Friday, May 30, 2014

Prepping for staff first-ever EdCamp

EdCamps have finally made their way into my campuses. To ease teachers (many of whom have never attended conferences in the way we think of them now - with session choices, open learning spaces, etc.), I asked teachers to use Google Moderator to submit session ideas and to use the comments feature to add their names next to any sessions they thought they could facilitate. Others used the voting feature on moderator to vote for ones they liked.

I used the voting numbers to duplicate sessions that had high voting totals. All sessions "made" the cut because I wanted everyone - no matter how small the numbers - to have the chance to learn something they were interested in.

Next, I used Moderator's csv export feature to upload the results into a Google Spreadsheet.

I've allowed teachers to see the list already, but the list continues to change as ideas continue to populate. This is a dynamic learning experience and teachers do not have to sign-up. They simply go where they want to and learn what they want to.

I've created this blend - doing some of the session creating beforehand - to help ease teachers into this type of learning - one that is actually focused on, well, learning.

Stay tuned for more information on how EdCamp Slam and EdCamp Wood go at my respective campuses. Click on the Website links above to gain access to any materials. Feel free to reuse and recycle! 

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Changing the world? Google Action Plan revisted

Nearly a year ago, I left the Google Teacher Academy (#gtachi) with a mission to think of an idea and carry out an idea that would change the world. Throughout the year, I've gone in and out of ideas that have interested me. However, as I reflect back at the year, I think - what really changes the world?

The Little Things

I think back to times I've gone to a teacher's classroom to fix a projector bulb,  to reconnect a Promethean Board, to fix a broken keyboard, etc. At the time, these tasks all seemed far away from my true passion - teaching. But, looking back, I realize these are opportunities for relationship-builders, for making connections with teachers. Because, any change does not happen without building connections. For change to happen, connections must be made.

I think about those classrooms where I did make connections - I was, then, given the opportunity to co-teach, hold small groups, and give PD.

And, after I co-taught, I build school programs for students through robotics and tech stars - programs that directly impacted a small and select group of students.

And, that's where I thought I left my year at - at making changes with a small and select group of students - and changes that I could not document. However, do those changes really just stop at those students? Will those programs make a connection with a student or students that will allow them to make a greater impact? Does this create a ripple effect of changes?

But, the problem was - I don't know and I may not ever know the extent at which the little things change the world.

Many teachers complete the GTA's mission to change the world, but they are hung up on a big and noble idea as opposed to focusing on the little things they do each and every day. And, teachers are not alone in this - students are as well.

So, here's my thought: what if we had a place to document the Little Things? What if we had a place for follow-up - a place where teachers could document their efforts and others could offer support and chronicle the changes that have been made? What if we found those little things that teachers and students do that do make changes and ripples and shared them to create greater ripples? What if we supported teachers and students in this way?

Yes, social media sites are great ways of sharing, but are often hard to see a continuum - to see the little things and their consequences.

Thoughts on developing this idea to harness the little things we all do into one collective wave? A virtual storybook of the little things.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Trending up, trending down?

Recently, I read an article on the trends in Educational Technology for 2015. And, it is not what made the trends up that surprised me, but the realization of what was on the trends down. I look around at the staff that I work with and think about where we are: trending up, trending awkward, or trending down. Though, I am always trying to share trending up ideas and bring them to the staff, only several of the items on the trending up list are actually implemented. Where we are, for the most part, is trending awkward. And, a few are still trending down.

So, the big question: Is our district unique in this or are we the norm? From other districts I have consulted, we appear to be the norm. So, how to we get our districts to be trending up? How do we turn our thoughts from that of the "lone nut" to an actual best practice? How do we move from just being trends to being trendsetters? And, lastly, how do we ensure we are part of an educational change and not part of the bandwagon?

I think it is the latter question that instills fear in educators and administrators and prevents them from being educational change drivers. Some will say they have seen "fads" cycle back into education so they are hardened against trends. So, how do we get these teachers to change without being just another bandwagon follower?

This, to me, is the hardest part of our jobs as educators - how do we know the difference between a successful trend and one that needs to fail? And, do we need to know? Is failing a bad thing?

