Tech Integration: It’s Not Customer Service

harwareThis week I went to a two day conference on coaching. It was designed for those people who are instructional coaches- the ones that have all those cool teaching strategies, capacity matrices and resources that help teachers hone their craft to be the best they can possibly be. I jumped at the chance to go. It took me two days of great material, conversation, and some heavy thinking to figure out how it applied to me.

I’m a technology integrator. I stay up to date with the latest tools. You can wake me out of a deep sleep, give me a scenario, and I’ll tell you where it falls on the SAMR model scale. I thought I had done a pretty good job over the 12 years I’ve been in the position.

Truth be told, this conference rocked my socks a bit. I went full circle through several stages:
Why am I here? This isn’t my job
This is my job! But I don’t know how to do it.
OMG, my deficit is huge.
Chill. You’ve got this.

Ok, maybe “You’ve got this” is a stretch but I have had an epiphany. I thought it would be hard to explain but I’ve come up with an analogy that works.

For most of my career, I have been like that helpful woman in the apron at Lowes. You know, the one that can tell you what tool you need and where you can find it. She can tell you what you’ll need to do to use it, what it works best with, and how much it’s going to cost. She’s a font of information and absolutely indispensable.

She knows what you want to build because you’ve told her. She doesn’t suggest different ways to build it or ask how it all fits into your bigger plan of home improvement. She looks tightly at your problem and solves it for you. Every time.

The conference pointed out a way for me to grow. I need to move from the aisle to the design department. If I look at myself as a technology coach I see a different position- I’m more like a kitchen designer. I need to talk to teachers to see the bigger picture. What will the whole look like? What is the end result of your instruction going to be? How do the small pieces fit into the whole? How can I show you examples of successful changes to guide you more closely to your goal?

There’s a lot I don’t know about teaching and it will show in my growth plan. That said, learning more instructional strategies and putting learning goals ahead of tools will certainly improve the effectiveness I can bring to teaching with technology. It will be a paradigm shift as I move closer to the center of instructional design- both for me and for teachers who are used to my “just in time” solutions. Stay tuned- there’s more to follow.

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5 Tips For Better Digital Content

When I was in college, my Anatomy and Physiology professor, Dr. Mason, was both the course lecturer and the author of our textbook. As such, he lectured from the book. Verbatim. You either got it or you spent hours in the library (this was, after all, pre-Internet Dark Ages) trying to find a source that could explain things in a different way. Or you found a friend who could explain the sodium/potassium exchange in layman’s terms. Failing this, you hoped there wasn’t much about that on the test.

I have to wonder how much things have really changed. Over the years we’ve fallen into a blended learning model that sometimes looks like a digital file cabinet from our classroom. I’m not faulting teachers here- they have responded to a request for transparency and that’s what we have. Students can go online and access most of the materials they have from classrooms. These are available at any time from any place with internet access. It’s all good, right?

Sometimes. If students understand content from class and need a review, placing our course materials online makes sense. These students can easily retrieve them and pick up where they left off.

This leaves out the population that doesn’t really understand what’s been presented in class. They make THINK they do- but when they get home and try to do things on their own, the wheels fall off the bus. Giving them the same resources you used in class may increase their frustration to the point where they give up.

Materials designed for face to face teaching and those that are appropriate for online learning can be very different. Each is valuable, but they are not always interchangeable. Materials for online consumption need to follow different guidelines. Here are five tips to get started:

