Monday, September 10, 2018

Are "unitaskers" killing digital learning? #unitasker #edtech #wonderwake #googleedu

If you've spent any time watching Alton Brown's addictive cooking show, Good Eats, you are intimately familiar with his derision of "unitaskers".  They are those tools you have in your kitchen meant to do one...single....task.

(Full disclosure, I have the meat claws....and yes, when I use them I feel like Wolverine.)

But let's put a pin in Alton Brown's (very accurate) opinion for a minute and look at one of Sir Ken Robinson's TED talks called, "Bring on the Learning Revolution!".  I promise there is a connection, just bear with me.

In it, right around the seven minute mark, he begins a train of thought about our enthrallment with ideas that we take for granted.  As an example he compares the amount of people over 25 who wear a watch to the amount under 25.  Many people over 25 don't wear a watch because they have to, more so because they always have.  They take it for granted that they need to wear a watch and while he didn't post this thought, I'd be willing to bet if you challenged them not to, they would be resistant.  Those under 25 view a watch, rightfully so, as a single task device and shun it for other tools that can get the job done and more.

I think we have become so enthralled with the idea that edtech is all about the latest and greatest, that we feel like if we're not using the newest cutting edge tool, no matter how inefficient, then we are falling behind.  We are taking for granted the rapid pace of educational technology and not stopping to think about what we're really doing.  Are we pausing to ask ourselves whether that tool is really going to help our students or is worth the time investment to learn it?  Usually not.

This is where Alton Brown's theories come in.  He questions the need for those prolific single task kitchen devices and actively promotes casting them aside for more versatile and efficient tools.  Educational technology faces the same problem.  I could spend the rest of my career trying to learn every unitasker edtech tool out there and it's unlikely I would ever catch up as more come out every day.

And I know for a fact that I am not alone in feeling this way.  I have had numerous teachers lament that there is so much out there, they get overwhelmed just thinking about where to start when it comes to integrating technology.

A part of me wonders if in our effort to showcase all these amazing tools and provide our students with 14 different ways to demonstrate their learning, we are actually shooting ourselves in the foot. By allowing ourselves to compete with the Jones and get distracted by whatever shiny tool comes along, are we sending a message to the edtech neophytes that there's no point in trying because they'll never get the hang of it?  When we are frustrated by the teacher who won't even consider abandoning their textbooks, have we created that problem ourselves?

This is why I am so obsessive about the Google Suite as the core to any technology integration plan.  The variety of tasks teachers and students can accomplish using just the 4 or 5 core Google apps is inconceivable.  And once they learn the functionality of those tools (which let's face it, can happen in first grade at the latest), the instruction can focus on the task and the learning instead of trouble shooting a tool.

I think it's time for those of us in the edtech world to become a little more like Alton Brown.  Let's start sending the message that it's not about the latest and greatest.  It's not about that shiny single task tool.  Leverage the tools we already know to take student learning to a deeper level.

We need to cast aside those strawberry slicers.  Throw away our zoodle makers.  (Though you can pry my meat claws out of my cold dead Wolverine hands.)  Let's just invest in a really great set of knives and cookware and learn how to use those effectively.  Let our creativity shine!  Because let's face it, can you really call yourself a chef if you need a Rollie to cook your eggs?

Monday, September 3, 2018

Upon whose dreams are we treading? #whatsyourwhy #wonderwake #kidsdeserveit

I am currently in my last class for my Special Endorsement in Computer Education certificate.  One of our assignments included watching this video from Sir Ken Robinson, "Bring on the Learning Revolution!".  It is a sequel of sorts to his infamous "Do Schools Kill Creativity" TED talk.

As I was watching this video, I counted no less than 10 moments where I found myself pausing to jot down my thinking and saying aloud, “Yes!”.  At each one my mind started wandering about the ramifications of the statement and my reflections on the idea.  In fact a couple are already the basis for future blog posts.  