As I try to bring new ideas into our district and get more teachers innovating, I face these questions daily. How do we give teachers some security whilst changing? Or, is security a necessary thing?

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Going away from 1:1

Recently, I read an article on 1:1 device classrooms. Though I'm a proponent of 1:1 classrooms, the article raised interesting points about the nature of 1:1 classrooms and their feasibility. As my district moves away from our pilot of 1:1 and gives campuses the option of 1:1, we're faced with tough decisions.

At my high SES campus, many students have their own devices. However, there is still a population that does not have permanent access to computers. How do we handle those? Do we check those out to those students on a part-time basis? And, if we do, how and who do we hold accountable for any damages made? The questions are numerous.

So, when I read the point on classrooms not needing to be device neutral, I thought:

Is all instruction the same? No. Are all students the same? No. Then, why should all devices in a classroom be the same? Why can't we differentiate our devices and move away from device-specific classrooms?

1:1, sadly, is still not an option for all schools, but does it need to be? We must make teachers competent to teach on any platform and in a classroom where devices aren't the same. That's what we do with students. We ask teachers and hold them responsible for teaching any and all students. Our devices are the same way - they are subject to change and are each unique. So, if a student works better on an iPad, shouldn't we allow them to use those devices?

The question is, then, how do we move away from the idea of all being the same and going to differentiated, collaborative environments (the key word being collaborative)>

Monday, May 19, 2014

Student help making waves

On Saturday, I had the privilege of going to #txgoo, The Texas Google Summit held in Brenham, Texas this year. Not only did I see educators smiling and laughing, but they were learning. And, I was once again reminded of how important it is for learning to be fun and for their to be time to play while learning.

Several of the sessions were done via Google Hangouts - something we have started doing with our teachers and did at our Ninja Academy last year. As participants walked into the room, they naturally waited for a presenter, looked for a presenter and were caught off guard when they presenter appeared via a computer screen. However, it is crucial educators see this way of learning as well. In fact, I would never have seen Sean Beavers' student help site without it. It was transforming and I cannot wait to start it.

Sean Beavers is none other than the State of Tech creator. He is also the creator of this fantastic presentation on developing student tech groups, capable of solving and fixing most campus tech issues.

What I liked was that the student tech help group was completely integrated with Google. Forms, Appointment Slots, Gmail, and FormMule ran the program. Talk about Google Integration! Though his was done on a one high school model, I would love to replicate this across our district of nearly 60 campuses. To have a group of students at each campus, but one on the district level, helping our Information Services department solve the district-level help tickets would not only help our tech officers, but it would be an invaluable experience for students.

I am anxious to try out a similar model and to get students solving and fixing problems. On my high school campus where students are routinely disciplined for "hacking" into our systems, how would it transform them to get permission to "hack" and help us? How can we channel their energy, efforts, and intelligence to be beneficial to the campus? How would this be a better approach to those technically gifted students?

Stay tuned for updates as I try to replicate this model at our district and bring it full force!

Monday, May 12, 2014

A Device Neutral Classroom

On Friday, I had the opportunity to view the five devices our district is considering in our Next Generation Classroom program set to kick off this week. These devices were vetted by a high school student tablet committee and were previewed by administrators and teachers. Three of the devices were tablets, one a Chromebook, and one a hybrid tablet/laptop. The team of highly technical high school students overwhelming chose the hybrid because it had the features of a laptop, but it could look like a tablet.

However, when compared to our laptop model, the hybrid was no comparison. With an Atom processor, an over $1K price tag, and only 2GB of RAM, the hybrid failed in comparison to the laptop that had an i7 processor, 8GB of RAM, and a less than $1K price tag. Additionally, with the hybrid, there was the added component of the device breaking (the tablet locked into a keyboard, but could easily become a distraction and a breaking point).

So, then, what makes the hybrid more appealing to users? Is it solely the fact that it can become a tablet or that it looks sleeker? And, if so, is that reason enough to purchase them for schools? The weight of the laptop was the same as the hybrid.

Personally, I don't use the tablet. I utilize my Android phone, my Chromebook, and my laptop. But, have not found the need for a tablet. Even with a keyboard, most tablets (non-hybrid) don't have the laptop infrastructure so are merely larger phones. But, if your phone is too small for a situation, would the next step just be to use a laptop or a Chromebook rather than a larger screened-phone?

