Friday, February 12, 2016

Guest Post: My Hoverboard and My Kids

By Sarah Thomas

A Big Change


August 2015 marked the beginning of the most transitional year of my career.

First, a position opened at the district level, coordinating technology with a team that had inspired me to become a teacher leader.  

Almost simultaneously, I was offered a high school position that everything in my gut screamed “YES” about.  I accepted (after disclosing my pursuit of the other opportunity).  This was one of the scariest choices I had ever made.

It was my first time in high school since 1999, when I actually was a student.

It was my first time teaching Technology Education, which I soon found out was very different from Technology Integration. I had taught the latter for six of the previous seven years, and had thoroughly enjoyed gamifying a curriculum of our (the students and my) choice, which included any and everything that we could get our hands on. We coded with Sphero, learned basic photography and video editing, created podcasts, and discussed the possibility of a Minecraft club, among many other things. The new content was heavier on science, engineering, and math.

It was my first time leaving my “home,” where I had stayed for seven years of my ten in the classroom. This was the hardest part, as I said goodbye to the co-workers, students, and parents I considered my extended family.

The change was exciting, terrifying, and full of possibilities. I loved every minute of it.

Settling In


I had no idea what to expect when I started teaching high school. Luckily, my previous school had many students who qualified to come to this magnet high school, one of three with a STEM programs in our county; thus, I felt a similar familial environment here. In addition, I already knew many of my coworkers from various workshops, conferences, and social media. The administration was phenomenal, extremely supportive, and embraced technology.

I won’t lie; despite all this, I was extremely nervous at first. Never before had I worked with students in this age group. Knowing full well my strengths and weaknesses (i.e. I’m a huge softie), I had a couple of sleepless nights, wondering if my classroom management would hold up in this new environment. Should I be tough? Should I not smile until Christmas?

As always, my PLN had my back. As a matter of fact, it was my dear Voxer friends who encouraged me to step outside my comfort zone and accept the position. More great advice followed, such as “just be yourself...they will love you...you have the perfect personality for high school.”  In addition, I decided to listen to myself in this foreshadowing video, that I had made prior to even knowing anything about my new role.

The first couple of weeks, I went into some strange sort of auto-pilot. However, I kept it real with my students from the get-go. We bonded almost instantly, as we discovered that we had a lot in common. 

In applying what I had learned from my PLN, the class was extremely student-centered. The students created the rules through memes, and voted on them. They were encouraged to demonstrate mastery of the content in practically any way that they wanted. They had choice over how they decided to use their time in class, how they structured their groups, and topics that they decided to explore.

The Hoverboard
Source: Flickr
For one of the first assignments, I had approximately 60% of my students choose to create a Google Slides presentation about something called a “Hoverboard,” as a piece of technology that inspired them. When I kept seeing the theme recur throughout each class period, I asked a group of students if it was like the skateboard from Back to the Future. They gave me a proper education, showing me videos of what it was, as well as clips of people riding, some of them falling. I told them it looked cool.



Two Weeks to Remember


In early November – only three months into the school year – I was notified that the promotion came through. I would be working alongside people who had inspired and mentored me as a teacher leader for years. The change would have to happen quickly: I only had 2 weeks to say goodbye to my students. While elated, I knew it would be tough to break the news to my students the following Monday.

My kids (yes, I will still call them that) are mind-blowingly amazing. They took the news incredibly well. We vowed to make the final two weeks together something that we would remember.

Go big or go home.

I introduced students to the Code.org Accelerated Course, which they did for a class period. Afterwards, I introduced another tool to the arsenal: Soundtrap.com. There were several musically talented students in the class, and it allowed them to collaborate using loops and MIDI instruments. The last assignment was an optional PBL that they could carry on without me: use the Engineering Design Process to brainstorm something they were passionate about creating. I can’t wait to hear about the results.

Falling and Getting Back Up



Of course, I couldn’t leave without fulfilling my promise. I went to Amazon to order the elusive Hoverboard.

I wish I could have recorded for posterity the moment when I told my students that the board was in the mail. They had probably thought I had forgotten, but the excitement was palpable!

That weekend I learned how to ride it. The Hoverboard is not as easy as it looks, that’s for sure. It took me about a day and a half to finally get it down, but by Monday, I was sailing down the hallways and around my classroom with ease, even Periscoping on a few occasions.

I whipped up a Google form as a sign-up sheet for the students. Each entry would get them two minutes of riding time, and karaoke rules applied (meaning: you could only sign up again once your turn was over). About 100 kids took the Hoverboard challenge, across my six periods.  I also rode around the classroom, while periscoping for good measure.

Overall, the students were a lot quicker to master it than I was, probably because of neuroplasticity or something to that effect. Some kids started off shakily, but by the end of the class period, they mastered it.  A couple fell, laughed, and got back on it. A few clung onto me for dear life until they were ready to go.  

We had a great time for those two days, and it was the best send-off I could have ever imagined.

About the Author:
Sarah Thomas is a Regional Technology Coordinator in Prince George’s County Public Schools.  She is also a Google Certified Innovator and the founder of the EduMatch movement, a project that empowers educators to make global connections across common areas of interest.   Sarah is a doctoral candidate in Education at George Mason University.