About Technology…

I took a two-month break from blogging, as I was a last-minute replacement for the pianist in the school musical. The show closed 10 days ago, and I’m just now getting my bearings back. And today is a great day to blog about education.

Today was another iPad Academy day. And in the few posts I’ve written about teaching with iPads, I don’t think I’ve ever really explained the iPad Academy model. Since too often, people shout from the rooftops about everything that is wrong in public education, I’m going to shout from my tiny rooftop about something done well.

Often when districts purchase technology, it’s done so hurriedly, because whatever boondoggle an administrator saw (likely at a conference where no teachers were present) carries the promise to raise test scores, improve student engagement, vacuum the carpet and coach the baseball team, all by Christmas break. So the tech is purchased and distributed to teachers on August 9, at which time the teachers receive a 45 minute training in how to use the new boondoggle before moving on to important topics like “please take attendance” and “what you can be doing to raise test scores.”

The boondoggle then rests in drawers or gathers dust on bookshelves, save for an intrepid teacher here or there who caught a glimmer of the vision of the boondoggle’s capability.

When my district decided to start using iPads in the classroom, they did so slowly. Some teachers might argue that the district moved a bit too slowly, starting out with just six teachers. And technology implementation and maintenance hasn’t always been perfect, that’s for sure.

But we are now at 50 teachers, all of whom have received adequate training and coaching, and the district continues to provide training and professional development opportunities. Today was one of those days. We have time to collaborate with other iPad Academy teachers and learn what is working–and what isn’t working–so we can continue to push ourselves and our students outside the traditional educational box.

(Here’s how I pushed myself today, in case you’re interested. Not perfect, but I figured out how to do RSA videos and how to teach my students to do them.)

Three district trainers work with all of us, constantly looking for apps and websites that will enrich curricula, and they help us troubleshoot when we develop new approaches to assessments.

As the district acquires more iPads, they don’t have to sacrifice the cost of training more staff to use them, because so many teachers have blazed a variety of trails already. They have a pool of experts with relevant, practical experience who can train their colleagues how to best use technology. And I know I’d rather learn from someone in the trenches.

There’s so much to complain about in public education. But there is also much to celebrate and promote. I know that public opinion sometimes looks at large technology purchases and thinks, “what’s the point?”

In Bellevue, the point is to make sure teachers are supported in implementing new technology, that curriculum and pedagogy drive technology purchases, with an understanding that shrieking “ooh shiny!” will never yield positive results in the classroom.

Technology: Bellevue is doing it right.

Rolling With It.

Four years ago this month, I started teaching with iPads. At this point, teaching with them, developing lessons and assessments and activities that use the iPads are simply part of my psyche.

It’s funny for me to reflect on that first semester and how worked up and nervous and sweaty I would get, figuring out how to use them. I remember how guilty I would feel if I went one day without using them. And I cringe at how frustrated I would get when the workflow wasn’t exactly as I wanted.

For a variety of reasons, my iPads right now aren’t in the state I’d prefer them to be. This is absolutely no one’s fault–it’s been a Bermuda Triangle of a Comedy of Errors.

And yet, I am undeterred.

I looked at what I wanted the students to be able to do with the iPads, looked at what I had available to me, and continued on.

And guess what?

Today, 48 students created Pop Culture biographies in Google Docs and shared them with me, and most of them started writing. 27 students created daily writing journals as well. All students logged into Google Classroom (using Safari), and all students were able to access my daily agenda.

Things don’t look the way I want them to right now, but I am quite confident that this is a temporary situation. There’s even a part of me that is starting to let go of the idea that every iPad has to look the exact same way.

Perhaps I’m becoming a teensy bit less Type A the longer I teach with iPads. And this is something I can feel bleed into my teaching and classroom management as well.

Having to roll with the iPads these past four years has caused me to be much less agitated when teaching without technology doesn’t go the way I planned. It’s made me more open and kinder when answering questions and working individually with students (admittedly, some students might not realize this, not being able to compare now-me to then-me). But there are times when I hear my word choice and tone and think, “Wow. That’s not what or how I would’ve said that 10 years ago.”

Not to say that I still don’t have my days when I slip back into my benevolent dictatorship style of teaching, because I do, and honestly, some days and content necessitates that. But I never really considered that teaching with iPads would holistically change my attitude and pedagogy.

That’s a pretty good fringe benefit, if you ask me.

A New Approach to an Old Quiz.

Last week at our iPad Academy training day, Ann Feldmann told me about an activity she did during a Twitter chat using the app Book Creator. The moderator designed a series of tasks for the participants to complete, then they compiled those tasks in a book.

I’ve struggled every year with how to use the iPads in my Pop Culture Class as a creation device, but as Ann explained what she did during this chat, my mind started thinking about the Postmodernism test that my Pop Culture classes would be taking soon.

I usually have them take a traditional quiz–matching, true/false, fill in the blank–basic-level Bloom’s Taxonomy kind of quiz, as a formative assessment to make sure they know the bare minimum about Postmodernism. What would happen if I changed the quiz entirely to a more interactive, application-of-knowledge kind of quiz?