Discussion open - what is the need for a tablet or hybrid in K-12 classrooms over a laptop or a Chromebook?

Friday, May 9, 2014

Being a kid again

Last night, I helped host EdTech Women Austin (@etwaustin) at the Thinkery, Austin's new and improved children's museum. Once a month, they host a 21 and up night, focusing on a specific theme. In honor of National Bike to Work month, last night's was focused on bikes. They had bike races, rooms to learn how to change flat tires and learn about gears, and more! As I looked around, I saw the kid in each person ready to come out - excited about learning; ready to create.

Some companies have also noticed this and have transformed their work spaces to be more like that - to make employees feel ready to create. However, I have not seen this at secondary schools. In fact, the joke has been that, once you get out of early elementary, you lose that time to play. You lose that time to explore. Why is that? Yes, the core subjects are crucial, but don't you need that ability to explore to innovate? Do we want to produce a generation of workers who can regurgitate information, but have lost the time to explore and create?

I know I was guilty of doing this as a teacher. I'd introduce a new concept, the students would get excited, and I'd immediately stifle that by telling them how it SHOULD be used. Often, I think - how would it be different if I gave them a few minutes to explore before announcing the assignment? Would they be able to give me ideas? Would they feel more creative? More innovative?

When I teach teachers, I forget this from time to time too, but it is important not to. It is essential that we give all learners the chance to explore before telling them how something should be done. How can you give your students that time to play? How can you give them that time to explorer? How can you produce innovators?

I am ready to go back to the land of play and explore!

Monday, May 5, 2014

The most I've learned...

In a long time was from middle school students. Though, to any teacher that should not be surprising. On Saturday, I had the honor of attending Playdate Austin, modeled off of Jennie Magiera's Playdate concept.

At the event, six playrooms were opened, each focusing on a different concept. The event was both opened and closed by students. And, not only that - breakfast was created by the HS culinary arts crew. Teacher and administrator overseeing was very limited. In fact, several times, I could not sort the "teachers" from the student teachers.

As I walked into each playroom, a student would shake my hand, introduce himself/herself, and introduce his/her teaching spotlight.

When they students first released us to "go learn and have fun" in the playrooms, I felt like a child at recess. It was difficult to know where to start - what I wanted to learn first. So, I decided, to just start at the first room and make my way back. It was in the first room, that I realized, I had not had PD like this in a while. Not only did the students not prepare a full presentation, they were hands-on, they were excited. They immediately went into how the application is and can be used in the classroom. Afterward, the demonstrated the product or strategy and allowed for questions. So, not only was the idea of students presenting unique, but so was how they taught. Between DocOS, eBackpack, and Ask3, I found several tools to share with teachers.

Going into the second room, I was once again greeted and giving one-on-one assistance. I was amazed at the professionalism as well as the diligence the students had in assuring we got one-on-one hands-on training. I walked away ready to use Doceri and with a full understanding of its potential in the classroom.

I continued going to room to room, learning about collaborative teaching tools, flipped classrooms, and gaming.

I left that day, excited and ready to learn. Now, if we can give our students what I was given, there is no wonder how high they could fly.

Who else is ready to implement student PD? I'm in!

Friday, May 2, 2014

A Gathering of Great Minds

As a co-organizer of Google Educator Group Central Texas (GEG CENTX), I can admit - getting the group going during the spring has been challenging.

From thinking of social events to virtual communities, ideas have not caught on. Part of it I attribute to the central Texas dynamics. Texas is a BIG state and we are all spread out. So, it loses that sense of connection. That said, though, how can we still achieve a sense of community?

And, then, it hit me after discussing the issues with a co-worker. Why not do a GEG EdCamp (EdCamp GEGCENTX). It would be a gathering of great minds and an opportunity to learn. And, why not try it during the deadest month of the year - July?

We need more authentic learning experiences for teachers and GEG should be the leaders in providing this.

So, I ask you, what are the largest educational needs in the CENTX community? Shouldn't that be what GEG serves?

What do you need? What do your teachers need?