  1. Make sure your students know what they are supposed to do. This might sound like a blinding flash of the obvious but bear with me. In class, you might provide a list of all the steps to complete a project in one document. Online you would do well to provide this in small discrete steps. Readers online tend to skim and may skip steps when a long list is provided. Make each step (or group of small steps) into its own task.
  2. Chunk your online content. Then chunk it again.  Do they really need a whole Keynote slideshow with your notes? Or would they be better off with smaller, more targeted explanations of key concepts? Think “SparkNotes” for your content. Make sure your content is digestible and students know what they should know as a result of viewing it.
  3. Use tools that scaffold learning. If you are asking students to read online articles, use a tool like InsertLearning to provide reading guides. These help students with comprehension and provide you with formative assessment information about their progress. For videos, you can use tools like Edpuzzle to help students check their understanding of content.
  4. Provide ways for students to know if they are on the right track. Nothing is more demoralizing than thinking you are finished, only to find you need to start over. Build in small assessments via tools like Edulastic, Quizlet, or google forms to provide feedback along the way.
  5. Build in ways for students to let you know they are stuck. This might be time in class or digitally based. You know what works best for your population.

 

Finally, take a critical look at your assignments. Use your student data to see what is and isn’t working in your material. Is there an assignment or assessment that seems to be stopping a large number of students in their tracks?  Sometimes a lesson redesign is what is needed to help move students forward.

 

BeeBot Pedagogy and Best Practices

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What does what its told, always moves in six inch increments, and holds the fascination of students? It’s a BeeBot, a small plastic robotic bee gaining popularity in classrooms all over the world.

I did a staff training on the use of BeeBots by setting up an obstacle course challenge that required them to work in teams. I gave very little instruction, deciding instead to let them learn cooperatively on the fly.  The training concluded with a “race” to see who could a) program the BeeBot through the course while staying within the challenge parameters, and b) get to the finish line first.

The training was a lot of fun and by all accounts successful. Teachers were energized about the possibilities this tool could bring to their classrooms.

There’s always that one teacher, though, that doesn’t buy in. He was straightforward with me. What else could he do with it besides build a route?

This question bothered me because I didn’t have a good answer. I chewed on it all weekend, wondering just what I could tell him. It took me a couple of days and a nice long bike ride to figure it out. Here’s what I came up with:

BeeBot Pedagogy

Like most tech tools, BeeBots have uses at multiple levels of pedagogy.  

At the most basic level, they are engagement tools- ways to grab and keep students’ attention for a period of time.  They can provide a fun way to provide drill and practice activities for students.  Their ability to address multiple learning styles helps students stay on task when using them in the classroom.

At this level, they are helpful in teaching and reinforcing skills like counting, estimating, sequencing and directionality.

But, like any tool, they become toys if we don’t provide a way to use them for higher-order thinking and problem-solving. Toys are fun for a while but without some increased functionality in either the toy or the way we play with them, they are soon relegated to the bottom of the toy box.

That’s why it’s important to leverage the opportunities that BeeBots bring to the classroom. To up the ante, we need to think about how we can provide problem-solving challenges to our students. The BeeBots become a visible way to see student thinking. They provide a means for collaboration within the task of finding viable solutions. Students may come to see new talents within themselves and their classmates. You may too.

Best Practices

When using BeeBots, less is better. Don’t feel as though you have to teach students how to use them. Give them to students and give them time to figure out how they work. Let them explore the functions of the buttons and figure out how the program is stored and cleared.

  • Have students create a “BeeBot Code of Conduct” that outlines guidelines for acceptable use. Post this so they can refer back to it as needed.
  • Use the BeeBots in  centers/small groups so each student will have an opportunity to participate. Large groups mean some students will be left to watch while others participate.
  • Create open-ended challenges that require problem solving and collaboration.
  • Have students develop a system to record their code for each challenge. This can be written or designed with the use of control cards. This will encourage them to analyze mistakes and compare successful solutions. This also requires them to represent their thinking with symbols.
  • Provide ways for groups to share their solution process.
  • Build in ways for students to create their own challenges to share with peers
  • Build in enough time for trial and error.

Ready to jump in? Check out BeeBot Resources for ideas for challenges.

Mystery Number Skype Makes Learning Stick

One of the best parts of my day is when I get to see kids apply what they learn to a real problem. It’s even better when I can see the wheels turning in their brains- which is just what happened this afternoon in Ashley Lawrence’s class.