I designed five tasks for my students to complete. The tasks required a little bit of video, a little bit of writing, a little bit of Google image searching. Then, using Book Creator, the students compiled their knowledge into a book.

I’ve graded one class’s quizzes, and I’m so impressed with what they’ve done. One issue I’ve had in the past with the summative exam over this unit is that students used the same examples provided in class discussion. On this quiz, I stipulated that the examples had to be original. I haven’t been disappointed once. Their examples have been fantastic.

Also, I’ve loved watching their “selfie videos” as they explain different concepts in their own words, again with original examples.

My room during my two sections of Pop Culture Studies today was a little noisy, but as I walked around helping students, I was thrilled with what I saw.

I saw collaboration, as one of the tasks required students to ask another student to explain a concept on video. They were also often collaborating with each other on what examples would work and what examples wouldn’t.

I saw focused engagement, as they knew they only had 47 minutes to complete the quiz. Ideally, they probably needed 55 minutes–a lesson to learn for next semester. But my point is that there wasn’t down time–and when students finished before others, they helped with exporting and turning in the books.

But what impressed me the most was the quality of the questions I was getting. Most of the questions students asked me were not about the app itself, the questions were about the content. In the past when I’ve tried assessments like these, I have fielded so many questions about the app that I’ve wondered if any learning actually took place. Today, I didn’t have that same experience, which speaks to how user-friendly Book Creator is.

Today would not have happened without the iPad Academy work day last week. I rarely see Ann, and the session she ran about infusing creativity in the classroom led directly to today’s lesson plan. I had the gift of time to look at quizzes I’ve used in the past and wrote a new quiz that relied so much more on application and synthesis of knowledge than just basic recall.

In a time when public schools are under more and more scrutiny for all the things they are doing wrong, it’s important the share the stories of when they do something right. And that’s exactly how I feel about iPad Academy.

Making Gains.

Occasionally I think about the kind of teacher I was 15 years ago when I started teaching, and I cringe a little. Control, order, and power ruled my mindset–and part of that, honestly, is necessary as a beginning teacher. Classroom management is the toughest part of the job, and without control, order, and power, a classroom can go a bit “Lord of the Flies” in a snap.

I wasn’t a tyrant, really, but I remember bristling at the slightest variance of what I deemed necessary on any given day.

This semester, I started posting a daily agenda. Students come in every day, log in to Google Classroom, and they see what the plan is. In Pop Culture Studies, that means most days I have links to the articles and videos we’ll watch, so those who are absent can still keep up.

Today as I was getting ready to start with the order of the day, a student raised his hand.

“Can you explain this chart on that third link you posted?”

So we started with the third link and had a robust discussion that went so much further and into much more detail than I expected.

Given the same scenario 15 years ago, I know I would’ve responded differently: “Yes, I can explain it when we get to that article, after we read and discuss the other two.”

Part of what I’ve gained in teaching with iPads is the ability to roll with whatever happens in a given day–whether it’s a network that’s down, or an app that quit working or a Google search about a product someone mentioned in passing that actually augments the discussion at hand or a student who opens the third link on his own instead of waiting for his teacher to tell him what to do.

Lately, I think the words that rule my mindset are “sure,” “why not,” and “let’s go down that rabbit hole.”

It’s a freeing mindset, one that actually makes me happier and (I think) nicer to my students. I welcome their questions and love when they teach me something–which, in a class full of iPads or iMacs and the pesky Adobe Creative Suite, happens nearly every day.

The world I teach in now is so different from the world I started teaching in 15 years ago, and I’m a different teacher. I’m glad to keep making gains in my profession.

I can’t imagine.

It’s been a while since I blogged about teaching with iPads–when I first started teaching with them in January 2013, it was so new and overwhelming, and now it’s just part of my life.

I’ve found a good rhythm, and apps that work best for my classes. As I write this, my Journalistic Writing students are tapping away, working on their feature stories (due today!), but I told them if they need a break from the “assigned work” to go ahead and switch over to their blogs. They have 47 minutes; they can use it how it works best for the tasks at hand.

Yesterday, I let them choose peer editors, and a good chunk of the class time, students read each others’ stories and then conferenced about what they read. They shared their stories via Google Docs, and I gave them specific pitfalls to highlight and comment on.

I initially gave them 15 minutes for this task, and when that time was up, several students asked, “Can we keep doing this? It’s so helpful.”

Yep. You sure can.

Two weeks ago in my Pop Culture class, I taught a concept (I don’t even remember what it was now) and told students to go find examples of that concept. One student said, “How did you ever teach this class without iPads?”

I explained that I just had to provide all the examples myself and use the projector, but throughout the day, her question stuck with me. The flexibility they provide, the work students are able to complete in my classroom, the feedback they get from both me and their peers–it’s all invaluable.

I can’t imagine teaching without iPads anymore.