Friday, February 28, 2014

SXSWedu preparations

Yesterday, I was asked how SXSWedu is different or compares to other conferences and why it may be more prone to start-ups. I had to think about it for a bit. And, then, I thought about target audiences.

In conferences like TCEA and even ISTE, the main audience is educators. When I attend sessions, I don't see a lot of vendors in those sessions or groups looking to start a company or organization. Rather, there are educators there to learn something to take back to their classroom or to connect with other educators. And, it's that basic principal of connecting that is the core foundation of SXSWedu.

In some ways, I get discouraged by SXSWedu and their selection of content and their organization of content. For instance, many workshops - which educators primarily attend - are scheduled on the same day at the same times. And, there is a large number of panels that don't always appear to educators. But, then, I ask - is the primary audience of SXSWedu educators? And, I don't think it is. Rather, I think it's a merger of tech and ed. The goal is not one of attending sessions, but of making connections and getting support for ideas to form.

So, as I enter SXSWedu, I enter with a different mindset - not of taking notes, but of making connections and of getting support for my innovative ideas. I would love to see more teachers attending SXSWedu, but I wonder if this focus lends itself toward getting that audience? For it to be the most successful, I believe it needs more educators - those who can give ideas credibility in the field.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

What matters in the job market?

I work at a very competitive high school half of my week. Students, parents, and teachers vie to get into USA Today's top-rated colleges. In fact, it is so competitive that some resort to cheating and less ethical measures to ensure top placement. As I look around, I know the students here have great potential. However, at times, I wonder if we are guiding them wrongly.

Should we be preparing them to get into the Harvards and Yales of the world or should we be preparing them to innovate - to have skills of leadership, humility, collaboration, adaptability and loving to learn and re-learn? If they don't get into the top ranked college or graduate top of their class, but have the ability to innovate, will they not be employable? I argue the opposite.

In fact, companies like Google look for those who know how to apply what they have learned. Though a degree from a great college may show well, the longevity of someone's career depends on how well they can apply what they know, how well they can work as part of a team, how well they can learn and relearn, how adaptable they are, and how they can innovate.

Though this is part of the larger - how do we grade students - debate, I feel it is essential to better preparing our students and better creating a work force that produces change. In the meantime, check out this NY Times article on "How to Get a Job at Google." In particular, refer to the last paragraph - how can we apply that to technology integration and student learning?

Monday, February 24, 2014

Less apps, more design

I started this blog a few years back with the intent of discussing literacy in a digital age (hence the title). However, that transgressed into a discussion of apps and tools and classroom applications of those tools. While educators and followers enjoyed the latest and greatest tools for the classroom, it encourages those to focus on adding technology to the classroom for the sake of adding technology rather than innovating the classroom. Therefore, I switched my focus of the blog away from the best apps to one about PD because, when I think back to my years as a classroom teacher, what I needed help with was not finding tools, but was understanding how to innovate my classroom - how to shift my classroom to one that truly focused on learning.

So, even though, I enjoy reading some of the latest apps on Twitter and Google +, I know that apps come and go so we can never base our teaching around those. However, innovating the classroom is a constant need from educators.

In looking at what does make the long-term difference in education, I've honed in on innovation fairs, playdates, parent/community nights, design thinking, hackathons, student-led TED talks, and other endeavors that give students a voice of leadership and that give parents and the community an opportunity to learn and grow. These are the backbone of change.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Hacking is not what you thought it was

In preparing for our high school's first ever hackathon, I've thought about the typical thoughts associated with hacking. At our school, it typically means breaking into an existing system. However, I'd like to change that notion.

As hackathons spring up around the educational arena, I've seen a shift in definition. Rather than being a negative connotation (breaking into and stealing), it's about working together to solve a problem - to change an existing system.

Student, Logan LaPlante, has it right when he describes his model school - one where students use hacking to change existing systems - to find new ways - to create - to innovate. All of the things we want our students to do and to become.

However, before we can use such a model, we need to change our students' and teachers' definitions of hacking. Once, sharing and borrowing ideas was considered a negative thing. Now, our culture thrives on crowdsourcing and on sharing ideas.

So, in preparing for this hackathon, I want our students and teachers to understand hacking is not finding ways to steal information, but rather a way to change an existing system and to find a better, more efficient way of doing something. In fact, you may even find a solution to an unsolved problem!

Stay tuned as we chronicle our high school's journey to our first ever hackathon in honor of teen tech week.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

False barriers

Today, I was perusing Twitter and I stumbled across several Tweets that made me think of teaching (and teaching is all it ever is).

