Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Chasing the New

As tech 2.0 races into 3.0 and onward, we can't risk moving so quickly that some people can't grab a toehold. Or, at least, we have to slow down and provide places for people to jump on. Last week, my school had a day where all classes were held electronically and from home. Kids didn't come to school for classes.

The day forced many to think about using technology in ways they hadn't previously. Though new in my role as tech integration specialist, I've been a serious user in my teaching for about the last 4-5 years. Things that are old hat for me- almost "old-fashioned" in their use- are new and exciting, even game-changing- ideas. I'm not patting myself on the back. I'm actually being critical of myself because I find myself dismissive of these small and large victories.

Someone gets excited about Kahoot! and I roll my eyes. I share TodaysMeet with colleagues and teach them how to use it and am disappointed with myself. I have to remember that this is big stuff for people. Teachers are busy. There's a ton to juggle. I understand that people have a hard time seeing the value of technology in school.

As tech improves at an exponential pace, I find myself wanting to race ahead. I'm afraid of being left behind. Yet, if I don't give teachers an easy way to get on board this racing train of technology, they'll never grasp it.

Be patient, self.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Using QR Codes

Librarian Gwyneth Jones has created this now widely copied graphic for QR codes. QR codes allow for interactivity which previously was quite difficult to create in class. Imagine any poster project or paper you have kids produce. Teachers often display that work in hallways or within the classroom. Imagine that poster interactive! With a simple wave of the iPad over the qr code, one can see a video of a student explaining his or her work. A student can explain motivations for a story. Imagine an interactive periodic table in science class. Indeed, here is one by teacher, Brady Haren, who encourages folks to print it out and hang in a prominent place. https://www.flickr.com/photos/periodicvideos/5912075438/sizes/o/in/photostream/  

Here is a video of my student explaining how he uses Aurasma, a virtual reality app, to enhance the reader's experience. He uses this in the way I suggest above to make a paper interactive. http://wp.me/s5LnKA-82

Friday, September 11, 2015


SAMR Model
   Transformations don't have to be big things. This chart shows Puentedura's already famous SAMR model. It is a helpful model when thinking about change. A tech newbie teacher at my school came to see me about an intro activity for the start of school. She wants to learn names quickly. Unfortunately, pictures of new kids don't show up for several weeks in our online grade books. Last year, she created a google doc but passed her iPad around and kids took turns creating posting their pictures on successive pages on the same google doc via the same machine. With only a little tweak- we created a slides presentation for this year. She created a page for each child. Using their camera, kids posted a selfie and wrote an introduction of themselves on their assigned pages.
   Yesterday, I showed her how to make a QR code of the finished presentation to hang in her classroom- making the presentation immediately accessible to parents and more importantly other students.
    We are getting into redefinition territory. More importantly, the teacher reports the kids really liked the activity. She had the germ of a good idea last year but didn't know what to do with it or how to implement it. What we did really isn't great shakes. It isn't profound stuff. Still, at a certain level, the tech was a game changer here. She had a good lesson, it was effectively implemented, the kids liked it. The technology allowed her to change the lesson to make it more interactive, quicker, easier, and useful. We reached the level of modification and approached redefinition with the QR code.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

On Being Rigorous


1a (1): harsh inflexibility in opinion, temper, or judgment: severity (2): the quality of being unyielding or inflexible: strictness (3): severity of life: austerityb: an act or instance of strictness, severity, or cruelty
As teachers, it is too easy to operate from a paradigm of worry and fear. Teachers, along with athletes and politicians, share the unlucky burden that everyone in society has an opinion on the best way to do our job. In addition to having an opinion about how well we do our work, many also think they could do our job better than we could (this additional burden most athletes don't share with teachers). Indeed, it is rare to question a doctor's expertise. We give our stock broker (I'm a teacher, I don't have a stock broker) our full confidence, we don't tell him how to work his job. Nor do we tell our mechanic, doctor, and accountant the best way to practice their progression. However, people think they know how to teach. Because of that, folks are quite free with sharing their opinions with teachers. They think they know better.

