

As I gear up for our Tech Fest, I want to find ways to fostering this creativity in students while holding them accountable.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Using technology to enhance the TEKS

Many of the teachers I work with still complain that they are not "techies" so they don't know how to do technology in the classroom. However, isn't the point of technology not to make it inaccessible, but to help teach in learn in ways that could not be done before? If that is the case, then technology needs to be accessible and the way we teach teachers and students need to change.

Should be base it on what teachers and students want to know or what we think they should know? We need to model for them the way technology should be used. But, are we doing that? I'd like to see teacher pd centered around building products to leave with - building needs assessments, building lessons, solving issues. This is meaningful and this is, ultimately, what we want of our students.

What does that PD look like? And, who wants to join me in providing relevant, hands-on training to educators and students?

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

What is a teacher?

Yesterday, I asked my class of future educators to think about the term "edtech" and whether the term forces those of us in the industry to be viewed as separate and not part of the education sphere.

Sadly, whether I want it to be or not, educational technology is still separate in many cases. And, I attribute that to the word technology. Many view technology as tools, fix-its, and gadgets. However, we fail to recognize that technology was once the paper press, it was the railroad, it was the telephone. Technology in itself does not mean fix-its or tools and gadgets. Rather, the common thread in technology is innovation and invention.

So, when we look at the word edtech and we substitute technology for innovation or invention, we start to get a different meaning.

And, what is education? Well, the Greek root of pedagogy means "to lead a child."

Putting that together, edtech means: to lead a child to/with innovation.

Isn't that what all educators are trying to do? If so, then how can we educate others to bring edtech under the same best practices umbrella?

Talking to future teachers and current educators, many focus on the word technology and view it as something extra, something else they have to learn that they don't have time for. However, if it was moved to being a best practice, would it still be viewed as separate?

According to John Adams, "If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader."We need leaders to help move education forward and to re-evaluate best practices.

Monday, November 11, 2013

EdCamp ATX in Review

With over 300 registrants, EdCamp ATX was a great success, bringing the unconference PD craze to Austin, Texas. This was the first true unconference in the Austin, Texas area surprisingly.

It was full of many instructional technology and tech director folks and some teachers. However, I would still love to see more teachers coming to these events. In fact, we had a student SWAT team in the unconference because they valued the learning and wanted to bring back ideas to their teachers. That is true learning and that is what we should want from our students.

The unconference style is built upon the concept of no agenda. Learning is driven by demand. Isn't this how learning should be? Should teachers and admin dictate what learning should be or should it be student driven? Likewise, should professional development be driven by what staff developers think is needed or what educators think is needed?

I believe it is our place to guide those in their learning journey, but if we want learners to be passionate and driven to learn, it needs to come from them. They need to supply the topics and we need to narrow them down and call upon those who do it best to lead them.

On Saturday, I watched as educators supplied the topics and others - who may never have presented before - led sessions. The line between teacher and student was blended and true learning occurred. 

How can this model be taken to the classroom? Everyone had a role in the learning process and everyone walked away with new connections and experiences. Edcuation and Educational Technology were also blended together in a way that promoted best practices.

If you want to join the edcamp movement, check this out. Way to go, EdCamp ATX! (@edcampatx & #edcampatx)

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Google + Community Potential

Yesterday, Google + Communities in GAFE domains gained additional possibilities - they can now be set to only domain-level viewers. Though we could have opened up Google + to our high school students, this functionality (or lack of) stopped our admin from making that decision. However, there is still the issue of students being able to see communities outside of the domain and join those communities.

On one hand, being able to connect at a students' choosing is a great freedom and learning tool. On the other hand, though, schools could be liable for any communities students choose to join that are not school-appropriate. How do you decide what community is school-appropriate and what community is not?

I am anxious for more of our teachers to join into Google + and for our students to be able to use its features. However, when we polled users after our Google Ninja Conference on Saturday, only about half said they would continue to use Google + beyond the conference. And, I think that number is higher than the true number. Why do teachers not deem this a valuable tool? Do they see it as risky or do they classify it into the same category as Facebook?

