Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Educator's Stages of Twitter Use

When I first heard about Twitter, my initial reaction was, "I really don't want to read short sentences about what people eat for lunch." I saw Twitter as a way to announce the specific (and sometimes mundane) details about a person's day. I held on to that belief for a year before I saw something that changed my mind. 

In 2008, I saw real conversations happening on Twitter between law professionals. They were linking articles and providing detailed, helpful information to others - all in 140 character bites. And I realized that not only was I wrong about Twitter, but I was also missing out!

Over 6 years I've grown into a regular Twitter user who went through all the stages: 
1. Lurker - I would read and read some more. I did not Tweet but I loved reading what others Tweeted. 
2. Beginner - I started Tweeting slowly and became more comfortable with the format.
3. Addict - I could not read or Tweet enough! 
4. Adopter - It's a part of my regular day. 

But how does that apply to education? 
1. If you're a lurker, that's ok! Follow people and find an edchat that interests you. Read what they talk about. It's ok to lurk just as it's ok to listen to a guest speaker or read an educational blog.
2. If you're just starting out, don't be scared to Tweet your Twitter friends! You can only get better at Twitter by Tweeting. Think of it as getting the chance to talk to the guest speaker or the writer of that educational blog. Think of it as a way to discuss important topics with peers.
3. If you're an addict then you're not reading this; you're on Twitter right now.
4. An adopter is someone who is using Twitter as a professional networking tool, a professional learning community, and a self-paced tutorial for various topics. Those you've connected to on Twitter are your network and together you operate a free, always open, easy place to learn. That's the best part! You learn about the things that interest you at your own pace and at your convenience. Professional learning via Twitter is just a part of your day. 

There was a time when professional learning was confined to a staff meeting or a conference session. There was a time when interacting with peers to ask questions and form a network was limited to those in your campus. Twitter and other forms of social media have blown the walls off that way of life. Now, your learning is daily. Your network is global. Your reach is immeasurable. 

Sure, we talk about what we're having for lunch from time to time, but that's usually when it's something worth sharing! Now go Tweet!!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Rad Tech Adventurers

I had the BEST morning today at one of our elementary schools. I just could not wait to come here to tell you all about it!

Recently, we heard about school district tech teams invading a classroom with cool technology. They swoop in and bring some awesome technology with them. The staff and students both enjoy having an energizing, techie lesson. The concept is a bit of a play on those home improvement / makeover shows where the designer or contractor swoops in to overhaul a home, seemingly by surprise.

It's a great idea and we wanted to implement it in a way that could accentuate the teacher as the superhero who comes in and invades his / her own lesson with cool technology. And after some brainstorming, Rad Tech Adventurers (RTA) was born! It took on a superhero theme since our adventurers are definitely heroes! RTA is being used interchangeably as a noun (the teacher), a verb (the event itself), and even as an adjective when describing amazing lessons with meaningful educational technology.

RTA is planned in five stages:
1. Identify a teacher who is rad and adventurous with educational technology.
2. The identified RTA finds a lesson that he / she is planning to use in the classroom.
3. The Instructional Technology (IT) team meets with the teacher to find the right tech tool for existing technology and to find how the tool can be used in the right way at the right time.
4. A day and time is selected for the RTA to take place.
5. The IT team visits the classroom on the selected day / time for the RTA.

The students are unaware of this planning. IT will arrive on the selected day / time and it's a complete surprise to the students. IT places a superhero cape on the teacher and explains to the class that their rad teacher has energized today's lesson with a fun tech tool. IT remains in the class to assist but the superhero teacher is in control of the class.

When the lesson is over, IT congratulates the teacher and students for being truly adventurous. We also present the teacher with a certificate as an official Rad Tech Adventurer! And even though we take the cape with us, we all know the superhero in that teacher is still there creating meaningful lessons for those awesome students.

So, what does RTA look like? We did our first one this morning and it was AWESOME. PACE Specialist and ETSI family member, Ayanna Black, introduced us to her colleague who was interested in being the first RTA. That colleague was Tiffany Harrison, 4th Grade Teacher. My colleague, Leah Pendleton, and I met with Tiffany and Ayanna to plan.

Three days later, Nancy Watson and I appeared in the 4th grade classroom to drape a superhero cape on Mrs. Harrison and explain to the class that their rad teacher planned something amazing.