Yet it wasn’t until his very last statement that I found myself shaken to my very core.
“And every day, everywhere, our children spread their dreams beneath our feet. And we should tread softly.”
This struck me both as an educator and as a parent.  And I'm not going to lie.  I sobbed.  I am firmly of the belief that having children is not a prerequisite to being an amazing educator, but things definitely tend to hit you a little differently.  Not only did this statement help me reflect on my actions in the classroom, but it also helped me reflect on my actions as a parent.  Who am I raising my children to be?  (But that's a whole separate story.) 

It is so easy to become wrapped up in the politics and the policies and the disagreements over tools or initiatives.  Yet at the end of the day, we have to remember the gravity of our positions as educators.  We are privileged to witness the hopes and dreams of every child that walks through our doors.  Our position holds the power to either uplift or smash those dreams with a single statement, especially in our most fragile students.
What frustrates me more than anything is this talk was given eight years ago.  It was given eight years ago and every point he makes is still something we need to hear.  We still need an education revolution.  Our society, especially the state of North Carolina, has not only prevented any sort of growth in education but is actively contributing to its demise.  Funding has dropped to perilously low levels.  Politics have allowed people of privilege to flee the public schools in droves.  The list goes on and on.
We work in a flawed system.  And that is disheartening.  But at the same time, as Mr. Robinson says, it is who I am.  “This is me.”  I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.  I have to take heart in the idea that the tiny contributions I make to a gigantic system make some sort of difference.  How do we do more though?  How do we work from our place at the bottom of the pyramid to make systemic change?  Is it even my job to worry about systemic change?
Perhaps my job isn’t to worry about systemic change.  Maybe I need to focus on the one person at a time that I can help.  The one teacher who I can support in transitioning to a student centered classroom.  Or one teacher who wants to introduce digital learning with her students.  And then the next.  And the next.  Maybe we are the virus to that one teacher.  When we infect them, they infect two people on their team and those two people each infect two people and so on.
It’s very possible that to ignite a school revolution we have to work from both ends.  The right leadership must present and uphold a vision while those of us on the ground make small but incalculable impacts.  All while getting buy in from community stakeholders.  It sounds like a lot, but maybe it’s time that teachers are allowed to spread our dreams at the feet of society.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

A first time for everything #iste18 #wcpssiste18

Today is the last day of ISTE.  I've learned my lesson and am sitting in the first session of the day (8:30am) 45 minutes early.  Unfortunately, lines have been part of the memorable experience that is ISTE.  Even with the lines, it has been a fabulous experience and my mind is so full of ideas and promise.  I'm already excited for #ISTE19.

As a first timer, I was quickly overwhelmed by the whole conference.  I spent some time reflecting on the Uber to McCormick Place on what recommendations I would make to future first-timers.

First, don't let yourself feel any pressure to get more out of the conference than you can.  I understand that if your school or district is paying for you to attend, there might be some expectation of making it worth their while.  Yes, get as much out of the conference as you can, but don't stress yourself out doing it.  Following Twitter, seeing all the lines, overhearing excited conversations, seeing people walking around with great swag can make you feel like you're missing something.  No matter how hard you work to pack learning into every minute, you are STILL going to miss something.  So embrace the FOMO.  Plan a full day, but also don't hesitate to plan a break and/or processing time.  Whatever the number of sessions you attend, you are walking away with some amazing learning.  Focus on what you got and how to take it back over what you missed.

Second, think about your conference strategy.  What are you here to get?  For me personally, this year, I focused on learning and sessions.  I know there is SO MUCH more including networking, the Expo Hall, before and after hours social events but I needed to get comfortable with the conference itself before I could tackle some of the other things.  I'm hitting up the Expo Hall today, on the last day, but I'm not walking in with any expectations.  With a billion vendors, all I'm looking to do is explore the layout, get a feel for how things work, and maybe pick up a free gift or two.  (C'mon, we all know teachers LOVE their free stuff.)   It's OK to not do everything.