Recently, I have read some innovative examples of teachers using Google + in the classroom. For instance, one educator had students create Google + pages for literary characters. It was a place to gather information about the character as well as get into the mindset of the character. Another teacher used Google + Communities to create a virtual art gallery for his students and other classrooms around the world. What a great, authentic experience to have art galleries that students can display for the world to join, comment on, and enjoy?

If you are on the line about Google +, I recommend joining the Google world. And, you can start with the Connected Classrooms Workshop. It, too, was released yesterday. You just need to request to join (you will get an invite to the Google + community afterward). It connects classrooms around the globe and provides virtual field trips to and from the likes of solar planes and more. You can also meet a variety of educators with the same purpose and goals. I recommend taking the plunge!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Google Ninja Academy Re-cap

We finished the Google Ninja Academy with over 500 registrants from around the nation! We had over 100 sessions, demo slams, learners' playgrounds, Bloggers' cafe, Chromebook showcase, Google Sensei Bar, and more! And, after many, many hours of prep, the academy went off without any major hitches. As with any big endeavor, however, we have found ways we can improve for next year. For example, I'm already anxious to start recruiting students for a student showcase/playdate to be held within the academy. This will give students a role and a chance to show off their learning in a maker's square environment. I also want to make sessions open - without having to register for sessions. This will give it more of an unconference feel and cut down on the workload of assigning sessions. I would also like vendors to help finance the conference and donate larger prizes. In addition, this will give educators direct access to those who are making the tools they are implementing in their classrooms.

In regards to sessions, many learners felt satisfied and excited by what they learned. Though, I would like to add additional black belt and master ninja strands to accommodate our more advanced users. I would also like to better showcase our open areas and explain the belt levels.

We used Google + Communities for all of our strands. However, it was not consistent. I'd like to make this more consistent in the future so all attendees are going to the same place for information.

I was thoroughly impressed with our students and the enthusiasm throughout the day. Our photo booth was a huge hit as were the extra features we added. Food was no problem and parking was a breeze.

It is great to see educators collaborate and connect with those outside of their content groups. To me, that was the greatest takeaway from this event - educators were exposed to a true edtech conference and educators were able to learn across content and school boundary lines. This is how we need our students to learn.

You can check out our photo booth here and catch all that you missed on our Tune in Later page.

We hope to see you next year at our Google Ninja Academy!!

Friday, November 1, 2013

Google Ninja Academy tomorrow!

In April, a co-worker and I thought it would be awesome to utilize our record number of Google Certified Trainers in our school district in a productive manner - through a Google Summit. At the time, we could only envision a conference run by a school district to bring notoriety to our school district. We knew that many of our teachers had not been to a true Google conference, much less a conference feature education technology. Most had only been to conferences where there was a main keynote who lectured. We wanted to expose them to a new style of learning - a learning style they could bring back to their classroom. Therefore, we opened up the academy to outside districts, hoping to build communities of innovation rather than pockets. And, thus, the Google Ninja Academy was born.

Six months later, we are one day away from our inaugural Google Ninja Academy, stressed, but excited. We are already making plans on how to improve it and grow it for next year. Some highlights include: over 500 registrants, over 100 sessions, a demo slam, learners' playground, Chromebook lab, bloggers' cafe, Google swag, and student-produced media. We will have a photobooth to document the academy and hopefully, encourage others to attend next year. We have also created our own Yapp App for the big day. Additionally, we have our own YouTube playlist for our Hangouts On-Air (yes, we have presenters coming to us from around the nation - through Hangouts On-Air) and our other big hits. But, best of all, we have plenty of learning opportunities for all learners!

Since this is our first year, we will have much to grow on and have already received feedback on ways to grow.  Please follow us tomorrow with #ninjaacademy and our twitter handle: @rrisdgsummit.

We also have Google + Communities you can join to find our session resources, located on our Website. Follow us tomorrow as we learn together!