The students had been working on an advertisement for a tool / product that would be available in the future that will contribute to society. (The lesson was taken directly from the social studies content in the curriculum planner.) The students answered questions about their product in a Google Form Mrs. Harrison had created. They worked in teams to create a poster to advertise their product.

They used the app Chatterpix Kids to turn their poster into a 30-second commercial using their own voices! IT brought iPads with the app already installed for the students to use in class.

Their commercials were SO great! Here is one example! After each team completed their commercial, the iPads were left on the desks so the students could do a gallery walk to view the other commericals. 

It was an amazing start to the day. It's wasn't anything wild and crazy. It wasn't anything out of reach. It was using the right tool at the right time in the right way. I am still all giggly about it! If you know someone who wants to be an official Rad Tech Adventurer, tweet me and let me know!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Our First Cardboard Challenge

Crying at work isn't something I'm used to, but I sure did a lot of it on Saturday. Here's why...

You've probably heard of the brilliant child, Caine, who built an entire arcade out of cardboard. Through his own genius, he designed, engineered, and built an amazing creation. Nirvan Mullick happened to stop by Caine's Arcade and later directed a beautiful short film about Caine. It's no surprise that inspirational and tear-jerking video went viral.

But it didn't stop there. Caine inspired an international movement called the Cardboard Challenge in which we are all challenged to create, design, and engineer an amazing creation of our very own. My school district had incorporated the Cardboard Challenge at the classroom level in our science curriculum; however, we had never held a district-wide event. Three teachers in our school district, Becca Bailey, Megan Livengood, and Lara Rogers, saw the need for a district-wide event so they took the idea and ran with it. The campus where Becca and Megan teach agreed to host the event. My colleague, Nancy Watson, and I were fortunate enough to join this team of dynamos and the planning began.

On October 11, 2014, the doors opened for our school district's first cardboard challenge. The students and their families checked in and then made their way to the gym where they could help build a cardboard version of our city and / or build an invention of their own design.

With over 160 students AND their families, representing over 15 campuses, the place was packed and really hopping! Creativity was flowing! Brains were expanding!

I cried multiple times and I'm crying as I write this. For me, the Cardboard Challenge means many things, but one thing that really shined through was family. In the planning stages, the staff members working together quickly became a family. We bonded in a special and meaningful way because we knew this was huge. Even before it happened, we knew this was growing into a beautiful event and we were the lucky ones who got to plan it.

But really, it was the families who came to the Cardboard Challenge that made me cry because they were having so much fun! They walked in, found some cardboard, found a spot to work, and started creating. They were thinking, planning, laughing, and giggling while we walked around and snapped photos. It was like seeing a room full of light bulbs turning on and proud parents beaming in that glow.

Grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings -- the whole family was there! We had students who hadn't quite started school yet and college students who came to volunteer and create with our students.

We also had the privilege of having a Skype chat with a campus in Boulder, Colorado, who also happened to have their Cardboard Challenge on October 11. Mary Anne Zacek set everything up at their campus in Boulder and we even managed to get the two campus principals to chat for a bit! And one of our students was able to talk directly to them!

It was a real treat for our students to see other places doing the very same thing they were doing and showing them the breadth of this incredible movement that is the Cardboard Challenge. Not to mention, we loved being able to share all the amazing things both campuses created!

As the day ended, we saw the families proudly carrying their amazing creations to the photo booth area. After they snapped some photos, they found a way to get those creations back home. Over the weekend, we heard from many families saying they were not done! The cardboard creations were continuing to be worked on at home with new creations in the works!

We are currently working on producing a short video with the many photos that were taken during the planning and on our fun day of learning. And I should also point out that our excitement has not diminished. In fact, we are even more fired up for next year's Cardboard Challenge! It's impossible to contain this level of excitement especially after seeing our student inventors encouraging one another, praising each other's designs, and taking true pride in their own creations. Their grins are an image I'll always carry with me. It's the vision that even now makes me cry in pure delight and fuels my excitement to build more and do more for them.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Keeping Up

One of my favorite sounds is the gentle swish of turning the page in a book. I love the way a book starts to feel warm and cozy after I’ve held it for a while. And don’t even get me started on how much I enjoy the smell of books! Using my senses while reading is just one reason why I love it so much.