Think about what kinds of topics you want to learn about.  Browse through the conference schedule to get a feel for what's being offered and go from there.  I knew I wanted to hit up some AR/VR sessions so I found a couple of those to add to my calendar.  Don't get overwhelmed with the HUNDREDS of session offerings.  It is literally a logistical nightmare trying to decide which session to attend at which time.  I relied heavily on the ISTE app using the Favorites and Agenda feature.  I browsed through the session offerings for the day and anything that sounded interesting and related to my goals, I favorited.  Once narrowed down, it was much easier to decide what to attend and when and these were added to my agenda, almost as a "final draft".  Also, be prepared with a backup plan.  If your session fills up, be ready with a second choice.

I'm not sure if this is the case for all ISTE conferences, but the lines for sessions were an issue this year, especially anything from Google and Apple.  If you want to get into the Google sessions, plan on getting there at least an hour early.  Apple sessions sold out almost immediately in the morning, so go EARLY to get tickets.

Hit up the Poster sessions.  Seriously.  They're basically like big science fairs around different themes.  For instance there were poster sessions on STEM/STEAM, Early Learning, Libraries and Media, Coaching, etc.  I was skeptical as I am not great at talking with strangers and I love a sit and get lecture, but some of the best learning was here.   I found it easy to talk to the "presenters" and networked like crazy here.

All in all, I had a blast.  Some sessions were better than others, which is to be expected, but I am walking away with so many ideas and so many things I can't wait to take back to my team.  I am very fortunate that I have been able to attend.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Changing for the better #globalteachers

This entry is going to deviate a little from the previous “here’s all the amazing things we did today” type posts.  We’re currently at the start of a five hour bus ride headed from Freiburg to Munich.  The countryside is absolutely beautiful.  It’s almost like driving through the Appalachian Mountains with the curvy roads, valleys, and forests.  Only the beauty is magnified by 1000.  It seems like around every corner is a little village nestled between green hills, the spire of the church standing up from the town center.  Since we’ve left so early, many people are sleeping and it’s given me some time to reflect on what this trip has meant to me.

If I’m being completely honest, I am not, by nature, a very adventurous person.  I am a homebody and often find it difficult to spend time with a lot of strangers or crowds.  The weekends are spent with my family playing at home or going to the park.  But during this trip I have been surrounded with amazing people whose only goal has been to see and do as much as possible.  Getting caught up in their enthusiasm, I have spent my evenings exploring picturesque villages, seeing buildings over 500 years old, and trying foods that are absolutely delicious.

The memories from this trip will last me a life time.  But what I’m starting to realize is this trip has sparked in me the desire to make more memories.  I want to travel more with my husband.  I want to experience more beautiful places like this with him.  I want my girls to remember a childhood filled with adventure and excitement.  More importantly, I want to be a role model for them and help them see how powerful it can be to see and do new things.

One of the goals of the Go Global NC organization is to foster global awareness and connections.  I already feel like I have learned so much here.  While much of what we have learned isn’t necessarily in my sphere of influence to change back home, I still feel a connection to the people we have met and the organizations we have heard from.  That connection makes me want more.  I want to learn from more people.  I want to see and hear what other countries are doing.  I want to make those global connections.  And I think that is exactly the point of this program.  I feel so lucky to be a part of it.

Learning from Germany #globalteachers

On Sunday we visited the Reichstag, home of the German government.  I’ve been thinking a lot about that and their political system.  The biggest political difference between the United States and Germany is the fact that we have a Two Party system and they have multiple political parties.  This has some really desirable effects and creates some unique requirements for their elections and government.

The biggest advantage to their system is that no one party can get enough spots in the government to govern independently.  They HAVE to work together as parties in coalitions.  Because of this, their political season is much less contentious.  It’s pretty hard to cooperate with someone when 6 months ago you were yelling about what a terrible representative they’d be.

But one of the most profound things I’ve seen in Germany is an unwillingness to forget their history.  It seems at almost every opportunity they take the chance to acknowledge the terrible role their country played in the war.  The site we visited with a long section of the Berlin Wall and the WWII museum is called, on their website, a “documentation center”.  There seems to be this unspoken understanding that being upfront about the mistakes of the past contributes to not repeating them.

