Tuesday, April 23, 2013

This Little Piggy Went to the App Store

This little teacher went to the Apple Store.  This little teacher stayed in her classroom.  This little used lots of technology.  This little teacher used none.  This little teacher went wah wah wah all the way home.

photo by edenpictures

Which little teacher are you?  Which little teacher do you want to be?  These aren’t all the little teachers out there, just the number of toes on one foot!  There are many many more types of teachers out there.  In today’s world there can’t be much talk about teachers without the word technology popping its name up.  So how important is technology and when integrating technology what’s really important?

Over the past year I have had the wonderful opportunity to oversee a few classrooms in our district where each student had access to a device provided by the district.  Some had laptops, some had tablets.  The teachers and I were truly excited about the opportunity for each kid to have a device.  We spent hours in the summer exploring the devices, exploring classroom management of the devices, and also exploring new ways to teach.

What’s the most important feature in their classroom?  In our field, Instructional Technology, we often look at the technology and train teachers on the technology.  With these classrooms we tried something a little different.  We looked at pedagogy!  Although, curriculum is the place to start these teachers had just spent much of their time with the new Common Core and Essential Standards.  They had the content knowledge.  

Pedagogy!!!!  That was the place to start.  Or was it?  We have stressed and  evaluated over the year our different lessons and looked for ways to improve.  Many of the teachers in the pilot have shifted from front of the classroom teaching to more authentic learning using PBL or a similar methodology.  There have been many great successes in student learning and each teacher has grown tremendously in making their classroom more authentic.  This change has led their technology implementation rather than the technology taking the lead.

But is this really the most important piece?  In a recent blog post I expressed how important listening, reflecting and understanding human needs are.  In my opinion, there is no piece of technology that can replace this critical piece.  Relationships are most important when motivating anyone about anything.  So with that, positive relationships and building trust in the community should come first when it comes to technology integration in the curriculum.  We must take this time!

It is the critical first piece that we often times neglect.  Sometimes we get so busy and hear the buzzwords technology yada yada that we forget the persons behind the technology integration.   What if we first turned off the buzzing so that we could truly connect with the important people that could make this integration truly happen?

Photo by: Cindy Andrie
The revelations from this past weekend and the experiences I had come at a perfect time.  Our district is moving to a Mobile Learning Community (MLC) environment.  This is similar to many district’s initiatives of BYOD or BYOT.  With the movement of students bringing in their own devices there are many questions that arise.  What if kids text during class?  What if they are on different websites than the one I directed?  The list of what ifs could go on and on and on.  

In thinking about these questions my big “what if” is, What if we build positive relationships with trust, respect, communication and forgiveness with our teachers and students?  With these attributes, many of the questions and concerns that we have will fade away.  Many of the issues we think we will have or have had in the past will simply become non-existent.  Relationships are hard work but when cultivated and tended with care, the results could be plentiful and exciting.  

Just imagine a world where teachers and students go wee wee wee (with excitement) all the way to school and all the way home.  

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

My First PBL!

Ok, so I know what you're thinking: "Two posts in one day?  Usually she doesn't even post every month!  What's blown up her skirt?".  Yeah, well, it's Spring Break and I have a lot of free time to catch up.  I also quickly realized I wasn't going to get much done at home so I came into work and, as a result, you got 2 posts in one day!  

Anyway, to get to my point, I finalized my first PBL today!  Whoo hoo!  This is pretty exciting stuff here.  Some of you might be thinking "What is a PBL?".  Well, to answer your question, PBL stands for Project based learning (or sometimes referred to as Problem based learning).  If you've never heard of it, look into it and learn about it.  Marty's PBL Symbaloo was created by Marty Creech and was shown to me in a PBL professional development workshop.  I found it to be very helpful and insightful.  It's pretty fascinating stuff.  The basic idea is to get students to learn information by creating projects or solving problems/scenarios.  They are having to figure things out on their own, with some guidance, as opposed to us spelling it out for them.  This is, from what I can tell, meant to replace your standard powerpoint lecturing and worksheets. FYI: I fell asleep just thinking about that.  

