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.

Google Classroom, Week One.

When Google announced it was releasing Classroom nearly a month early for all educators, I became quite impatient. I’ve been preaching the Gospel of Google for so long, I remember when Docs only had five fonts and the formatting changed depending on browser. For all its convenience, it was at times, a train wreck.

So anytime Google introduces a new product, I embrace it and deal with the bugs because history has proved the bugs will work out.

Here’s some basic observations about Google Classroom after one week.

1. Creating Assignments.

I love how easy it is to get assignments to students. I have most of them already made in Drive, so it’s just a matter of linking the assignment–and here’s the best part–clicking the option that says “Make a copy for each student.”

Every student gets a copy of the assignment. Gone are the “I thought I shared it with you” laments, because I gave each student the work. It’s a digital way of handing out assignments.

2. Quick View of Who’s Done.

I can easily see who has finished the work and who hasn’t. This is particularly handy for quick assessments done in class, when I don’t want to move on until all responses are turned in. It also is a nice reminder of how much grading I have…I teach so many different subjects that I often can’t keep track of how many students are in which classes. It’s nice to have a snapshot of the grading load.

3. Easy emailing.

In past years, I had to manually set up a class email group. With Classroom, just one click and I’m able to email my students. I know that seems like a small thing to be happy about, but it really is so much easier than sorting through the district directory to add and create an email list.

So far what I am not wild about is that once students turn in assignments, they can’t do any revising until I’ve returned it to them. I teach writing, so that’s a bit problematic since drafting and revising is so important. What I haven’t figured out yet is if students can turn in assignments a second time, after revising. I’ll figure that out this week.

I also wish it functioned a bit more like Blackboard–that I could post articles and links for students to read, but as far as I can tell, everything has to have a due date, and I don’t want a glaring red “DUE DATE” screaming at me. So I’m still using my class website for that.

Overall, I’m happy with how it’s working so far, and like I said, if history is any indication, it will only get better from here.

A Flipping Long Post.

As part of our Internet unit in Pop Culture last week, we spent a day talking about flipped classrooms.

I started with a short survey about my students’ learning styles. First up, 2nd hour:

I asked for some explanation about how technology has made their learning better. Most of the responses focused on how easier it was to find information. I also asked in the survey if they knew what a flipped classroom was. Out of 28 in my 2nd hour, only 2 knew. 
So we watched a TED talk from Salman Khan and discussed advantages and disadvantages of a flipped classroom:
Notice this class’s list of disadvantages are nearly triple their list of advantages. Also, scroll up and look at their learning styles: 2/3 prefer rather traditional ways of learning.
Now, a peek at 6th hour’s data:
And their pro/con list of a flipped classroom:
I don’t know that any of this data is particularly significant (though I found it quite interesting that my 6th hour–mostly kinesthetic learners–listed more advantages to a flipped classroom than my 2nd hour).
But in both conversations, most of the students were quite skeptical that a flipped model would be at all effective without a complete cultural shift district-wide.

I was also quite impressed with their sensitivity to families without access. And when I shared a summary of this article with them, they declared that expecting families to hang out at McDonald’s to do homework was not acceptable, either. 
So I put this out there not as any solution, but as informal data from 50 students who, for the most part, don’t think flipped classrooms are a reasonable expectation. 
I have my own fears and misconceptions about flipped classrooms–after all, I taught English for several years and if students won’t read to be prepared for discussion, I’m not convinced watching a video will be much better. 
I also think that as students experience self-directed learning at a younger age, by the time they get to the high school level, they will come to expect it. Because right now, when I give students freedom to learn as they wish, their fear is palpable.
In my 5th hour Journalism class this Friday, students will teach an element of media press law they’ve been studying for 5 weeks. Last Friday (their last classroom work day), I had to remind them that they could not be afraid of the freedom I was giving them. They were so concerned with doing the project “right,” that they forgot to just learn
So we’ll see how Friday goes, but I’m really more interested in what my classroom will look like in five short years, when the 6th graders in my district who are currently part of the iPad Academy arrive in my classroom. I have a feeling my classroom will look quite different than it does now. 

Once In A Lifetime, Part I

I don’t know how many parts there will be to this story, but to try and convey the full impact of what I’m feeling right now, I must make like Julie Andrews and “start at the very beginning…”

In the past two years, I’ve been keenly aware of how lucky I was to have the parents I do. Not only because they loved me and encouraged me and were (are) my biggest cheerleaders, but because they were early adopters of technology.

My mom chose to stay home to raise us, to bring us lunches left on counters, to pick us up from school when we had fevers. Consequently, money was tight. But my mom could type. So she often picked up typing jobs she could do at home. In the early 80s, to make things easier on her freelance work, my parents bought a Franklin computer.

I spent hours playing Lemonade Stand and Oregon Trail (back when it was all amber lines of text), and in the High Ability Learner program at school, I learned how to write primitive game code and DOS commands.

I can’t remember a time when our family didn’t have a computer, and I realize what a luxury that is even today. But what I didn’t realize in my youth was how access to that technology would shape the rest of my life.

Fast forward a decade and a half or so, and I was dating a guy in the late 90s who worked in IT. At the same time, my work study assignment for tuition assistance was managing a computer lab on campus. Mr. IT Guy talked me through many a Windows lab meltdown, and I still marvel sometimes at how I can troubleshoot, thanks to just being around him, watching and helping him tinker with computers in his home.

All of this is to say that through the years, I’ve become relatively tech-savvy. I don’t know everything, not by a long shot. But I’m certain I wouldn’t have this know-how had it not been for my parents and Mr. IT Guy.

Fast forward another decade or so, to two years ago, when I embarked on a technological journey that I never in a million years would have expected to start.

Technology Heretic.

Not to get all “Napoleon Dynamite” on you, but I love technology.

I was fortunate to have parents who were early adopters in the 1980s–I cannot remember a time when we did not have a computer in our home. Then in my mid-20s, not long after the Information Superhighway was in a majority of American homes, I dated a guy whose profession was IT. He taught me all kinds of troubleshooting (tricks that still work today, mind you) and I’ve been a total technology disciple ever since.

But as of late, I’m experiencing some technology fatigue. 

I realized this today as I watched my Journalistic Writing students do peer revisions. On paper. 

(Remember paper? You can hold it in your hands and write on it.)

I don’t teach in a 1:1 school, and all the labs are booked. So I printed copies of their stories and we discussed what they should look for as they read each other’s stories. They spent time reading, and then they moved around the classroom and had discussions. They talked. Face to face, they shared strengths and weaknesses of their writing. It was welcome noise to my ears. When I schedule lab time, many of them collaborate via Google Docs, but I don’t hear it. And I miss hearing those conversations.

I am drowning in digital clutter myself, and while I get better all the time at managing it all, I sometimes wonder if I’m missing out on other experiences by relying so much on technology. And I worry that the words “technology,” “engagement,” and “relevance” all get conflated with the word “fun.” 

My heresy is evolving, and I know I won’t ever leave technology on the side of the road–I love it too much, and I know I can find ways to balance its use in my classroom. But I also feel a need to evaluate and moderate, maybe even push back a little when I feel like I’m on a technology binge. 

Stay tuned…