In my career, the overwhelming majority of the parents of students I have taught have been fully supportive and appreciative. For those who have criticized me, sometimes it's been deserved or a legitimate difference of opinion. Other criticisms are wildly off the mark. In the category of wildly off the mark criticisms, the most common one is that I'm not hard enough or that my class is too easy. For instance, two years ago I taught 5th grade. The books I taught were at a 5th grade reading level. Some parents found these books too easy and urged me to teach more difficult books, which happened to be considered "classics" and likely books they themselves read in school. It will "stretch them" I was told. I sit here searching for a metaphor or comparison in another profession. Perhaps it's akin to asking a JV basketball coach why she isn't teaching her players to dunk. One can't learn if material is too hard. It isn't a matter of wanting it or trying hard enough to get it. There are such things as reading levels and one truly cannot fully comprehend text beyond one's own instructional reading level- no matter how hard one tries.

We teachers are told to be harder graders, to give more homework, to have higher standards. I've received criticism from parents of 6th graders worried that their child was doing no more than an hour a night, worried because in comparison with their child in a different school, my school gave far less homework. Research on the efficacy of homework is mixed. However, the broad majority of researchers at least agree that an hour is an appropriate amount for an 11-year-old child. As a teacher, I'm more likely to be criticized as being too easy than too hard, though for full disclosure's sake that has happened too.

When government wants to fix the "school crisis" it puts together blue ribbon commissions on how to improve education. These commissions are usually stocked with business people, not teachers. Wouldn't it have been great if a group of teachers was assembled after the stock market crash of 2008 to fix business?

We are constantly bombarded with stories blaring headlines bemoaning the sorry state of American education. Last week, we were told SAT scores continue to drop. Buried in these stories is the explanation, even though the stories themselves don't ascribe the drop to this cause. A larger percentage of students are taking the tests! Rich kids have always taken the test. Middle-class kids have always taken the test. More poor kids are taking the tests. Social class replicates itself. The best school districts are the best not because they have the best teachers, the best school districts are the richest school districts. Still, I'm sure business leaders and politicians will soon call for higher standards, greater rigor and more testing so these troubling SAT scores can improve.

My point is that teachers are always being told to be harder, test harder, "raise expectations" (my favorite..., what teacher worth her salt has low expectations?), and increase rigor. If a teacher makes sure the work is appropriate for children of a given age, we risk being seen as being too easy. That's why I believe many teachers err on the side of being too hard. The proximal zone, of course, is to pick concepts, reading, and material just beyond what they are currently able to do themselves and then help them do it. That's how one really teaches a child.


Wednesday, September 2, 2015


Okay, this app costs a couple of bucks qnd only seems to do one interesting thing. But it is a cool looking one thing. Art teachers at my school are looking at it and hope to use it during our upcoming cyber day. I'd love to know what other teachers have done with the app.

Here's a picture of my students from last year after being "flipped".

Day Two

I borrowed and modified an activity that Peter Pappas posted to his website. The purpose and premise of the activity is to promote discussion and foster collaboration. Kids played detective and after given different clues were able to find solutions. I stressed the point that we all bring different pieces of the truth to a discussion. The solution to a problem requires multiple truths being heard. I really want to get the kids to work with each other. Hat tip to www.peterpappas.com Peter Pappas for a good activity.

Starting Anew

I love the excitement that the start of school bring, but dislike the getting started aspect of schooling. The kids are awkward and nervous. The class has such a different vibe and energy, and I don't like it. It will go away in a few days, but in the meantime; I think I just need to grin and bear it. At the start of the year, we also work out tech glitches. I'm a heavy user of technology in instruction. Invariably, some kids just can't seem to get whatever we are doing to work. Sometimes the child didn't carefully listen to directions, sometimes the iPad is glitchy, most often the problem is because of forgotten passwords. I suspect my start is more awkward and halting that most because so much time is spent on ironing out the kinks of tech. I'm looking forward to week 3.

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