Friday, March 21, 2014

Comfortable with Change

Three different events happened in my classroom this week that signaled to me that my students have reached a critical stage of learning: they are comfortable with change, with being asked to do things and think in ways that are unfamiliar and difficult, with struggling through a process in order to reach a goal.

Event #1: Visit from Arlington High School Teachers

Periodically we at Reading Memorial High School are visited by teachers from other schools who are considering implementation of BYOD policies.  This week, led by our Tech Integration Specialist Janet Dee, Arlington teachers and administrators toured our school, visited some classrooms including mine, and met with our technology department.  After, we were able to sit down for a quick Q & A. One of the teachers pulled me aside and said:
I asked one of your students if using his phone in class all the time was ever distracting because of the text messaging and gaming that is available.  He said, "No, I don't have time to get distracted in here. I'll miss something."
This student understands the power of his smart phone. It isn't just a luxury, or a messager, or a gaming device anymore.  It is a tool that can be used academically and professionally to accomplish great things.

Event #2: Reading Student Blog Post Reflections Really Carefully

On their class blogs, many students recently commented on how one particular project was time consuming and how it took patience and trial and error to learn the technology needed.  But those same students mentioned that they came out on the other side of the project with a completely new understanding of the history.

Gabrielle wrote:
Making an was a long process. It included analyzing the documents and the many facts and statistics they included, deciding which were the more relevant to incorporate, and figuring out the best way to format and present them. However, the entire process helped me understand the situations faced by the Union and Confederacy at the start of the war. After viewing the documents, I realized the considerable edge the North had over the South when it came to resources, the economy, transportation, the government, and the population available to work and fight.

Alex wrote:
I felt that the infographic was good at showing this material and helping me understand it, but I also felt that it was hard to put this information into an infographic, especially with the program we used. As a result of the activity, I learned how much more people, money and resources the North had compared to the South. They had a clear advantage, and it was especially apparent when placed upon a graph.

After reading these honest reflections, I made sure that I told them publicly as a class that I knew this particular assignment was a struggle and that I was proud of them for pushing through it.  The historical analysis they were able to do and the lessons they were able to learn demonstrated deeper thinking than I had seen from students in a while.  I congratulated them and thanked them for continuing to persevere through unfamiliar territory with me.

They beamed with pride.

So did I.

Event #3: Colleague Observation

A well-respected colleague from within the district, Jennalee Anderson, came in on Friday afternoon to observe one of my freshmen classes.  She was familiar with quite a few of the students since she'd had them in class a couple of years ago.  She told me she asked them about the differences between a paperless classroom and other classes.  Some answered that they felt more organized than ever before.  The same students who gave her these answers today, in March, are students who were hesitant to go paperless with me in September because they claimed they "weren't good at technology."  These are our youngest and least mature students, the ones most likely to feel overwhelmed by high school, yet they are understanding how technology is more helpful than it is distracting if used within the right structure and with intentional supportive supervision.

It feels great that my students are gaining an understanding that the integration of technology is not for the sake of being cool or even for the sake of making class fun (although it helps with these things at times). They are coming around to realizing how the technology is changing and improving the way they learn.