Forbes magazine shared the quote: "If you think something is an insurmountable barrier – it probably isn't." Meanwhile, another mentioned that "students never demand professional development before using technology in the classroom." And, I think both address the same issue - fear. One of my co-organizers of EdTech Women, @tracyclark likes to ask "what would you do if you weren't afraid?" And, that is the question I like to pose to both educators and students - what would you do if you weren't afraid? How would you teach? How would you learn? What would you teach? What would you learn? Because, at the end of the day, it's not about integrating a specific piece of technology - it's about teaching and learning in a way that improves education and provides a successful foundation.

So, if we take out the word that seems to be an insurmountable barrier (technology), what would we do? Or, what if we changed our view of what constitutes technology, what would we do?

Monday, February 17, 2014

What constitutes technology?

At a recent discussion, my team was challenged with the task of redesigning a next generation classroom. Most started off by listing specific brands and devices. And, the words "21st century" and "paperless" were brought up multiple times.

I used to fall into the "paperless" classroom arena myself. And, I still don't like to use paper if I don't have to. However, to say "paperless" constitutes innovation is not entirely correct. I think next generation means innovation and collaboration. When we look at businesses like Google who are thriving, it's not because they are paperless, but because their work climate is about collaboration and innovation. While paper may not be a necessity there, that is not what defines them.

Likewise, in schools, we need to focus not on ways of ridding old technologies (because you can argue that paper and pencil are technologies) but on ways of redefining their uses. For instance, there is still a need for desks in testing situations so I doubt they will ever be rid from schools, but how can we redefine them? How can we encourage students to move around and share and collaborate? Can we infiltrate other chairs - chairs and desks that allow some to stand, some to rock, some to roll? Can we cover our walls with paint for us to share ideas? Can we empower classrooms with devices that are seamless - not devices that are defined to one classroom, but are part of the classroom infrastructure? I'd also like to rid classrooms of designated computer/non-computer time. Students should be knowledgeable of all devices so they have the power to take out the device that best supports them at the time.

So, what constitutes technology? When we purchase supplies for classroom, do we focus on whether it is Apple, Google, Microsoft, etc. or what it's power to do is? I think most of us would agree that the focus should be on it's end power, but do we actually focus on that?

As I think about what future classrooms look like, I want to be less device-specific and more skill-oriented.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Fighting classroom boredom?

For the past two months, we have been battling the "curse of the projector" at one of my campuses. Projectors would turn on and then, turn off. We tried everything. Since our system is electronic (each classroom has a wall panel touch screen that controls to projector), we rebooted the system, updated the software, replaced projectors, and more. However, a few days ago, a sub came to us about a non-related issue concerning students. And, on happenstance, she mentioned that the "kids were saying they were turning off the projectors with their phones." At this particular campus, we knew that was 100% the case.

And, that made me think - yes, they should not be doing that as it can cause other problems with the projector. However, on the same note - are they so bored with the learning (or lack thereof) going on in class that they are looking for "challenges." Sadly, in many cases, it is the latter. The students look for challenges to test their technical ability and, oftentimes, that results in punishable behavior.

But, what if it didn't? What if we could channel that need to test their abilities in a positive manner? What if all teachers used technology as a regular part of their class instead of for rewards? In many classes where I've seen this behavior, teachers have given me the "I'm too old" or "I'm too busy" to learn technology. Isn't that doing students a disservice? Isn't that setting up a chain of negative behaviors? If students were engaged and were being challenged in a positive way, would we see as large of a need to "test their abilities"?

No solution is 100% effective, but I would like to test out this theory. In another campus where students are actively engaged and technology is just a regular part of the day, we have had ZERO instances of misuse of technology with over 500 students. Whereas, in other campuses, they get multiple reports a day....

Food for thought.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

My favorite new finds

Just when I thought I was up to speed on all of the latest and greatest Chrome Apps and Extensions, I stumbled upon more. Though, I don't condone teaching to the latest and greatest tools, I find these tools all enhance processes teachers already do.

Screencastify - this extension works for screencasting on Chromebooks! There is an experimental version where you can screencast over your desktop. However, the known working feature is screencasting in your browser tabs, which is why it is perfect for Chromebooks! Simply, click on the extension when you are ready to record. All of your recordings are saved within the extension so you access them. You have the ability to immediately upload it to YouTube or download the video file.
glinks - Would you like a folder of links to share with others? Why not add the glinks app for Google Drive so you can create those links right from Google Drive.
Floorplanner - Would you like for your students to create spaces? Do build experiments? Why not try floorplanner? It builds floor designs right from within your Google Drive.

Stay tuned for some classroom examples of each of these applications.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Changing Roles from Attendee to Innovator

At what point do you move from being just a conference attendee to a conference leader? Do all attendees go through this cycle?

In 2007, I attended the Midwest Educational Technology Conference in St. Louis, Missouri on the request of my principal since we were piloting the eMINTS program at the high school. At the time, it was the first edtech conference I had attended. Though I was already innovating my classroom, this was the first time I was exposed to a conference surrounded by innovation. And, it changed me.