I am often asked, “What is your favorite book?” I have several answers and one is my high school American History textbook. Yes, I know that’s weird, but there’s a reason why I love that book. On the day that textbook was issued to me, I was instructed to open the front cover and write my name in it. As always, I scrolled through the names of the other students who had that book before me. To my delight and to my horror, I saw my oldest brother’s name! I was delighted because I love my brother and I thought it was SO COOL to be receiving the same book he carried around for a year. I was horrified because I realized the books had not changed in many years. In fact, there were many students who had the book before my brother and according to the copyright date, the book was ten years old. As you know, so much can change in ten years. (This funny Buzzfeed list points out sentences that would not have made sense ten years ago and some of them make no sense to me now!)

I called my brother and told him I got his history book. He said, “Oh gosh. There are so many errors in that book. I can’t believe you have the same one. Look at the section about the Titanic. All it says is that it was lost at sea. No note of it being found!” I thumbed through the book and sure enough, there was the Titanic still in a shroud of mystery.

Over ten years, researched uncovered many things about many historical events and changed what knew about them, thus changing what we can learn about them. I was horrified that this book was just ten years old and practically ancient. Fast forward to today and we see the same issue. Only this time, it’s not just with textbooks but also with technology. And it’s not ten years; it could even be as short as ten days and there is a change. New items are constantly being developed, changed, and improved. And you know what? I really love that ever-changing pace!

Education had relied upon items like textbooks to be the same over and over – for ten years or more. But as we learned more about differentiation, personalization, and individualization, we discovered that the “one size fits all” approach doesn’t work for students with instruction, textbooks, technology, or any other capacity. Using the same tools in the same way over many years is ineffective. We also learned that things change quickly and it’s a daily challenge to keep up. 

All professions experience this. Imagine if physicians relied on practices from ten years ago. Would you want your physician operating without the newest and most effective methods? Imagine if automobile engineering, online shopping, law, fashion, online banking, and any other industry remaining unchanged for ten or more years. It sounds crazy because it is crazy. Would you want to have the cell phone you used ten years ago? They looked like thisAs things in our world change, so must we, but we must also remember our past and what got us to this point. 

We take existing knowledge and use it to build new knowledge and improve our practice. I will always fight for students to read real books as well as use effective, personalized technology. I’m not saying it’s always easy to keep up. I am saying we owe it to our students to try. 

I realize some things will never change. Like my love of holding a book and meeting a sea of characters. I know I will always love that American History book for waking me up. I know I will always have a deep respect for the impact those items had and continue to have in my life. But I also realize that I must build upon those longstanding traditions to make a true impact in today's classroom.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Here We Go! (Again!)

I love blogging. I always have. I started my first blog in the spring of 2005 and it is still so much fun. That blog is more personal and talks more about my family. I'm starting this professional blog to focus on my other passion: education. I'm excited about starting a blog again! 

There are many parts of education I am passionate about, the first being the science behind teaching and learning. The human brain is fascinating to me and I'm always looking for more information about what happens in the brain during teaching and learning. Adult learning isn't exactly the same as student learning so I love learning about ways in which to stimulate the brain  - at any age!

Another passion of mine is educational technology. That phrase has definitely evolved over time and, right now, it means something very exciting: student engagement. I heard this quote, "The person doing the work is the person doing the learning," and I see so many ways in which that applies to educational technology and engaging students to be more active in their learning. We became educators because we love students and we love helping them learn. If technology can help us be more effective, then I'm all for it! I am not a fan of arbitrarily adding technology into a classroom. And I have very strong opinions about adding technology for technology's sake and prescribing it as a "one size fits all" approach. But we'll get more into that later. 

I recently received a second Master's degree and obtained my principal's certification. Afterward, I was hired by ETS to write questions for the principal certification exam in the state of Texas. (I still do that on the side!) Educational Administration truly is a passion of mine and I'm always looking for ways to be a good administrator and to help other administrators in my district. 

My job as an Instructional Technology Specialist combines all my passions. It's the perfect job for me and I'm grateful every day for the work I get to do. Not to mention, I get to work with some amazing people and inspiring students. My plan is to use this blog as a platform to talk about my passions and connect to a community of educators from whom I have so much to learn! 

Thanks for being here and I hope you'll share your blogs with me so I can keep up with what you're doing!