This, of course, leads me directly to thinking about our own situation in the United States.  We have had some pretty horrific events/eras in our country as well.  But we want to believe that they are in the past and don’t affect us today.  The thing is though, they are not in the past.  Prejudice and discrimination is still alive and well in this country.  Whether it’s against people of color, the LBGTQ community, different ethnicities, or even women, we can’t pretend this isn’t an issue that needs to be continually discussed, documented, and rectified.

In addition, the idea of compromise and bipartisanship has practically disappeared.  We view people of different opinions as someone to beat in a contest.  It’s either our opinion or theirs, someone has to lose.  Even I’m guilty of this.

How do we bring back openness to new ideas and the spirit of compromise for the better good?  How do we learn to work together to solve huge problems.  Does that need to start in the classroom?  I’ve been hearing for years kids who say, “I don’t want to work with them.  I don’t like them.” or “I can’t be in their group, I don’t work well with them.”  When did this become okay????  It isn’t a big leap from “I don’t want to work with them” to “I don’t want to be around them” to “They shouldn’t be allowed”.

I really don’t have any answers.  I think there are things that Germany can learn from the United States (especially when it comes to their educational system), but I KNOW there are things we can learn from Germany.  Namely a sense of cooperation and an awareness of how our past is still influencing our present.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Where Germany, the United States, & school intersect #globalteachers

Before I even get started in what we did today, I have to say how ingenious the Germans can be sometimes.  Since taking care of the environment is such a huge part of their culture, it only makes sense that they have edible jam cups at breakfast in the hotels!!


Ok, on to our day!

Today was the first day we were able to visit a German school!  We started our morning by visiting the JFK School.  This is a German-American bilingual school that accepts both German students but mainly serves American students whose parents are in the military, work for the embassy, are living in Germany, etc.  It is a K-12 school and was really, really fascinating to visit.

However, that being said.  I am going to preface this description by stating right out, the JFK School is basically a charter school.  It is application based, has highly motivated and involved parents, few resources for students with disabilities, and less than 20% of the students are low income or struggle academically.

I believe that in the current US system, and NC in particular, most charter schools are exclusionary and a form of modern day segregation.  When you do not provide transportation, free and reduced lunch opportunities, or classes/resources for students with disabilities, you are automatically setting up a system that is inaccessible to low income (and often minority) students.  Even when these resources are provided, low income families do not often have the time, knowledge, or experience to seek out these opportunities or navigate the school of choice world.  Add in to that charter schools that are run by for profit companies or ineffective boards and you have these schools getting public funds not being held accountable to the same standards as public schools.

I say all of this to help people take the information about the JFK School with a grain of salt.  Yes, their school is amazing.  There are things we can learn from them and maybe even take back to the states, but it is not a representation of an average German school.

Disclaimer over!

So we started our day at the JFK School speaking with the managing director (he is one of 4 principals elected by the group to be the managing director).  Fun fact: all of the principals still have to teach at least 6 hours/week!!  The school is completely bilingual and we definitely witnessed this!  The kids start at the school in the Entrance Class.  This class is a mix of both German and American children.  Everything is said in both German and English (this continues for two more years).  Once they hit 3rd grade reading/writing classes are conducted in their Mother Tongue and they also get language class in, what they call, their Partner Tongue.  Science, Social Studies, Math, and Music are all mixed language.  We observed a discussion in a 4th grade Social Studies classroom that started in German and midway switched over to English.  Both the kids and teacher switched effortlessly between languages!

The number one thing I noticed at that school is how normal everything was.  It could have been any school in the US.

We kept saying, “kids are kids are kids”.  Many of the school projects hanging on the wall were things that would fit right in back home (some I’m even going to share with my teachers for ideas!).

The other thing I noticed was how little technology there was.  Each classroom had a projector and a Smartboard but very few classrooms had computers and those that did only had two or three.  The principal stated that that is not a huge priority for them right now because they don’t believe that technology should replace the teacher and technology won’t just be an easy fix.  While I agree with those statements, it definitely sounds like they have not embraced many of the ideas around digital learning.