For the first two years, I sat back and gathered information. I soaked it in and I took back a couple of ideas to try in the classroom. Gradually, I worked up the courage to apply to present. And, that moment changed me as well.

Before long, I was presenting at a variety of conferences on digital storytelling. But, during the conferences, I attended sessions and still soaked in new information. I was still very much an attendee who happened to present. I also was not networking.

But, at some point, that changed. And, I went from attending conferences to learn new ideas and innovate my classroom to being a leader at the conference, giving ideas and networking. Is this the process we expect all educators to go through? While I enjoy attending some sessions at conferences, I find I use Twitter, Google +, and other online communities to learn and innovate daily that I do not go to conferences to sit in sessions. Rather, I go to conferences to engage in quality discussions with other educators and to lead.

So, at point to we change roles from attendee to innovator? Does everyone change? Does everyone need to change? Is it our goal to at least move all educators from stand-alone teachers to conference attendees with the hope they will change their role?

What role do you play at conferences?

Friday, February 7, 2014

ETW Austin solves EDUproblems

This past November, one of my partners in EdTech Women - Austin (Tracy Clark) and I did an EdCamp ATX session on solving #eduproblems. The goal was to hash out an actual solution to problems in the timeframe of the session. Understandably, many problems cannot be solved in one hour. However, it's the idea that's important - the idea that professional development should not just be an intake of knowledge but a time to build and solve problems.

Therefore, we hosted an EdTech Women - Austin event two nights ago at #tcea14 with the same goal - to solve #eduproblems. And, what we left with was transforming. We left with new connections, rededicated visions, and a new drive to change education. And, that's what PD should be. We narrowed down problems to admin support and professional development. Within the area of admin, we decided that it needs to start with students and teachers driving change. Students need to share that learning with the community through parent nights and whatnot. Once the community has been inspired, the pressure will be placed on admin to provide quality PD for educators. And, what should quality PD be? It needs to be innovative and authentic. It needs to take teachers away from their current distractions, but not be a distraction in itself. It needs to be comfortable in setting but challenging in content. Not everyone will be easily inspired, but we need to continue to try.

Stay tuned for more #eduproblems and #edusolutions!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Curiousity Made the Teacher

Being an instructional tech specialist, I often have teachers say, "I'm too old" or "Learning is easier for people in your age bracket," or "My old brain can't learn something new." However, I have seen people of all ages either be resistant to learning something new or wholeheartedly embrace it. Though I'm sure age plays a factor, I don't think it's the driving force.

As I look around #tcea14, I see educators of all ages gathering to collaborate and learn something new. In fact, I met an educator who could have retired already, making plans to completely change the rest of her classroom's plans for the year. This is the sign of someone who is curious. Someone who is passionate about learning. Though, I'm sure age can make educators more cynical, it should not be the driving force from stopping someone's learning abilities. Curiosity is the key factor.

In fact, curiosity is what we want from our students. We want our students to be excited. To be passionate about learning new things. Shouldn't we embody that curiosity and passion?

If this is the driving force, how can we develop Professional Development that encourages teachers to show their curiosity? How can we inspire them?

This past weekend, we held a two-hour mini-academy on a Saturday morning for a few teachers. Teachers selected from a variety of sessions and received two hours of hands-on time to work on the task at hand. The other crucial factor was that sessions contained no more than six teachers. If we want teachers to show this curiosity, we have to put them in an environment where they are not afraid to fail. We need to find the time in our teachers' lives to give them teacher-driven, authentic, and intimate PD.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Starting a PK Robotics program?

Why not?! This past year, I dove into the robotics world by recruiting and coaching a team of 30 third, fourth, and fifth grade students. As a newbie, I was overwhelmed. I did not have a background in programming and I knew next to nothing about Lego Robotics. All I knew was that students could and would benefit from it.

When the time came for our competition, we were not fully prepared. Our robot was only prepared for two missions. Though we had done our research, our knowledge of programming was limited. At the end of the day, we did not take home any physical awards. However, one hundred percent of the students were ready and excited to do more. They wanted to do better and they knew they could. And, it is for that reason that I think robotics should be a staple in elementary schools.

Starting in 3rd grade is younger than many schools start. However, I think we can start even sooner. What if we started these concepts in Pre-K, teaching students the fundamentals of math, science, and art. What effect would that have on their other areas of school?

After attending a session on robotics today at #tcea14, led by Jennifer Flood and her mother, Kathy Holberg, I am determined to start building a PK-5 robotics program that is integrated into the daily classroom.

For starters, I want to check out these tools:

Lego Structures - beginning kit
Lego WeDo -
Lego NXT -

The extras:
Goldie Blox
Lego Duplo (Structures and creative builder)

Stay tuned for more updates as I begin this new endeavor!