Now, if you are one of those teachers, don't feel discouraged or think I am putting you down by saying that.  I have just been shown a new light and feel like it is an AWESOME approach to student learning.  I'm a changed teacher. If that works for you keep chugging down that track.  But, may I present you this question:  How many worksheets does the average working adult complete?  I can honestly say my boyfriend has never brought home a worksheet to do that must be completed by the next day and he works for a multi-billion dollar corporation.  

Now, please understand that I have not completely re-done all my lesson plans....yet.  I still have powerpoints and tried-and-true worksheets I give out to my students.  DisneyWorld wasn't built in a day. All I'm saying is that it's obvious that our standarized tests are moving away from the multiple choice format and more toward an open-ended problem solving format.   

A Speech Never Given

So I was asked to speak at a meeting on March 21st at our Education Building about my experience with the tablets this year.  I took this opportunity  & responsibility very seriously and spent several nights preparing what I think is a pretty good speech (of course, I'm slightly partial).  Unfortunately, I never got to give it because my car battery decided to give out on me that morning and leave me stranded at a grocery store about 15 minutes from where the meeting was which left me scrambling for a way to get to work and left little room for anything else. Awesome timing right?  Yeah, tell me about it.  A new car battery and $100 later, I still have the speech and have decided that I would post it in the blog so that I could still get my message across.  So, here it goes:
     Before the tablets, I was a pretty standard run-of-the-mill science teacher.  I did some labs, hands on activities, lots of notes, and lots of worksheets.  All pretty standard stuff.  Isn't that what they teach us in college?  I can honestly say that having these tablets, has made me a better teacher.  But before I get into that, let me start by saying that I applied for this technology with a few narrow-minded goals in mind:

  1. Less time at the copy machine
  2. More online labs and interactives
  3. Easier access for student research

What I didn't realize was that this technology would totally change the way I think about teaching and student learning.

     Last summer, I researched all sorts of interactives & virtual labs & couldn't wait to let my students go crazy with them..  What I quickly realized, once the semester started, was that one of the biggest flaws with the tablets was that anything with Java or any interactive (including virtual labs) could not be done on them.  I was IMMEDIATELY discouraged. I also realized there was going to be a lot of wifi connectivity issues.  One class period the WiFi worked and 20 minutes later it wouldn't.  Passwords and IDs would go back and forth between working and not working which, as you can imagine, became frustrating for eager kids & a teacher with a lot of ideas.  It was also impossible for students to save work on a USB flash drive or their student ID numbers & quite a task trying to find work that got saved on the tablet itself.  However, from those ashes came a few sparks:

POSITIVES:  I became much less of a control freak & much better at working on my toes.  I always have a back up plan & my kids became much less impatient & much more flexible.  The students also quickly figured out that they could find ANYTHING when their grade depended on it.  Shocking.  Even though it was much more difficult to save stuff, it could still be done.

     I feel like I got too easily discouraged with the tablets simply because they didn't necessarily work for everything I initially wanted them to every time I wanted them to.


  1. Great for research & leads toward a student-centered class where they take an active role in their learning
  2. Grade for portable access to technology and/or apps to get outside the class (Example: Geo caching to learn about latitude and longitude)
  3. MUCH faster boot up compared to the laptops, which take an average of 5 minutes to load up.
  4. They allowed me to have a virtual classroom centered around Edmodo where they, as the student, take more responsibility for their learning.  This also helped take the pressure of missing/make up work off me because everything we ever do in class in on Edmodo.
  5. Allowed me to teach 21st century computer skills and fun new presentation skills (even my non-teacher friends have benefited from this experience!)
I was very worried that the constant WiFi and Java issues would overshadow anything positive my students could get from having the tablets in my class.  It was quickly brought to my attention that even with all the flaws and issues, my students got a LOT more out of the experience than I ever expected.  I have had so many of my students come up to me to get me to remind them of a website or tool that we used for a project in class that they want to use in another class.  I can tell that it has boosted their self esteem because they are producing higher quality & more creative projects than students with less technology skills.  I've also had teachers telling me how awesome one of my former students' projects are because they use websites and/or tools I had shown them or taught them in class.  I could not have been prouder!

Having the tablets has given me back my lost motivation to create more project/inquiry based activities and to move towards a more student centered classroom.  I may have had a lot of technical issues with these tablets, but I feel like for that motivation alone, if nothing else, is why these tablets have made me a better teacher.