Ashley’s class did a Mystery Number Skype with a class outside of the United States (we can’t say where because they have a geography Skype in the works!) In a Mystery Number Skype each class chooses a number and keeps it secret. Students in each class ask yes/no questions to try to narrow down the choices until they hone in on the correct number.

number-skype

There’s a lot more to it than just guessing numbers. Students come up with problem solving strategies while forming questions. Because one strategy is to guess which number is in each place, place value is one skill that is strengthened. From here, students need to remember what it means to be odd or even. They show understanding of the concepts of less than and more than. In some cases step counting is a skill that is necessary to solve the puzzle.

This fourth grade class decided to up their game and use their understanding of factoring by asking if the other class’s number was divisible by 5 (it wasn’t)- so they could eliminate both 0 and 5 in the ones place.

Imagine how you could expand this with students who can use multiplication and division skills, decimals, and fractions. The possibilities are endless.

The whole experience, start to finish, was about 15 minutes. Compare this experience with 15 minutes of worksheet practice. Which one do you think sticks better?

To find classes to connect with via Skype, see the Mystery Skype site or join Connected Classrooms Workshop  on Google +.

Phone It In: 5th Grade Blogging

Last month I went fishing for elementary school teachers willing to try blogging in their classrooms. Second year teacher Ryan Burk shut his eyes and grabbed the bait- his class is glad he did!

Blogging is a great way to get kids thinking and writing. There is something about knowing you’ll be published that increases the care students take in writing. They are make a point to know facts,  write in a grammatically correct structure, and to sound as if they know what they are talking about.

We started the blog with a field trip to the Maine State Museum. The goal was to capture moments of interest from the museum tour so students could look back and remember what they saw and learned. We used EasyBlogger Jr, an app that allows students to take videos or photos and easily narrate over top. One tap of a button publishes their post to the classroom blog.

The setup was easy. I had the app on my phone but could just as easily have used an iPad. Ryan identified photographers and videographers ahead of time and we met with the class to go over guidelines:

  • The purpose of this project was to record learning, not to take selfies
  • Students had the choice of what they chose to blog about, but they needed to know facts about the items they showcased. They also needed to speak about them in their own words- no reading off the exhibit placards.
  • Fluency is important- students were encouraged to practice before posting.
  • Real people would be reading and listening to their work.

After a reminder in the museum lobby I gave them the phone and then we let go.

The kids roamed the museum in chaperoned groups. Our bloggers collaborated with their peers to determine what should be covered. They learned about the items they were looking at, took photos and videos, and became roving reporters. They posted their reports on the fly. Once back in the classroom they were eager to review what was published.

Ryan followed up in the classroom with a session on expanding the blog. What else, he asked, should they be reporting? His students chose eight categories that fit their needs with the understanding that these could be increased as needed.

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As an aside, we set the blog up a little differently than the app intends. Normally students each have an account identified with their name and photo within the app. For compliance with our digital citizenship curriculum we decided to create “content accounts” based on the categories the students chose. 

Students choose the category that best fits their post and stay within our internet safety rules by remaining anonymous.

The result? Students are excited about writing. They WANT to write and post to the blog. They plan their posts carefully for content and grammatical correctness. They look for feedback in the form of comments and use these comments to improve their work. Most importantly they are viewing content through a newer, worldwide lens. Families can follow the blog and get a birds-eye view of what’s going on in the classroom. Take a look at Mr. Burk’s Classroom Blog and send some feedback their way.

Simple Online Notetaking Tools for Students

Taming the Student Cell Phone

https://www.flickr.com/photos/afsusa/9284763561I love Facebook as a professional development tool, if only for the way it encourages easy conversation and the spread of ideas. Teachers in our district have embraced it as a way to easily reach their audience- students, parents, and peers, and I’m no different. It’s a great way to distribute ideas and tools that relate to my job as a technology integrator.

