Sunday, November 23, 2014

Why Student Voice is Essential at EdTech Conferences

Four of my current and former students helped me write an article about the importance of student voice at EdTech conferences.  In their portions they went even further and called for student input into lesson plans, app designs, and professional decision-making.

Click the image below to read their words.  Thanks for sharing!
Click this images to read the article.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Traversing the EdTech Slopes

I love to ski. It is part of my identity. I don't remember learning how to ski. My parents taught me themselves when I was 3 years old.  For me, skiing is as natural as walking or breathing.  Want to see how much I love it?  This is a cliff in Steamboat, Colorado.


Our students are like that with smartphones, iPads, and laptops.  They have always lived in a world of YouTube, apps, tweets, and snapchats.  They thrive on the relationships they build partly through tech integration.  But many of them go to schools run by adults who are intimidated by the complexity of these tools.

I tried snowboarding when I was about 15.  I'd already been skiing for 12 years. I thought I'd be a quick study. I wasn't. It was hard. I fell a lot. It hurt.  Many long time teachers have become comfortable with more traditional methods.  They're good solid methods.  They're used by good solid teachers.  The thing is, these teachers are still skiing while their students live to snowboard.  These teachers are using time-tested methods, but there are new methods worth learning and adding order to incorporate the skills needed in a tech saturated world.  Skiing is a solid foundation, but the future is snowboarding.

Earlier this evening I was chatting with Andrew Marcinek about the importance of leveraging some students' innate tech integration skills to help move schools in the right direction.  Administrators, teachers, and tech staff are often weighed down with standards and initiatives.  The idea of finding the time to learn a new unfamiliar method can feel overwhelming and scary.  Why not let students have a voice in how and where tech can be integrated so that it truly engages them in their own learning?

Student Tech Teams might be one way to help bring these ideas together.  Andrew wrote an article for Edutopia recently about how tech teams work and how they have started to pop up in schools all over the country.  Teachers certainly provide the guidance and expertise that students need in schools, but why not allow students to have a voice in how that expertise can be combined with powerful tech tools to create something neither of them ever imagined?

I've been rolling out the pilot of Rockets Help Desk at my own high school, and already I've seen my students have a real impact on teachers in our school and district.  A science teacher reported using the Prezi tutorial to give students a choice for more animated presentations.  The school nurse stopped by for a quick face to face lesson on sharing Google Docs so she could collaborate with her counterparts in 7 other schools on a new district wide policy.  An elementary math teacher invited Rockets Help Desk to show her 5th graders how to use Google Forms to collect survey data.  There are many more examples.

Our logo.


Rockets Help Desk launched September 6, 2014.  To date, only 10 weeks later, there are 17 formal requests the students have filled for teachers, and many more informal ones that haven't been tracked or recorded.  In each case, teenagers filled a real need for the adults in their school. The teachers provided the education vision and the students provided the tech tools to amplify the learning.

So if you've never tried to ski or snowboard, here's my advice. Take a quick lesson from a coach.  The coach will likely be younger than you, but don't let that stop you. You will fall and it will hurt, but don't let that stop you.  The satisfaction you'll feel and the fun you'll have when you finish that first run on your own will be well worth the frustration.

We need to remember that trying something new is hard.  We might fail a few times before we succeed.  The success will be well worth the struggle.  We, educators and students, can work together to make it happen.

Monday, November 10, 2014

"So What?" - The Power of Twitter, Voxer, and Great Questions

My good friend Tammy Neil, a math and tech integration teacher from Florida, challenged a few of us in the Breakfast Club, a daily educator chat on Twitter (see #BFC530) and active group on Voxer, recently with a great question:

"So what?"


The context of the discussion surrounded the power of social media and how our students use it.  Alex from Target has gained nearly a million Twitter followers merely because a teenage girl shopping one day snapped a picture of a cute guy working the Target register and posted it.  Tammy asked us, "So what?"  What will this young man do with his now widely heard voice? Will he use it for personal gain, or will he use it to do something important? To make a difference?

This prompted me to think about my own history classes and what it is like to be a student in one of those classes.  Why should they learn about history? So what? How will students' time spent in my class make a difference? I have been working hard to ensure my classes are learning history in order to gain enduring understandings, rather than to merely learn the facts.  Here's how I responded on the Voxer discussion.

Click here to listen to my Vox on "So What?" in the history classroom.
Little did I know, Christina Carrion, a tech integrator from Texas, heard my Vox and thought it was a decent example to share with a colleague.  Her colleague was interested in how Twitter and Voxer can be a part of educator growth.  Here's how she explained it a couple of days later.
Click here to listen to Christina's Vox on how she shared my Vox with a colleague.

I was thrilled, but also felt woefully under-qualified to serve as an example to others.  Although I am striving to make sure the students' experience day-to-day in my classroom makes a difference in their lives, it is still something I am working on every day.  It is certainly not something I've mastered.  I wanted to give her another example of how I craft the essential questions that are meant to help students arrive at their enduring understandings.
Click here to listen to my response to Christina.
Turns out, Christina's share went further than I thought. Here's how she used it in a training on Twitter for teachers in her district.
Click here to listen to how Christina introduced Voxer at a training.
Of course, this made my day.  But that is not why I share it. I share it because it demonstrates a few things about the power that a community of educators can have:

  1. Together We Can Do More: Educators work largely alone in classrooms with closed doors.  But when we have the inspiration and opportunity to work together, we can come up with valuable ideas that really impact student learning.  In this case, a conversation in an organized PLN setting caused educators from all over the country to think about 2 key goals: teaching children to spread a meaningful message via social media, and how we engage our students in the classroom so that their learning really matters.
  2. History is MUCH More than Events and People: I have often felt, as a history educator, that our content area is ignored by policy-makers and education big-wigs.  Look at the evidence: STEM and STEAM dominate the education grant landscape, standardized testing focuses on math, science, and language arts (not that I want a history standard test implemented - not a fan of those at all), and CCSS doesn't even give history it's own category.  But as history educators we play a crucial role in helping an entire generation learn the civic lessons that will shape their decisions as adult citizens.  Our lessons must tie together a mix of law, morality, and critical investigation skills.  It is essential that we make our students' time in our classrooms valuable and relevant to their lives today and their decisions as leaders of the future.  This is what essential questions and enduring understandings can do.
  3. We All Need Inspiration: It turns out, I was inspired just as much as, or perhaps more than, Chirstina Carrion by that Voxer conversation.  She was inspired to research more about her teaching practice and the role of essential questions. She used that idea in an attempt to inspire other educators to get connected on Twitter and Voxer.  My inspiration goes deep too, though.  She inspired me to believe that my teaching practice really is worthwhile and that my urge to keep growing is one that I should follow.  She inspired me to believe that I should keep sharing my ideas with others publicly.  Not all of them will be popular or inspirational, but if one idea can inspire one other teacher on one particular day, it is all worthwhile.
So, thanks Tammy, for asking us a great question: "So what?"

Thanks Christina, for letting me know that my ideas are valid and worth expanding and sharing.

Thanks BFC, for connecting me to these thoughtful compassionate educators.