We ended our visit at the school by eating lunch in the cafeteria with the kids (we were there while 4th -6th ate).  Lunch was freshly cooked, though many students chose to grab a sandwich or wrap from the little snack counter.  Everyone used real plates, glasses, and silverware!  Students came into the cafeteria, ate lunch, and then went outside to play.  ALL ON THEIR OWN.  Let me emphasize that.  There was one adult floating around the cafeteria, but the kids all came in and sat wherever they wanted, bussed their own trays, and went outside with no direction!  I wish we had been able to stay long enough to see the primary grades eat.  They were putting out all of the plates and silverware on the tables for them when we left.


During the afternoon we visited Humboldt University to talk with some of their staff about the initiatives they’ve implemented to provide university studies to immigrants and refugees.  It’s really disgusting we don’t have the same mentality about trying to welcome and integrate those coming to the US.  We also were presented information about multilingual education in Germany.

The evening was spent walking around Berlin, visiting a German bakery and doing a little souvenir shopping.  Afterwards I got to do a Google Hangout with a 4th grade class and had so much fun with them!  They asked a TON of really, really good questions and I was so excited to share this trip with them.  It went so well, we’re going to try for one more time before I go home!

Tomorrow is an early day. 5 am departure for the airport to fly to Stuttgart.  It will be interesting to fly to a different region and see how it differs from Berlin (Brandenburg), Germany.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Getting lost has never been so fun! #globalteachers

What an adventure today!  Sometimes the best laid plans don't work out.  And sometimes those mistakes can lead to great experiences.  Today a large group of us were going to start the morning with a boat tour down the Spree River and then visit a museum.  Well, two other teachers and myself got held up and separated from the group.  We worked on catching up, but unbeknownst to us, we were going in the completely wrong direction.  However, we got to see a lot of the city (not to mention get A TON of steps in) and ended up going straight to Museuminsel (Museum Island).  Getting to Museuminsel so quickly allowed us to see both the Altes Museum (ancient Roman & Greek work) and the Neues Museum (ancient Egyptian works).  My favorite room of both was, by far, the Rotunda in the Altes Museum (which was built in the 1820s!!!).  Along the wall are lifesize statues of Greek gods and on the dome ceiling are images of winged figures and zodiac symbols.

Along the same plaza as the Altes Museum was the Berliner Dom (Berlin Cathedral).


The first half of the afternoon included a short bus tour on our way to the Reichstag (German Parliament building).  We saw the Konzerthaus Berlin (I bet you can figure out what that is), the French Church (built in the early 1700s because the French wanted to go to a church that spoke French), and the German Church (built for the same denomination as the French church but with services in German), Checkpoint Charlie (the third, and most famous, Allied checkpoint between East & West Berlin), Trabi World (Trabant are a car unique to East Germany).

I've always considered myself fairly knowledgeable about history, but I'm realizing there is SO much I don't know about the second half of the 20th century, especially concerning world affairs.  I'm starting to see just how superficial my knowledge is when it comes to the years between World War II and the new millennium.  And what little knowledge I do have is very US-centric.  I definitely need to go back and learn more of the history of this era.

We also got to stop at a well known chocolate shop.  They had these AMAZING chocolate sculptures.

Gotta love German humour...


After this tour we traveled to see the Brandenburg gate.  Just a few blocks away was where the Berlin wall passed and also nearby is the Reichstag.

The Reichstag has a very long and, in parts, terrible history.  Home to the German government, it was set on fire in the early 1930s with the rise of the Nazis.  Severely destroyed, it fell into disuse until the 1960s when it was rebuilt, but did not become the seat of the German government again until after German reunification.

My favorite part about the building is that due to the nature of German elections, the number of people elected from each party can change.  So seats must be rearranged to accommodate the correct number of people in each of the party groups.  So flexible seating has even made its way to the German government! :)


That night I got my first experience riding the German Ubahn (underground train).  We traveled to see the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church and then found a DELICIOUS German restaurant for dinner (I had the Wiener Schnitzel).

All in all, a very long, but exciting day with tons of new learning and appreciation for the city of Berlin and its history!