A colleague recently shared an article to our Tech Goodies page called How to Manage Cell Phones in the Classroom. In it, author Ben Johnson suggests that teachers decide on a classroom cell phone policy, get support from the administration and make expectations clear to students- even posting the policy on the walls as a constant reminder. Consequences need to be clear and enforced. He also suggests creating an environment where there is little downtime so students are more engaged in learning and less apt to check out by checking texts.

It’s all good advice and it’s what many good teachers already do. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. The degree of success of a cell phone policy often is in direct response to the relationship the teacher has with students.

Think about this from a student perspective. We lay down all the rules, and we are as tough about enforcement as our management style allows. They, in turn, have been trained through however many years they’ve been in school to assess the risk- and then do what they want. This is business as usual for them.

Many schools are shifting towards a student-centered learning model, yet our policies still read like  court judgments. Legally we do need to have broad policies in place to ensure student safety and comply with federal law. Outside of that, however, we have some leeway. Because our school culture hasn’t kept up with our students’ digital culture, we have some catching up to do. It’s work that might better be done without a “top-down” edict.

What about if we included students in the process of developing a classroom cell phone policy? I’m not suggesting this from a “student-council-input-into-policy” discussion. I’m talking about a classroom by classroom policy. Think of it as a whole lot of social science experiments taking place, collecting data on what works and what doesn’t.

I can hear the feathers ruffling from here. “We need consistency. We already have a ‘no-cellphones’ policy. The rules have to be the same for everyone building-wide. The kids just have to comply or face the consequences.”

The idea of different rules in different rooms is a hard sell- but truthfully, don’t we already have it? Some teachers accept late students, some don’t. Some require seating charts while others allow free seating. Classroom management has ALWAYS differed from room to room- thank goodness!

As a classroom teacher, I was always ok with the overarching guidelines of our building. It was the details that sometimes made me a little crazy. One principal outlawed any food at all in the classroom. I thought the student who skidded in late with breakfast in hand stood a better chance learning while eating than he did having to sit in the cafeteria and missing half of class- or worse yet, sitting in class hungry and unfocused. A modification to sit away from the computers until he was finished suited us both.

And so it is with cell phones. We can’t pretend they don’t exist- but we can’t allow free range. Where’s the middle ground? I propose that we ask our students what they think is reasonable. Sure, at first they will say they should be able to have them out and use them whenever, wherever. Explore that idea! It will open up many topics of discussion as you develop the framework of your classroom culture:

  • respect for a space students can work in
  • management of distractions
  • accountability for work in a timely fashion
  • ethical conduct and personal integrity (cell phones are widely used for cheating)
  • real world workplace expectations
  • reflection and revision of what is working/not working
  • how their cell phone use meshes with the school’s code of conduct guidelines

Students that have ownership of their classroom cell phone policy are more apt to work within the parameters they set for themselves. You might ask them for ideas for formative assessments of how the policy is working at certain times throughout the first couple of weeks of school, with ways to adjust the policy until it is a functioning part of their classroom workflow. Making students an integral part of that assessment piece is critical for continued improvement.

What about those that just can’t comply? Perhaps they are not ready for the responsibility of having a phone available in class. For those without the skills to manage the tool, separation from the device may be the only answer. That said, their policy should provide them a way to grow into the skills necessary to be successful within their classroom rules. Keep in mind that you are asking them to change a deeply ingrained habit. In some cases, it’s one of continual and constant contact. Habits take time and strategies to change.

You’ll notice I left out the concept of punishment. I’m a firm believer that the consequences that students set for themselves will always have more weight than detentions or other punitive actions we set up. Time in detention teaches a student NOTHING. Time in a reflective intervention with you (and/or peers) can help students identify the issues that cause them to move from the learning environment to a distracted realm. This is the time to find ways to bridge the gap and keep them moving forward.

Finally, look at your own habits. Are you modelling the cell phone use you want your students to employ? Students don’t miss a trick and will be more apt to buy into change if you are setting the example for acceptable use.